Research challenges Catholic parishes and schools to work more closely together

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Parish and school collaboration is essential to reach out to non-churchgoing Catholics, according to an extensive research project on evangelisation in England and Wales. Acknowledging the good work currently being done, the research calls for the Church to be more responsive to the experience of parents who have sent their children to Catholic schools.

The research paper titled, ‘Challenges and Opportunities for the New Evangelisation: A Case Study of Catholic Primary School Parents in England and Wales’ was published in Westminster to coincide with a one-day Evangelisation Symposium on 5 November. It was commissioned by the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis and was written by Dr Ann Casson.

Rt Rev Nicholas Hudson, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, led the Symposium day and said: “I was deeply moved when I had the privilege of reading the whole paper at one sitting. I believe anyone with a pastoral heart can’t help but be touched by it. What is original – strikingly original – about this piece of work is that we’re being allowed to hear the voices of parents who send their children to Catholic schools in a way we’ve not heard them before. One of the things, which comes over very strongly from a reading of the report, is that our Catholic schools provide an invaluable threshold for meeting non-churchgoing Catholic parents.”

He added: “What struck me when reflecting on the research findings is that many of the potential pastoral responses could be very simple, yet in their simplicity they could have a transforming impact on the faith journey of a non-churchgoing Catholic parent. Most of what the parents share in Dr Casson’s case study is significant but uncomplicated, with the main obstacles relating to fairly basic practical things that could be easily addressed if the parish and school perhaps worked together in a more joined-up way.”

The research is the latest expression of the Department’s Crossing the Threshold project which has as its focus the development, with partners, of strategies and resources to reach out to non-churchgoing Catholics. The paper explores the spiritual needs and interests, as well as the faith and practice, of a sample of Catholic parents of children in Catholic primary schools in England and Wales.

Around 70 delegates from dioceses and groups across England and Wales attended the day Symposium at which a summary of the new research was presented, and workshops were offered to showcase existing good practice and resources. An important part of the day was receiving insights and feedback from those gathered to affirm current, and to inform new, pastoral and evangelistic outreach.

Fr Peter Harris from Bishop’s Stortford attended the Symposium and said: “It is so important for us to come together and to share the reality of people’s lives of faith and especially to focus on the daily miracle of how the family of the Church constantly renews itself in strengthening, inspiring and challenging each other. I am taking home many practical examples and insights.”

Meanwhile Nichola Hurley from the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham said: “A day of inspiration, hospitality and sharing of God’s gifts and Church resources. An important time of listening, prompting us to persevere in sharing the Gospel message.” Marie Potter, Vice President of the Catholic Women’s League in Southwark Archdiocese, shared: “I gained a deeper understanding of the issues for parents engaging with parish life and excellent strategies for making families feel truly welcome in our parish.”

Case Study

The full research paper can be found on this link:

A breadth of partners were involved in and supported the research and include the Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Desk, the Catholic Education Service, and the Marriage and Family Life Project Office. Discussion questions for on-going reflection are offered at the end of each chapter to assist the making of local responses in service of Catholic evangelisation.

The research was supervised, in service of the Bishops’ Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis, by the staff of the Home Mission Desk, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – Secretariat.
The Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis.