At that first Summit, I felt in my heart a spring of water push up out of the dry desert clay and begin making a garden of the wilderness inside me just as those mission trips did so long ago. The thirst in my soul is for the Church to look like family again, and when I look around at the men and women who’ve heard the call in Catholic Creatives and answered it, I don’t just see temporary friends, I see brothers and sisters.
I worked in ministry, but couldn’t coax myself to join any Catholic young adult communities. I didn’t want to have to hide the fact that I did yoga in the mornings or listened to NPR. Deep down, I honestly had lost my dream for the utopic Catholic community I saw at that Steubenville conference. I kept my distance, instead making friends in the Dallas start-up circles. That is, until I found Edmund Mitchell’s Facebook profile.
If we haven't had the pleasure of meeting IRL or online, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Cat from Kansas and have been part of the Catholic Creatives community online since almost the beginning. I've gotten to be at two Dallas meetups and both of the Summits, and I am loving getting to bring forth this growing community.
Yesterday I walked outside my door in the morning and was caught between a giggle and a cry. After months of frigidly cold weather, it was WARM. Warm enough to stand on my front porch and drink my coffee. Mentally I'd giving up hope on ever seeing spring arrive. I knew it would come, but the day in, day out experience of static electricity, bulky cumbersome layers, and painful extremities made some days seem like endless waiting.
I know that there will be other cold days before warm weather is completely settled in, but it's those little moments that remind me that something greater is coming, if I just hold on a biiiiiiiiiit longer.
It can feel that way with so many things in life. We just need some sparks of joy to get us through the cold and monotonous.
Even the Catholic Creative community needs that.
That's why I'm super excited to announce:
This year we are launching the
New Renaissance Digital Festival!
The festival will be an online gathering held March 25-29, on the anniversary of our very first Summit.
Our goal is to reinvigorate the wider community and relaunch who we are for those who have been with us from the beginning but have become disconnected, and those who have just recently joined who aren’t totally keyed in to all the opportunities available to them. There is a palpable energy that has been born from CC thus far, but we have to keep asking, “What could be?”
So we’re going to remind the collective where we’ve come from, show off what we’re doing, and point ahead to where we’re going. That direction comes from everyone. We’ll ask both, “How has the community changed your life?” and also “What is YOUR dream for the community?”
The Festival activities will include:
A rebrand/relaunch of meetups and announcing some dates
An online makers market
State of Communion
Raffle for prize packages from a choice selection of some of our favorite creations
And more, of course!
But you don't have to wait to start the festivities!
If you are a part of the Facebook group or CC Slack, March 15-22 we will be posting a poll to vote for a LIVE podcast airing! We pulled the numbers from our most download episodes and asked if those guests would want to jump on live for you all.
Voting will only last a week, though, so jump on your platform of choice and get your vote in!
And, to not leave you with too much of a tease, the next Summit date will be announced at the end of the Festival week. We’ve got a lot to look forward to!
See you in the festivities!
Title photo by Patrick Thomas
I’ll admit that when I saw the words “New Renaissance” the first time I went to the Catholic Creatives website, I thought it was, at best, harmlessly quixotic; at worst, prideful and unattainable.
To me, the word “Renaissance” evokes thoughts of a time long-passed, when society and creators and the Church held similar ideals. Institutions actually valued artists—I’m pretty sure Michelangelo didn’t win a design contest to paint the Sistine Chapel for “exposure.” Everyone moved towards the same goal: beauty and renewal.
I picture musicians and scientists and philosophers attending Mass and having breakthroughs each day. I picture well-dressed commoners spending their time in lofty conversation between shifts of idyllic farm work. I picture city squares where people gather, constantly brimming with new ideas. Not exactly the monotonous-40-hour-work-week-then-Netflix-binge model we have. Not the isolation and echo chambers. And definitely not the political infighting, the struggle for arts funding, the shallow values in media, the never-ending timeline scroll that consumes us.
It seemed silly—even arrogant—to claim we are the harbingers of a New Renaissance when the world looks anything but ripe for renewal.
