Brett Hoover Unites Scholars and Pastoral Leaders at The National Conversation on Shared Parish Life

Associate Professor of Theology, Brett Hoover, gathered 60 scholars and pastoral leaders from across the United States for The National Conversation on Shared Parish Life, which took place July 22nd through the 24th. This virtual gathering was hosted by LMU and included theologians, lay leaders, clergy, Catholic journalists, and sociologists of religion. The conference created a space for attendees to strategize how to make Catholic multicultural parishes more just, equitable, and inclusive as institutions and communities.

For years now, Hoover has been involved in interdisciplinary research on Catholic parishes that are shared by two or more distinct cultural or language groups, working with theory and research methods from both the sociology of religion and theology. Citing the inaccessibility of academic research, he was inspired to bridge the gap between scholars and pastoral leaders. “[Pastoral leaders] are struggling on a daily basis with the culture clash and asymmetrical power dynamics of these shared parishes. I also sometimes worry that research in theology and the other humanities can become very focused on one person’s solo work.”

Hoover arranged The National Conversation on Shared Parish Life with a specific vision in mind. The conference began and closed in communal worship lead by Dr. Ricky Manalo, Dr. Layla Karst, and John Michael Reyes. As a crucial element to parish life, Hoover says the worship added an embodied and emotive quality to online conversation. However, the programming was mostly comprised of small group working sessions in which participants were able to focus in on particular lenses or perspectives on parish life. “The team really wanted to create a social environment that emphasized frankness and an egalitarian conversation. Sometimes in religious settings, people are too tempted just to be nice, even though Jesus never commanded his disciples to be nice, just to love one another.”

Small groups explored questions of representation in ministries and leadership, worship and aesthetics, religious education for a more just parish life, parish structures, and intercultural encounters, among other topics. The gathering inspired conversation regarding how to better confront racism and xenophobia, to rethink parish structures, and to create more inclusive faith formation and worship. “Our very first panel conversation called out institutional racism in parish life, and they grappled with the uneasy tension between attending to culture clash and more systemic issues of bias and discrimination.”

This event was funded by a grant from an anonymous foundation acquired by LMU’s Center for Religion and Spirituality under theologian Robert Hurteau. “The grant allowed me to gather together a team of scholars and pastoral leaders to look at how to have a more just and equitable parish life.” The team included two of Hoover’s pastoral leader colleagues, LMU alumnus, Claudia Avila Cosnahan and Armando Cervantes, as well as two theologian colleagues, Susan Bigelow Reynolds of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Ricky Manalo, a Paulist priest, composer, and independent liturgical scholar. “We made sure that we had a diverse gathering, with no majority racial or ethnic group, and working hard to avoid tokenism even in smaller demographic groups.”

Theology Professor, Cecilia Gonzalez Andrieu, and Assistant Professor, Layla Karst, assisted in planning this event. Also credited for participation are LMU graduate students, Gab Poma, Judith Ramon, Ray Almanza, and Julio de Leon, and alumnae, Jennifer Owens-Jofré, Heidi Villaluz, and Claudia Avila Cosnahan.

Hoover asks anyone who wishes to help create research or resources to contact him (bhoover@lmu.edu). “The team sees this project not as one discrete event, but as the beginning of a network that will both do academic research on parish life (which remains understudied, especially by theologians), and produce resources for pastoral leaders in English and in Spanish.”