A parish is a specific region within a larger area. The term is used to describe two different types: administrative and ecclesiastical parishes. In both cases, it is headed by a central authority figure, who may be a priest or a local government, depending on the type under discussion. Parishes of both types can be found all over the world, and the meaning of the word can fluctuate, depending on where one is, which can get confusing at times.
An administrative parish is a division of land like a county, province, or state. They are generally small, and many are rural, although this is not always the case, and some administrative divisions are based on historical ecclesiastical parishes. The area is typically headed by officials selected by voters during annual elections. In the American state of Louisiana, the parishes are like counties in other states, and those of a similar type are found in many former English colonies as well.
Typically, a parish is at a low level of local government. People who live their know their officials well, and may turn to them for a variety of needs. Because many are quite small, people within them are often well acquainted, and they may network to assist each other in times of need or disruption. Within a parish, voters may enact specific laws which change from one to the next, concerning things like rates of taxation, municipal codes, and so forth.
An ecclesiastical parish is another form of subdivision, on the low end of the Church hierarchy, based on the area served by a specific church. Historically, they were usually limited by the distance people could reasonably travel in a day, and the Church made a conscious effort to distribute parishes in such a way that everyone in a region could easily access a church for Sunday worship and church events.
The priest who oversees such an area may be known as a parish priest, and depending on the size of the area, he may have assistants who travel out into the community and assist with various church functions. The people who live within a specific parish and attend church there are known as its parishioners; by convention, most people prefer to worship within their own local church, and marriage banns and other announcements must be made in one's home parish church, rather than any available church, ensuring that the community is aware of such information.