How would we gain momentum to shift a society and even Church members that are continually opposed to the upward call of beauty and creativity? Don’t get me wrong: I know we’re onto something important here; I just didn’t see it expanding to that same level of historical magnitude, because it seems like there are so many obstacles around and within us.
So when I was tasked with reflecting on Matt Meeks’ talk from the 2017 Summit, “The New Renaissance,” I was somewhat skeptical. He began by pointing to moments in history where renaissances took place (it wasn’t just Italy in the 1500s, btw) and examining the “ingredients” for that level of artistic, intellectual, and cultural renewal to happen.
It made sense on a rational level. Each historical renaissance checked the boxes: systems in need of renewal; a specific space; a new level of societal connectivity; the union of people; fervent prayer and faith. And when he arrived at the New Renaissance that’s supposed to be taking place now, he showed the fertile soil we currently have. We exist in a new space that connects us like never before—the digital sphere—and are in desperate need of both systematic and personal revitalization. If we capitalize on this connectivity and hunger for newness, it could be historic.
But we aren’t seeing a renaissance, at least not yet, because we lack essential ingredients. It’s not because we’re facing newer, tougher obstacles or because we’ve lost our talents as a species or even because technology has rendered us less capable of creativity. It's that we are lacking the union of God’s people.
Yeah, no shit Sherlock, you might be thinking. Of course we need people to be united. That’s like, the whole point of having a “common goal.” And that’s what I was thinking when I neared the end of the talk, until Matt mentioned John 17:21, when Jesus prays “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”
That verse has been nagging at me since a silent retreat back in March. I’d always seen unity as a bit “kumbaya.” I thought the word “fellowship” was a cute excuse for a lack of substance; community-building seemed so shallow compared to the moral and theological formation people clearly needed. I definitely wanted to treat others with respect and kindness, but I cared more about getting close to God. I just didn’t see the point of emphasizing relationships beyond what human virtue requires.
But one of Jesus’ last prayers was for unity, and not just a hold-hands-around-a-campfire unity. He prays for Trinitarian unity among us, His disciples. “That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”
I took John 17 into my Holy Hour on the last day of that silent retreat and could not get over this verse. What are you saying, Jesus?! Why does it matter that we are one with each other? Isn’t our goal oneness with You? And of course, that is the goal—to be one with God. The Lord assured me that the aim of life is to be united to Him in everything, and that He wants to be united to me. Divine love desires union.
But here’s where I think Jesus was heading: divine love desires union, so we participate in and incarnate the love of God when we establish real, dynamic, boundary-destroying union. When we come together while retaining our individuality, we become more and more an image of the Trinity, which is simply and mysteriously a perfect union of distinct persons. That sort of human community leads people to the ultimate community of the Trinity. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are one, so too does Jesus want us to remove divisions and become one in order to return to Oneness Itself.
God urged me to lean into this truth during and after that Holy Hour, but it stayed tucked away in my journal, a lovely spiritual moment that I had no idea how to enact in my life—until the verse resurfaced in a talk I had almost written off. I went back to the beginning and listened again, and I realized I’d been doubly wrong in the best way. Renaissance was not far-off, and unity was not shallow. In fact, it has been my own unbelief in both that has prevented this fertile ground for the New Renaissance from being tilled, planted, and harvested abundantly.
I have been fighting for my own success for far too long, not realizing that sowing into real community with fellow creatives would bring the momentum I was looking for all along.
My internalized biases and stereotypes about who others are or should be don’t just prevent me from seeing the image of God in them; I can’t become the image of the Triune God without them. When I mask my fear that I’ll never become the writer I want to be and pretend I have it all together, I take myself further from the union Jesus prayed for. Not honestly addressing my shortcomings (most notably, procrastination and paralyzing self-doubt) or judging others for theirs allows division to enter into my heart: my community won’t see me as I really am, and I won’t see others in their full dignity. I also fall short when I turn away from the Trinity, when I rely on myself to “be productive” instead of relying on God to bear fruit.
