Witnessing the Need for Creativity in Pastoral Ministry

Witnessing the Need for Creativity in Pastoral Ministry

Date published: May 4, 2017

The International Festival of Creativity in Church Management, sponsored by Villanova University and the Lateran University in Rome, took place in the heart of the Eternal City this March. A creative community of exchange and discussion, the festival brought together researchers, entrepreneurs, theologians and church management professionals with the purpose of mutual inspiration and collaborative co-creation of a new vision of parish life and of practices to build up future paths.

The University of Dallas Ann & Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry was present at the festival in a special way through Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Marti Jewell, D.Min.

“There was a worldwide, global flavor, the all roads lead to Rome kind of thing,” Jewell said when commenting on the festival’s character.

15 researchers were invited from 4 different continents, hailing not only from the United States and Italy, but also from countries such as Germany, Spain, Ireland, and Australia.

“The idea was, how can theology and research help make the Church a better place in 20 years?” Jewell said. “That question was asked of every speaker, every panelist, every researcher.”

Jewell, who had dedicated over 6 years to “The Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project,” had the opportunity to share her research with this international community in the form of a presentation entitled “What do you mean, co-responsibility?” which sparked questions among attendees and drew from her research about excellence in parish leadership.

“In my research, we met with pastors, parish staff and parish council members from all over the country to have a conversation about parish leadership,” Jewell said.

Jewell and her colleagues discovered that different styles of leadership and different ways of collaborating are emerging.

“For years I had been puzzled, because some people said, ‘Yes, we collaborate!’ And some people said, ‘No, we don’t collaborate.’ But what the research showed was that we weren’t using the word the same way,” Jewell said.

With this divergence in mind, Jewell began writing on the topic a few years ago, and a book series was published by Loyola Press. At the same time, she noted, Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a speech to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in which he called for the clergy to view the laity as “co-responsible” for the mission.

“What does it mean to be ‘co-responsible?’” asked Jewell. “Is that another one of these words, where it means something different to everybody? Or does it mean the same thing to us? And how do we do it?”

These were the questions that Jewell was dedicated to investigating, and she found that attendees from different countries responded differently to research. Met with enthusiasm from many of the Americans at her presentation, Jewell observed that those from other countries were hearing some of these differences for the first time.

“As I reflected on their questions, it has to do with how we’re using the word leadership and leader,” Jewell said. “What we need to do as a Church, is to understand what leadership does, and what we’re called to do as missionary disciples. We’re called to take leadership in taking the Good News out into the world.”

Expressing her belief that creativity plays a huge role in ministry, Jewell cited Craig Dykstra’s concept of “pastoral imagination,” explaining that just as an artist or musician has an artistic imagination, so too does a pastoral minister have a “sixth sense” of their field that helps them excel.

“In this project, we found that pastoral imagination does benefit from creativity,” Jewel said. “Not every community is the same. If we have a ‘one size fits all’ approach, it’s not going to work. We have to build community, we have to provide for sacramental life, we have to catechize and form disciples. But how we do that, oh, that’s where the creativity comes in.”

With a great deal of research from this project, coupled with her experience of the festival, Jewell has plenty of thoughts churning about leadership, creativity, and pastoral ministry.

“I will be writing a chapter for a book coming up out of the festival,” Jewell said. “What I hope I’m inviting people to do is open their paradigm of what leadership is and who does it, and what can happen if we all are truly co-responsible for the Church.”

With another such festival taking place at Villanova University in 2018, the concept of creativity in pastoral ministry is flourishing on an international scale. Jewell expressed hope that this flourishing will include not only a study of the past and present but also a marked emphasis on the future of the Church for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

“The Church of the future has to be in touch with the people of today, and especially young Catholics,” Jewell said. “We need to be able to really really listen to God’s people, and understand that the Spirit is speaking to us there.”

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