Ministry Research Project
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.
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 theme for the 2022 National Deacon Assembly was ‘ 50 years and counting. Permanent Diaconate – past, present….future ’. It marked the renewal of the permanent diaconate as an active, permanent order of ministry and looked forward in a changing world to how the diaconate will continue to be “a driving force for the Church’s service or diakonia toward the local Christian communities and a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ Himself” (Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Ad Pascendum, Introduction).
The national organising body for these annual events is the National Diaconal Conference. The local organising team for the 2022 event was the Ministry Research Project team based at Liverpool Hope University. The venue was Liverpool Hope University on their Hope Park campus.
The programme for the National Deacon Assembly 2022 is available here. National Deacon Assembly 2022 programme
Keynote Speakers and their talks
Audio recordings of each of three keynote speakers’ lectures are available below.
Mgr. Paul McPartlan
‘The Diaconate:meaning, theology, and value for today’ - Listen here
Mgr. Paul McPartlan is a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster (UK) and Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at The Catholic University of America (CUA). He has written on the diaconate and was closely involved in the production of the Directory of Formation for the Diaconate in England & Wales in 2010.
Paul was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and graduated from Cambridge in Mathematics in 1978. Having studied Philosophy and Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Basil Hume in 1984. He gained his doctorate from Oxford, and then served for four years in a London parish. After holding a postdoctoral research fellowship at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, from 1993-1995, he was appointed to the faculty of Heythrop College in the University of London, where he taught systematic theology for ten years before coming to CUA in 2005. He served for two terms on the International Theological Commission (2004-2009, 2009-2014).
A member of the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church since 2005, he has participated in international Anglican-Roman Catholic and Roman Catholic-Methodist dialogue, also. He was appointed as a papal chaplain by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and served as Acting Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at CUA in 2014-2019.
Deacon Gerald Dupont
‘Global development of the Diaconate since Vatican II’ - Listen here
Deacon Gerald DuPont of the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, Texas, is the first president of the International Diaconate Centre (IDC) from the United States.
Gerald went to Louisiana State University where he majored in petroleum engineering and chemical engineering. He then worked for Union of California which eventually took him to Houston, Texas. He holds a Masters of Scripture, a Masters of Systematic Theology and a Doctorate of Ministry. Gerald has taught at the seminary at the University of St Thomas, Houston and theology at the Oblate School of Theology at San Antonio. He served for 13 years as the director of the permanent diaconate in Galveston-Houston.
Gerald has been chief consultant on the permanent diaconate to the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and has been on the board of the National Association of Deacon Directors (NADD) in the USA where he served as a regional representative for six years and chair for four years.
Gerald has been involved in NADD major projects including the national congress celebrating the 50 years of the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the United States, a rewrite of the national directory for deacons, a national study on the diaconate and a process for assessing those who are applying for the diaconate.
Deacon John Morrill
‘A restored Diaconate or a new Diaconate: a historian’s perspective’ - Listen here
Deacon John Morrill is emeritus Professor of History at Cambridge who specialises in the political, religious, social, and cultural history of early-modern Britain from 1500 to 1750, especially the English Civil War. He is best known for his scholarship on Early Modern Politics and his unique county studies approach which he developed at Cambridge. In 1996, Morrill was ordained as a deacon for the Diocese of East Anglia, England. He has held several senior positions in the Diocese (e.g. Lourdes Pilgrimage Diocesan Director, Chair of the Commission for Evangelisation and Assistant Director for Diaconal Formation) and until recently taught Church History and Pastoral Theology for the Southern Deacon Formation programme in England.
Workshops and Exhibitors
A list and short description of the planned workshops and exhibitors at the 2022 Assembly is available here: Workshops and Exhibitors
Delegate reflections following the discussion workshops are recorded here: National Deacon Assembly - Discussion Boards
Delegate reflections at the close of the 2022 Assembly are recorded here: National Deacon Assembly - Delegate Reflections
Photographs of the 2022 Assembly
A gallery of photographs taken at the 2022 Assembly is available here.
Ministry Research Project
c/o Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Liverpool Hope University
Liverpool L 16 9JD