The New Renaissance will come out of the community of distinct persons that mirrors the Trinity—each person different and whole, yet united in purpose and love, creating as the Triune Creator does. When I let cynicism destroy my faith in God to initiate renewal, my trust in others, or my own vocation to bring beauty into the world, the renaissance stalls. I am recommitting to authentic relationships, fostered by honesty and the grace to love beyond myself, because I believe it is how we will create what the world desperately needs. Oneness is the upward call and challenge; it is the only way to continue forward.
Blog by Courtney Kiolbassa
Poet, prose painter, crafter of words.
We don’t always know the impact we’re having.
Liv Nino made bold choices in organizing last year’s Friday night CC Summit liturgy. We prayed solemn Vespers with a lucinarium, in which participants chant while holding individual candles, and prayed with iconography. It was outside most people’s experiences, and she knew it. She knew it would encourage people to face unfamiliarity, to take a risk, and find a deeper sense of unity beyond the liturgy battles we’re so used to fighting. She knew this community—which had barely even spent time in-person together, much less prayed together—would have to leave their comfort at the door in order to encounter the divine.
Like most of us when we’ve poured ourselves into our creations, she picked it apart, knew all of the problems, and wasn’t able to appreciate her own work.
Throughout the liturgy, she was a little preoccupied with the priest who got confused and the music minister who came in later than she’d wanted. She hoped everyone was experiencing God in a new way but had no idea how to tell if they were. Even as she held the icon so Catholic Creatives could approach the altar in prayer, her “sacristan eyes” blurred the beauty in the church, in the soft candlelight, in the faces of her fellow artists.
It wasn’t until the Summit had ended and she was back home that she truly saw herself, the liturgy, and the CC community…through the eyes (or rather, lens) of photographer Elissa Voss. The photographs struck her, giving her a new view of the church architecture, the unity of the attendees, and the depth of their prayer. Everything came back to her in a totally new light.
In the photos, she saw a unified community—people who used to be profile pictures on a computer screen were now faces illuminated by candles and singing as one. She saw others encountering God through her creation. It took another artist to give Liv a view of the beauty people were experiencing, and in so many ways that beauty confirmed God’s anointing and His delight in her. It was as if He was speaking to her, “Look, my daughter, your work is special, and it matters. Keep going.” In Liv’s words, the photos “gave flight to a reality that is at once startlingly honest and an upward call to who we can be.”
We are sometimes unaware of the goodness we bring into the world and the goodness of God’s call in our life. All it takes is another artist to reframe our perspective, revealing the truth and urging us to become what we are.
This week, we’d love to hear from you: how has the Catholic Creatives community provoked you to see something—yourself, God, beauty, others—in a new light?
I came out of college in pieces and had no idea how to put myself back together.
I had helped start a household that had collapsed in on its own rigidity, climbed the ladder of campus leadership only to plummet like a chicken from a tall building. I left ready to try my hand at a career and instead landed a part time youth ministry job that had me living with my parents, carpooling with my brother, and working in a packaging warehouse to make it work. I was really broken when I met Mike.
I had been pursuing this beautiful Palestinian girl who happened to play in the worship band at Mike’s church. I showed up ready to disregard these foolish protestants and instead found myself sobbing on the floor after the first worship set. I wiped myself off the floor and promptly crashed into someone’s car in the parking lot, because sometimes when God decides to walk in the room you're motor skills stop working.
I knew it wasn’t a fluke when I went back the next week, committed to finally making my move and asking out that girl after the service. Again I had to mop myself up after melting into a pool of tears in front of these silly heretics. I never did end up asking that girl out, but I did keep making the hour drive from the suburbs into east Dallas despite my family’s protests. There I experienced a level of care and hospitality I’d never encountered in the Catholic Church before in my life. The second week I was there, I was invited out for coffee by the pastor. The third week I was there, I was invited to a lifegroup, which I joined, and the fourth week, I went up to the pastor for prayer at the end of the service and he told me that he felt that the Lord was calling me to be “discipled.”
"Discipleship" before it was a thing.
