Liverpool Archdiocese, 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 the forthcoming Archdiocese of Liverpool Synod is asking about the mission of this local church and how it can become more effective in carrying it out.
In addition to the core research activities and production of publications the project will organise and contribute to a number of academic conferences and practical events. Based upon the learning from this project a range accessible resources will be developed that will allow the wider Catholic community to apply this research to their own contexts.
The project is delivered using funding from a Dutch Family Foundation to resource a partnership between the Archdiocese of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University. At the university the project is an innovative collaboration between the Department of Geography and Environmental Science in the Faculty of Science and the subject area of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies in the School of Humanities.
Download an information leaflet on the Ministry Research Project.
The Archdiocese of Liverpool is at a critical point and has begun a Synod process to discern the way forward. Against the background of shrinking church attendance and aging priests that are declining in numbers, recruitment to the permanent diaconate, introduced 40 years ago, is strong with a radically modified formation programme. Along with these trends and developments, the Archdiocese has begun a pilot project employing five full-time lay Pastoral Associates with a new model of support and formation.
Following a successful funding bid to the Porticus Trust, an international charitable organisation whose aims are inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, the Archdiocese has requested Liverpool Hope University to conduct a ‘Ministry Research Project’. The overall aim of the project is to improve the understanding and practice of ministry in these changing times and to plan more effectively for the future.
The project started in September 2019 and will run until June 2022, paralleling and informing the Archdiocese of Liverpool Synod 2020. Although the project will focus primarily on the permanent diaconate, it will also include an evaluation of the new Pastoral Associates initiative and use the lessons learned from this to inform ministry. As such, this project will be an important contributor to Synod 2020.
Concerns that will be addressed by the project include those relating to the depth of understanding of the permanent diaconate (within it and outside of it), 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 relationship to the priesthood of all the faithful, the ministry of priests and bishops and the contribution of voluntary and employed lay workers.
In addition to using 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, a significant methodological innovation for such a ministry research project is 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.
The Ministry Research Project is a partnership between
- the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool, an archdiocese of the Catholic Church that covers the Isle of Man and part of North West England
- Liverpool Hope University, Europe’s only ecumenical university foundation.
The Archdiocese of Liverpool is the beneficiary of a grant from the Porticus Trust. This grant provides the core funding for this research project. The Archdiocese has commissioned Liverpool Hope University to deliver the research and ensure rigorous academic methodologies and oversight.
Rev. Peter McGrail (Principal Investigator), Associate Professor in Christian Theology and Head of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies in the School of Humanities. A priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
Rev. Paul Rooney (Co-Investigator), Head of Department, Department of Geography and Environmental Science in the Faculty of Science. A permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
Project Research Assistants
The project is seeking to appoint a full time research assistant starting from 1st September 2020. This is due to the current research assistant taking up a promoted post in the university.
The post will be located in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science and runs until 30th June 2022. Click here for further details of this job opportunity.
The project steering group reflects the close working relationship which already exists between the Archdiocese of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University, and the fact that the Archdiocese is closely engaged in the delivery of the project and in ensuring that its findings influence future policy.
The members of the steering group are:
- Rev Dr Chris Fallon (Chair), Archdiocesan Director for the Permanent Diaconate;
- Rev Dr Peter McGrail (Principal Investigator), a Catholic priest and Head of Theology, Philosophy and Religion at Liverpool Hope University;
- Rev Paul Rooney (Co-Investigator), Head of the Department, Department of Geography and Environmental Science at Liverpool Hope University and a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese;
- Rev John Traynor, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese and former Chair of the National Conference of Diaconate Directors and Deacon Delegates;
- Mrs Veronica Murphy, Co-ordinator of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Associate Pilot Project;
- V Rev Fr Philip Inch, one of the Synod Moderators who is also a Trustee of Archdiocese;
- Rev Dave Chester, a non-stipendiary Anglican priest who is also a Geographer and Professor at Liverpool Hope University.
The following external advisers with academic and research interests in the permanent diaconate have agreed to assist the Steering Group:
- Rev Mgr Paul McPartlan, Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the Catholic University of America and former chair of the drafting committee for the National Directory for the Permanent Diaconate in England and Wales;
- Dr Brendan Geary, Provincial of the Marist Brothers’ Province of West Central Europe who conducted a 2007 survey of permanent deacons and their wives in England, Scotland and Wales;
- Dr Bridie Stringer, a visiting lecturer in pastoral theology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and author of a 2013 study entitled ‘Baptising Babies and Clearing Gutters: A Fresh Appraisal of the Permanent Diaconate’.
The following external advisers with expertise in GIS and geospatial technologies have agreed to assist the Steering Group:
- Dr. Gregg Milligan, computational scientist with expertise in geo-spatial technologies and numerical modelling;
- Alison Peacock, Transforming Communities Team Leader and Mission Planning Officer, a GIS specialist in the Anglican Diocese of Manchester.
The following outcomes, distilled from a more detailed three year project work schedule, formed part of the funding bid.
- Protocols for digitisation agreed: September 2019
- Digital parish maps: October - December 2019
- Diocesan data sources loaded in to GIS system: January - March 2020
- Interim report to Archdiocesan Synod: June 2020
- Additional layers added to GIS: October - November 2020
- Analysis of findings (interim report): December 2020
- Pastoral Associates online survey completed: March 2021
- Report on Pastoral Associates online survey: April 2021
- Project Symposium: April 2021
- Report on evaluation of Pastoral Associates Pilot Project: July 2021
- Archdiocesan conference: October 2021
- Final report to the Archdiocese and to the national and international diaconate conferences: October - November 2021
- Toolkit and related resources: December 2021 - January 2022
- Academic dissemination (submission of journal articles): December 2021 - June 2022
- National conference and local workshops: February - April 2022
- Review and refinement of toolkit resources: May - June 2022
In addition to the events listed above the Ministry Research project has recently secured agreement to bring the national Diaconate conference to Liverpool Hope University on the 4th – 6th September 2021. This event will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first permanent Deacons in the UK.
Ministry Research Project
c/o Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Liverpool Hope University
Liverpool L 16 9JD