As we work to strengthen and energize those in ministry, we will share what we find. Abstract ideas and empirical research grow into initiatives and programs, which can then be tested and honed through further analysis and study. We don’t believe in guesswork. Promoting the kingdom of God is too valuable for that. Here is what we have been or are involved in:
Consultation with the University of Notre Dame
Since the summer of 2014, the Center for PEP has been consulting with the John S. Marten Program for Homiletics and Liturgics at the University of Notre Dame. Initially, the consultation consisted of input into the Lilly Endowment grant proposal for the creation of the Father William Toohey, CSC, Notre Dame Preaching Academy. That major grant was received by the University in the Fall of 2014. Beginning in January of 2015, the Center moved into the role of consultant for the development of the evaluative and assessment pieces of a peer-support group process for preaching improvement. This has been a lively and fruitful relationship between Fr. Michael Connors, CSC., the director of the Marten Program and our organization.
We continue to work with a parish-wide renewal process entitled Connecting Pulpit and Pew through the C.O.N.N.E.C.T Process. The goal is to renew a parish, a diocese, or a district through the collaboration of clergy and parishioners in a give-and-take process that both strengthens preaching and fosters attentive listening. Some of the results of that work have found their way into Connecting Pulpit and Pew: Breaking Open the Conversation about Catholic Preaching. In addition, early findings in parish research are informing two current DMin projects – we are working in a mentoring capacity with those doctoral students to further research the parish preaching evaluation process.
The renewal of preaching will be most effective if it is founded upon careful research. Based on that premise, in 2012 we pioneered a young listener study of 561 Catholic high school students entitled, Are You Talking to Me? A Study of Young Listeners’ Connection with Sunday Preaching.
We collaborated with the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership in 2013 in the Catechesis in Preaching Research Initiative. This was a survey of the relationship between catechesis and liturgical preaching to begin to frame a response to the questions, “What is catechetical preaching?” and “What should effective catechetical preaching look like?”
Beginning in June of 2014 with a two and a half day meeting underwritten by the University of Notre Dame, Karla Bellinger has been the project leader for an ongoing research project to create and publish a National Study of Preaching. The overarching research question for this project is: “How is Sunday preaching impacting the lives of the American people?” The study will look at both external behaviors in terms of community involvement, interpersonal relationships, and moral behaviors, as well as inner attitudes, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world. The six-person research team consists of Bellinger, Dr. William Baker of the University of Akron; Dr. Brian Starks of Kennesaw State University in Georgia; Dr. Stacy Minger of Asbury Seminary in Lexington, KY: and Dr. Ronald J. Allen and Dr. Frank Thomas from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN. The group met for a second time in Indianapolis over the Halloween weekend of 2014 and will convene again in July of 2015 in Akron, OH. The project is currently seeking funding for the implementation phase of the study.
Putting it all together: From the results of our own listener study, from clergy interviews, and from other preaching studies, we have a preliminary picture of the factors that impact the improvement of preaching as well as initial strategies of how to help that to come about. For an analysis of that overall picture, see Unpacking the Complexities of the Homiletic Encounter.