This was before Sheryll Waddell’s book on discipleship came out, so it was not plastered on the cover of every new Catholic book or added to every new parish mission statement. I had no idea what that word meant. Jordan, the pastor of that little church, did not seem phased, and simply began pointing out random guys in the congregation. The first dude looked a bit too wild, the second man was too much of a salteen craker. The third dude was bald, tall, and reminded of me of a Franciscan brother without a beard, so I said “sure” and I let Jordan introduce us. That was how I met Mike. He was just some random dude picked out of a crowded little non denominational church in east Dallas.
We met up for dinner at his place the following day. He was paleo, so dinner was more or less fermented nuts and flax seeds. We shared our stories with each other over this strange meal when we were done Mike asked me what I was doing at 5am the following day. Needless to say I was a little taken aback. I told him I was a youth minister so I shouldn’t be expected to get up before 11am. He said he wanted me to come and do his morning prayer time with him. I made the 45 minute drive.
No one had ever done that before. I’ve been in the thick of it. I went to one of the best youth groups in the great country of Texas, I went to seminary, I lived at Ave Maria, and no one had ever asked me to do anything like that before.
Part of it was just the sheer audacity of the dude to ask me to drive 45 minutes to his house and pray with him at 5am, but the rest of it was the fact that I’d never been invited into another man’s most intimate prayer space before. I went, and what I saw totally transformed my prayer life. I learned more about prayer in that one hour than I had at all four years going to Catholic college, and all he did was let me into his life to see it from the inside.
And that was just how Mike always did things. For the next two years, I met with Mike and my friend Jarrad every Monday night while my soul was slowly eviscerated. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was leading us through a 12 step program for the emotionally broken. During that season, I was known and seen by Mike and Jarrad like I’d never been known or seen before. My junk was out on the table, and they could sort through it and point it out to me in total honesty and love. I realized that I had never been so wrong about so much in my whole life. I saw for the first time my own selfishness and pride and my wounds and how they colored every intention and action and experience I’d ever had. It was unbelievably freeing.
Mike's Rules for intimacy
When we met every week, we started with two guidelines that made it safe for us to be that open. The first rule was that we would never share anything that was said in the group to anyone outside of it without permission. That one is sort of an obvious one that a lot of small groups try to employ to make intimacy possible. The second rule was much more rare. The second rule was this: No giving advice unless it’s asked for.
Seems simple, but try it out. I’ve been trying to follow it for 6 years now and still can’t do it.
I asked Mike why that rule, and this is what he told me: “We’re not here to fix each other. That’s God’s job. We’re here to work through our own junk, and to do that we have to deflate our need and desire to place ourselves above each other. Our pride being crushed is more important .” I feel like that principle is one that we need to do a better job of applying with each other. Often time in forums or discussions, when a person surfaces an idea or a belief, our first reaction is to try to fix what’s broken. The problem is we’re not the fixers.
I was a punk ass kid all my life with a tape that played in my head all day every day “no one understands you, you just don’t fit, no one gets it.” Over and over again those thoughts would run through my mind until one day Mike finally told me “Bro, you can be understood if you go deep and commit.” He was right. He created a space for me where I wasn’t judged, where my experiences and emotions and opinions were accepted and heard. Once that happened, my heart softened and God did most of the work of transforming me in the secret place of payer. All Mike had to do was listen and share from his own experiences vulnerably.
We need to believe that our God is big enough to work on ourselves and each other. We don’t have to fix each other, we don’t have to fix ourselves, we don’t have to fix the Church. God will move through us if we are faithful to letting him move in us first.
I want to offer this as a principle that I’m going to try to follow in our dialogues with each other. I promise not to try and fix you. I promise not try to educate you. I promise not to give you advice that you didn’t ask for. I’m going to listen to you and just ask that you do the same for me.
For Daniela Madriz, what made the Catholic Creatives Summit in March 2017 so different from other “networking” events was how beautifully people’s lives aligned beyond just sharing a career or interest. She described the personality of a Catholic creative—the entrepreneurial spirit, the depth of character, the curiosity to discover God in beauty—and how unique it was to be around people who clicked with her, who “got” her.
Unbeknownst to Daniela, one of those people aligned so well that she’d get engaged to him less than a year later.
