Ministry Research Project to complement Synod 2020

'Fascinating and innovative'

The Archdiocese of Liverpool, in collaboration with Liverpool Hope University, has been successful in gaining funding from the Porticus Trust for a Ministry Research Project.

The aim of the project is to improve the strategic planning and evidence-based decision-making relating to the deployment of the rich resource of permanent deacons and to evaluate the Archdiocesan Pastoral Associates Pilot Project, which employs five full-time lay Pastoral Associates with a new model of support and formation. The research findings of the project will be related to the broader strategic questions that Synod 2020 is asking about the mission of this local church and how it can become more effective in carrying it out.
The Porticus Trust is an international charitable organisation whose aims are inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, and its funding will allow us to conduct this three-year project to enhance the understanding and practice of ministry in these changing times and to plan more effectively for the future, making an important contribution to the Synod.
The project began last month and will run until June 2022, paralleling and informing the Synod and its implementation. It will address concerns about the depth of understanding of the permanent diaconate, how it is practised and how the deacons may be better formed and deployed to serve the Church’s mission in our dynamic social context. The research will also consider the place of the diaconate in the relation to the priesthood of all the faithful, the ministry of priests and bishops and the contribution of voluntary and employed lay workers.
It will use traditional social science methodologies from a theological perspective, such as questionnaire surveys and focus group meetings where topics are discussed and explored by interested parties and will also break new ground by combining this with the use of geospatial technologies. Rooted in the science of geography, geospatial technologies allow integration of many types of data and will provide a more robust evidence base for future decision-making in the archdiocese. Combining these two approaches will support evidence-based decision-making and future planning. They will help to make our church stronger and better placed (to quote our Synod prayer) ‘to respond to the challenges of our times in new ways’.
The innovative approach adopted in this project is made possible through Liverpool Hope University by an interdisciplinary collaboration between Father Peter McGrail, Subject Head in the School of Humanities (Theology, Philosophy and Religion) and Deacon Paul Rooney, Head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Science in the Faculty of Science, working with two research assistants.

The Steering Group and external advisers for the project include a wide variety of local, national and international experts. The core team at the Archdiocese for this project is Veronica Murphy, Coordinator of the Pastoral Associates Pilot Project, Deacon John Traynor, former Chair of the National Diaconate Conference and Canon Chris Fallon, Director of the Permanent Diaconate and Chair of the Ministry Research Project Steering Group, who responded to the positive news of the grant saying, ‘I am delighted that after our initial approach to the Porticus Trust, a searching scrutiny process and the completion of a substantial application form, we have received funding for this three-year Ministry Research Project.
‘Thanks are due to all the people who have contributed in different ways to the development of the project and especially to Father Peter McGrail and Deacon Paul Rooney at Liverpool Hope University who have worked really hard on refining the project and ensuring that we supplied Porticus with all the information and reassurance they required.
‘This is a fascinating and innovative project that will help to inform our Synod and deepen the understanding of ministry not only in our Archdiocese but also in the wider Catholic community.’

Photo: Father Peter McGrail and Deacon Paul Rooney