Encouraged as I was by Claire Mathieu’s post on lay evaluation of preaching, I contacted Fr. Michael E. Connors, CSC, director of the John S. Marten Program in Homiletics and Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame [martenprogram.nd.edu], to see if he had any information about similar programs in the United States. He, in turn, connected me to Dr. Karla J. Bellinger, director of the Center for Preaching, Evaluation and Prayer [thecenterforpep.com], whom he called his “trusted advisor on matters of homiletic evaluation.” Dr. Bellinger kindly allowed me to post the appropriate parts of her email to me here at Pray Tell:
“In terms of evaluation of seminarians, our seminary in Cleveland, and I suspect others also, have lay preaching boards who evaluate interns in their third year and also transitional deacons. That is rather common, I believe.
I don’t know of such a movement that is currently ongoing in the U.S. for clergy. There have been fits and starts of some since FIYH made the suggestion for preaching feedback groups, but nothing that seems to have consistently stuck across the board. If there were such a “movement”, I think that we would have heard about it during the coursework at Aquinas. In our DMin courses, we each worked with a preaching advisory team. It’s not a new concept. It’s just rarely done.
For my thesis in preaching, I designed a process for parish renewal via a reverse mentoring process, varying the make-up of lay advisory teams. I have two (and possibly three) parishes that will begin to pilot that process here in my local area – one parish beginning in August, the next in October. If the third is a go, they will begin in January. You can find a description of that process here: http://www.thecenterforpep.com/our-work/preaching-consultation/connecting-pulpit-and-pew-the-connect-process/ . The process is a combination of lay, consultant, and self-evaluation. Both pastors involved are good preachers who would like to be better. They are very interested in better connecting with their people, especially their youth. Both are also young to be pastoring very large parishes (early 40’s).
The book that I am writing for Liturgical Press, Connecting Pulpit and Pew, deals specifically with this issue. I have just completed a joint research project with the NCCL about the interaction of catechetical staff with those who preach in a parish: a significant finding from both my listener study of youth and the study of catechetical leaders is that the quantity of lay conversation with the homilist aboutthe homily correlates closely with the quality of that preaching. That does not give causation; but very clear correlation.
The short answer: for seminarians [lay evaluation process of preaching], yes, rather commonly; for ongoing preaching interaction in a parish, pretty rare.”
I thank Dr. Bellinger for her information and hope that it is of interest and help to Pray Tell’s readers.