One for the Storybooks
The story of that Summit-initiated relationship has become a Catholic Creatives staple. Ringmaster Marcellino D’Ambrosio chatted with Daniela and her fiancé Alex Quintana about how their relationship unfolded. Over and over, they mentioned the serendipity of it all, the alignments and connections that seemed pre-ordained, and we thought you’d enjoy swooning over their story with us. If you want to watch the interview yourself, check it out rough and unedited below.
Alex, ironically, wasn’t totally sold on going to the Summit at first. He was making a film in Austin, focused on his projects, and only had a few small connections with other Catholic Creatives in the Facebook group. Likewise, native Guatemalan Daniela was in the U.S. for about a month to develop her marketing and design work and visit her then-boyfriend, and though she loved being part of Catholic Creatives, she didn’t know if getting to the Summit was worth the hassle.
They both finally decided to go—Daniela, at the encouragement of said then-boyfriend, and Alex, mostly because he wanted to get more involved in the faith-art intersection. And it didn’t hurt that he had noticed (read: Facebook stalked) a cute girl from Guatemala who was going to the Summit as well.
The Summit began properly, at a bar, and Alex found one of Daniela’s mutual friends to see if talking to her would mean he’d eventually get to talk to Daniela. Things didn’t go exactly as planned: Daniela saw her friend Corina talking to Alex and decided not to interrupt Corina’s conversation with a handsome Catholic guy. She even told Corina to date Alex, but Corina was on a dating fast at the time. In Daniela’s words, that was a “perfect misalignment.”
Alex took some more initiative and, throughout the conference, kept “winding up” in conversations with Daniela, where he learned that she was dating someone else and decided to simply foster their friendship. Their shared faith was a great jumping-off point; they admired each others’ talent and passion. At the end of the Summit, Daniela left to Tennessee to spend time with her boyfriend. Alex was somewhat disappointed that there couldn’t have been more, but figured whatever was supposed to happen would happen.
Unforseen Endings and Unexpected Beginnings
It took another misalignment before Alex and Daniela’s stories started to intertwine again. After only a few days of being together, Daniela and her boyfriend mutually and cordially ended their relationship, which left her with two weeks in the U.S. and nothing to do over Easter weekend. She posted on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to meet up while she was in the States, and after some short comments and messages from other friends, nothing was working out.
With true Catholic Creatives flair, Alex went out on a limb: he commented a long paragraph with a detailed itinerary for sightseeing in Austin (somewhere Daniela had always wanted to go), a visit to Schoenstatt shrine, hangouts with others who had been at the Summit, and plans for Triduum in Dallas—which is where Daniela would be flying out of at the end of her trip. Some quick messages back and forth, and she was off to hang out with Alex and his family and friends. Everything was aligning.
Said Alex, “She just arrived on my doorstep. It was kind of a miracle.” His family shamelessly initiated the conversation to see if she was still dating her previous boyfriend, and Alex took a leap of faith in revealing his feelings for her early on. Daniela found her feelings grow for him, too. He checked all the big boxes, of course—the shared worldview, the passion and spontaneity of a freelance life—and the little alignments delighted her all the more: his family’s enthusiasm, the fun they had together exploring Texas, and, admittedly, “his Latin last name.”
Daniela flew home with butterflies and, though worried her whirlwind trip would cause “a PR fiasco back home,” she knew that things had clicked in a way they never had before.
She was right. In February of 2018, Alex proposed to Daniela, surrounded by mountains and rose petals. They’ll be married in January, and are incredibly grateful for the way the Summit impacted their lives in multiple ways. Catholic Creatives has been instrumental for Daniela’s career in freelance design work. Being able to collaborate, learning from Creatives’ initiatives, getting to see people really invest in quality design: it’s motivated and encouraged her. Alex sees Catholic Creatives as “a sign of hope, of reaching people who need to be reached,” and credits a lot of his personal and professional growth to the relationships he built at the Summit.
Obviously, this relationship is one for the books. We are thrilled for more serendipitous alignments and connections to emerge from the CC Summit on September 13-16, 2018!
By Courtney Kiolbassa
Poet, Writer, and Love Story Aficionado.
