Congregational education, collective ministry and the people of God: Toward a social philosophy of responsible membership

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Manfred Stanley


Congregational education, Collective ministry, People of God, Social philosophy, Membership

Subject Categories

Civic and Community Engagement | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


Predicated by a new and developing ecclesiology, the Roman Catholic Church is seeking to renew parish life in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. With a new emphasis--on the Church as "the People of God"--reconciling the concept of tradition as authoritative in handing on the deposit of faith with the democratic habits of its people is increasingly difficult. Can the Church fulfill the subsequent task of reconstituting the evolving character of local parish governance nuanced by the democratic ethos of the society? This dissertation is about that question.

Reconstructing the social structures of parish life to meet the requirements of communal living particularized by a democratic society requires a specialized pedagogy. That pedagogy in this dissertation will be called the Parish Forum . Founded on the premise that the activities of ministry should follow an initial social act of dialogue, the Parish Forum is a lasting communicative environment whereby individuals discuss, understand, and appropriate the meanings embedded in their sacred text and traditions, as well as a means for providing community renewal.

Principles found in the social philosophies of John Dewey, Emile Durkheim and Jurgen Habermas provide the basis for discussing the implications of the following questions. Can a congregation bring about a shared self-conscious consensus of its duty to its collective environment and the limits of this duty in a pluralistic culture? Can people distinguish between the general calling of commonwealth membership and their particular callings to other specialized identities? Can the church develop institutional self study methods so that the functions of ministry to a community (i.e., diagnosis of need, mobilization of resources, etc.) be collectivized throughout a congregation rather than lodged within the office of a single person or group? Can the church organize a division of labor on the basis of an awareness of the requirements for a collective ministry? What role does the Forum principle play in these processes?

Informed by experiences in congregational programs, this dissertation focuses on the development of educational theory in the creation of a congregational forum for renewal of parish life.


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