Parishes, Culture & Evangelisation… Announcing My New Project!


The last couple of weeks, I’ve had my head firmly inside books on secularisation and religion in the UK. They’ve come with me to coffee shops and on trains. I am waking up to the fact that this is going to be my life for the next three years and luckily I am quite enjoying that thought.

So yes… an idea I had nearly 18 months ago (a spark that was somehow lit in my mind after I prayed a novena on this amazing road trip round France) gradually fanned into a little flame, and now, a new adventure is beginning.

The exciting news is… I am beginning doctoral studies on parish culture, and how it relates to a parish’s ability to evangelise.

(You have no idea how many times you repeat this to people and wish you had a recording to tell them all about it. So now — you all know!)

My working title is, What impact does the culture of a Catholic parish have on its ability to attract new members and make disciples of Christ? 

The question has been greatly influenced by Pope Francis’ call in Evangelii Gaudium 28 for parishes to become “completely mission-oriented”. Of course, it has also been enormously influenced by Sherry Weddell’s writing on a culture of silence in our parishes:

A Christian culture that is silent about fundamental things produces Christians who will also be silent about these things with their families, their friends, and in the marketplace. (An article ‘The Spiral of Silence’ on the Catherine of Siena Institute website).

And of course, Fr James Mallon has written and spoken a lot on parish culture.

People often ask what I mean by culture, and I think a helpful definition in relation to the parish is “the way of life of its members; the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation” (Linton: 1945). In other words, ideas, practices, behaviours.

My research will include case studies in parishes where there is already a flourishing culture of discipleship. From there, I hope to identify indicators that contribute to effective, fruitful evangelisation. The next stage will be to undertake case studies in parishes that are in various stages of maintenance or decline, to make comparisons.

I’m really excited and proud to be undertaking this PhD at St Mary’s University, in connection with the Benedict XVI Centre where my supervisor is Dr Stephen Bullivant.

I am kind of amazed that I have ended up going down this path… In the past, I saw people struggle immensely with PhDs and promised myself I would never do one. But God leads us down paths we don’t expect. My main hope and prayer is that this research will be of use and benefit to the Church. Without this, I would not be interested in spending so much time and resources. I am confidently hopeful that the project will produce practical insights that any parish will be able to benefit from, in their journey from maintenance to mission… And that’s why I’m excited!

I’ve been sharing my life on my blog for many years now, so will continue to share this new story… hopefully feeding in little tidbits and glimpses of insight along the way. Stay tuned…!

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3 Responses

  1. This was a really interesting post. I did an MA looking at Bible knowledge in a typical parish for my Maryvale degree- and organised a tour around the country with Jeff Cavins after what I discovered – which was an amazing adventure – hopefully this Phd will see the same kind of fruits!

  1. 4 January 2017

    […] said I would post from time to time on some themes I’m exploring as I study (more about that here). The vast backdrop of my study is of course the secularisation of the West. Undeniably, the […]

  2. 3 June 2017

    […] France, I prayed the novena to the Holy Spirit with some dear friends, and the day after Pentecost, the crazy idea of my PhD research ‘dropped’ into my head. It was unexpected and not in my plan… But somehow, the […]

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