"An excerpt from The Mindful Catholic, available on Amazon from Beacon Publishing"
Chinese Finger Traps
Have you ever used or seen one of those Chinese finger traps? They are braided tubes that you stick a finger in each end of, and as you try to pull your fingers out, the tube narrows and grabs your fingers even harder.
This is a good image for what happens when you try to solve problems in your life with the Doing mind. As you wrestle through a situation trying to come up with a solution, your brain is firing away as if you are in danger, and this in turn narrows your sense of creativity. Creativity is an essential element to problem-solving, but it doesn’t work very well when anxiety is increasing. This is also why people will often “sleep on it” when trying to figure out a problem or coming up with writer’s block. Letting the problem go for a time is like releasing your fingers from the pulling movement of the finger trap. If you relax the fight to free your fingers, the tube lets go and you can actually slip them out. When you let go of the “problem” disposition towards something that actually needs to be figured out, your brain relaxes the Doing mode and you can open up to solutions you never thought possible.
The problem is that we have been trained from day one to solve problems, think critically, and work until we figure out that we have to work harder. Our society rewards this type of hyper-productivity and hyper-achievement. At first glance, it seems that relaxing, “sleeping on it,” or letting go is just laziness. No matter how much we accomplish, many of us always feel that we haven’t done enough.
Business- Your Archnemesis
That mindset is the arch-nemesis of mindfulness. It is the reason for why it is so hard for you to find the time to practice the exercises. You simply can’t wrap your head around the notion that pausing your day to spend 8 or 10 minutes doing nothing can be a good thing. The real irony is that we end up wasting many times that amount of time getting caught up in email, something online, news, or many other frivolous distractions. We never set out to waste that time, it just happens. To actually plan to do nothing “productive” though is almost inconceivable.
The secret here is that practicing mindfulness will actually make your day more productive. I am not against productivity. Quite the opposite actually, I am trying to help you to be more productive. The research, along with the experience of countless business executives, entrepreneurs, and men and women trying to get more out of life, shows that spending time each day reorienting your mind with mindfulness changes positively how you relate to everything and everyone, making you more efficient and productive.
We can also sense this in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we become frantic when we don’t know what we are supposed to do. Discernment is a process that requires gentle peacefulness, and we need to slow down in order to hear the voice of God. Elijah met God in the “still, small voice” of a gentle breeze. God was not in the storms. We allow those storms to rage on in our minds and hearts and grow even more disquiet when we can’t figure out where God is in the midst of it all. This is why St. Therese said about Jesus that she would “let him sleep in her little boat” no matter how bad the storm got and how much the waves crashed. She knew that there was peace to be found in that storm, and she could simply quiet her soul knowing Jesus would take care of it if he needed to. This peace is necessary for you to be able to truly hear the voice of God. This interior quiet is the fruit of learning how to slow down and let your mind settle into the reality of the present moment instead of looking for God in the midst of the frantic thoughts and feelings.
Doing Mode and Creativity
One study researched two groups of students completing a maze. One group had to move a mouse through a maze to escape a hawk flying overhead that wanted to eat it. The other group had to move a mouse through the same maze to get to a piece of cheese at the end.
The maze was simple enough and there was no significant difference in the time it took the students to complete it. On the way out of the study room, however, the students were asked to complete a second, seemingly unrelated, task. (College students are often getting tricked by Psychologists.) This task measured the degree of creativity that was employed to finish it. Remarkably, the group of students who had solved the maze to save the mouse from impending death-by-hawk exhibited 50% less creativity in the second task than the students who were simply moving the mouse to the cheese.
Simply solving the maze, which meant spending 15 seconds with the thought of a hawk eating a mouse on a piece of paper, was enough to affect the group’s brain chemistry and reduce their creative ability by 50% on a different task. Our brains are incredibly sensitive to thought patterns we spend time with.
