As the Archdiocese of Port of Spain rolls out its pastoral priorities from its Pastoral Plan (2020–25), focusing on Hospitality, Homilies, and Hymns (3Hs), Fr Robert Christo—Vicar of Communications, explores the value of a robust monitoring and evaluation system for quality assurance and effective implementation.
As a diocesan parish priest, I’ve come to realise that priests are public people. I’ve grown to treasure constructive criticism and feedback for continuous improvement in the ministries under my tutelage.
Sometimes, I hear parishioners sharing valuable feedback among themselves in the post-meeting corridors and at the church’s foyers. Sadly, I rarely utilise the results of these private sessions.
My past experience of working in the corporate world as finance/technological team leader for about two decades has led me to see the value of communication feedback as an effective tool to measure performance and continuous improvement.
I pleasantly recall employing trained “mystery shoppers” to routinely seek feedback of the banking experience and I’ve learnt that internal and external evaluations are critical for growth and increased effectiveness in various fields—whether it is at a fine-dining restaurant, a training institute, or even a harvest postmortem.
It is not necessary to adopt all the secular bells and whistles in Church ministries but the basic principle/culture of continuous monitoring and evaluation for improvement should be implemented and utilised.
The willingness to listen and learn from others and an openness to sustaining a listening Church calls for humility and wisdom.
The Book of Proverbs teaches that, “the way of fools is right in their own eyes, but those who listen to advice are the wise (12:15).” Yet the ability to listen and learn from others also calls for humility and the deepening of one’s self- knowledge.
Self-knowledge demands maturity, security, and an openness for improvement and quality assurance. It is difficult to attain and sustain; alone, it is impossible.
Church leaders need a system of accountability. On leaving the seminary, I was taught that the journey of ongoing formation had just begun and the document Patores Dabo Vobis argues that “the priest himself … is responsible for his own formation”.
Therefore, candid but official ongoing assessment is perhaps the most vital ingredient for growth in the life of the Church—both personal and institutional. Church documents support this accountability.
Views were openly expressed which were consistent with Pope Francis’ 2020 World Communication Day message: “… storytelling is an invaluable and rich asset to the audience … communication connects memory with life through stories…”.
Undoubtedly, we Caribbean people do have a great story to tell. It must be told through our media.
In my first three years of priesthood, I became open to parishioners, especially staff, to provide immense formational support and practical assistance through feedback. It was a struggle for me. Organised and systematic feedback can be so useful in those beginning ministry and launching of new initiatives in the Church.
Once, when I solicited feedback after Mass, a teenager vociferously declared, “Too much history, too much history in the homily!” and he darted out the church. I learned my lesson well in subsequent homilies. I no longer feel that I am on my own since learning that communicative feedback is a win-win for all.
As we advance our Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan (APP) and the deepening of the 3Hs (Hospitality, Hymns and Homilies), accountability for monitoring and evaluation has been built into the process but this new culture must be shaped and sustained by the Church at large.
Additional ways for benchmarking to evaluate APP’s pastoral priorities have been identified.
Firstly, it would be interesting to test train “mystery persons” to anonymously visit a parish’s Sunday Mass and observe, evaluate and recommend actions regarding the experience.
Secondly, any individual clergy member might actively seek evaluation. The parish team/staff can perform this service and share the co-responsibility for his personal and pastoral development. Areas of evaluation can be predefined. Recently, I engaged a team of two or three persons weekly before/after Mass and asked for unadulterated and direct feedback on 3Hs. The results were eye-opening.
There is no shortage of pitfalls. There are those with conflicting observations. Many vent. Others promote their own agenda. Some mouth platitudes. Reflection and integration into a further distilling process through 3–4 evaluation teams have prompted me to contemplate the launch of an ongoing ‘Views from the Pews’ (parishioners’ evaluation of parish life) initiative.
The author of the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ explains, “Every high priest is taken from among their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifice and for sins” (5:1). Evaluation, support and constructive criticism of this offering is of paramount importance for the success of the life in the Church.
Our APP is poised to reap the benefits of such continuous evaluation and monitoring mechanism.
“Co-responsibility demands change in mindset, especially concerning the role of layperson in the Church. They should not be regarded as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but, rather, as people who are really
‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and acting.”
Pope Benedict XVI, in a message on the occasion of the Sixth Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action, August 10, 2012.