New communications technologies have led to challenges for keeping parishes together.
The internet and the cell phone have led to big changes in society, in the ways people communicate and relate to one another. The Church has certainly felt the effects of the new technology as well.
“Not since the printing press or the advent of electricity has the Church had to consider such an epochal shift in social, cultural and psychological sensibilities wrought by a new technology,” said Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life. The institute held a symposium last summer to assist the Church and university in the work of recovering a Catholic understanding of the new cultural context and developing new curricula and pedagogies that aid Church leaders in the work of meaningful cultural engagement.
Now the institute has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help strengthen parish congregations in the digital age. The Church Communications Ecology program will help parish leaders to evaluate the cultural shifts wrought by digital technologies and develop responses that contribute to the vitality of parish communities.
“The Church Communications Ecology program will assist Church leaders in the work of strengthening parish communities in a digital culture where social disruption, distraction and disconnection threaten established institutions and traditions,” the institute said in a press release. “The program’s ‘communications ecology’ approach will give parishes a framework to create healthy environments where ministry, teaching and outreach can thrive.”
“The sacraments, which form the life and being of the parish, are all, in their own way, communications of the Word who continues to make Himself flesh,” said John Cavadini, the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the McGrath Institute. “Our communications strategy must be conformed to this primal and ongoing communication if our parishes are to thrive in the flesh instead of languishing in abstraction and virtual reality.”
Brett Robinson has been named academic director of the Church Communications Ecology program at the institute. He conducts research at the intersection of technology, culture and Catholicism.
“The revitalization of Catholic parishes requires that we pay attention to the forms of communication that lead to deeper communion,” said Robinson. “An awareness of the ways in which media and technology shape our psychology and social dynamics must be taken into account when thinking about how to enhance Catholic identity, trust and vitality at the parish level.”
Beginning in fall 2020, the newly established Church Communications Ecology program at Notre Dame will invite representatives from various dioceses to focus on how to enhance parish vitality through closer attention to communication ethics and practices in the digital age. The program will culminate with a summer conference at Notre Dame where parish leaders will share their findings with their learning community peers.