Think again about being in a physically threatening situation. If a bear were chasing you in the woods, your brain would not waste resources on creative thinking. The SNR triggers automatic, autopilot actions. We conserve energy by being less creative when we are threatened. This is why it is so important to override the SNR when we are not actually being physically threatened. In many situations, it helps to have control of this response so that we can come up with creative solutions to solve our problems. Most military training involves desensitizing this stress response for exactly this reason. Even when a person’s life is actually on the line, thinking creatively and “outside-the-box” usually proves to be a useful skill.
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A group of people were having an exchange on the Catholic Creative’s Facebook feed surrounding the current state of the Catholic Church’s art patronage. The initial question posed was: "The Church used to be the greatest patron and supporter of art in the world, so what happened?" We were referring to “art” in a broad sense, meant to include architecture, film, and design, as well as fine arts such as painting and sculpture. Fr. Steve had made a few comments that we thought were worth some elaboration, so in this article we interview him to dive deeper into this conversation. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful. If you are a part of the community, you can read that conversation here.
(1) The New Values of Patronage: Functionality, Practicality and Cost Efficiency
Do you agree with the premise that the Church is no longer a leader in the arts?
In comparison to previous epochs, my answer is yes. The Church’s influence on and patronage of the arts has diminished considerably. The reasons for this diminishment are complex and discerned through realities that are political, cultural, and economic. In terms of the political, the Church no longer possesses the territorial sovereignty or influence that it once did, the effect of which its access to monetary resources has dried up. In terms of culture, in the contemporary Western milieu, there has been a shift away from the narratives of Christian revelation as a source for artistic inspiration. The Christian narrative no longer provides the primary source of identity and the interpretation of the self and the world. Finally, there is the economic reality (which I alluded to in my reference to the political). Bereft of the monetary resources that came with territorial sovereignty and political influence, the Church no longer has the kinds of resources available to it that enabled its great artistic patronage in the past. Further, pious patrons willing to support artists on behalf of the Church have dwindled as the perception of social benefit of such patronage has also changed. Supporting the work of the Church in the past meant building up its architectural and artistic patrimony. But now, for the most part, patronage exclusively means supporting the Church’s charitable and institutional endeavors- education, health care, disaster relief, and concerns related to the alleviation of poverty.
How would you explain the main difference between today’s system of art patronage and that patronage at the height of the Church’s influence?
The Church has less money for the arts and therefore the primary patrons are not holders of ecclesiastical offices, like the pope, bishops or abbots, but instead these patrons are wealthy laity and some Catholic institutions (like a university or a hospital). The commissions that are offered often place art as an addendum to overarching values of functionality, practicality and cost efficiency. These values mean that the art that is commissioned often seems decorative rather than integral and if the Christian narrative is presented in these artistic representations, it often appears abstract or diluted, so as to conform to secular sensibilities. I have noticed that many examples of modern and contemporary art commissioned for Catholic universities and hospitals leave me with the impression that the Christian narrative influencing these commissions has worn thin or has been accommodated to secular interests.
(2) Modern and Contemporary Art in Catholic Culture
You mention Catholic universities and hospitals, what about parishes?
The character of parishes as public institutions has diminished and has been replaced with an emphasis on the domestic, with its emphasis on fulfilling immediate need, group consensus, practicality, and budget. These values will not position the parish as a patron of creative artistic endeavors and certainly not produce art or architecture of broad cultural significance or lasting value. Further, as so much of the modern artistic sensibility places an emphasis on the abstract and subjective as a bearer of creative expression and meaning, it has a tendency to be uninspiring or off putting as devotional or liturgical pieces. Commissions of this kind in parish churches usually fall flat and fail to produce much affection in the faithful.
In this regard, Blessed John Henry Newman’s distinction between real and notional assent comes to mind. So much of modern and contemporary art and architecture tends towards the notional. However, in my estimation, art and architecture that supports devotional and liturgical experience is reliant on the real assent in order for it to be efficacious. This difference, between notional and real assent, creates the cognitive dissonance so often characteristic of the experience of modern forms and styles in church art and architecture. This is what I believe generates at times a reactionary mindset toward what is perceived to be novelty in religious art and fosters a retreat into kitsch. Unfortunately, this also means that modern or contemporary art is pilloried or caricatured as incapable of being a bearer of religious experience or theological meaning, when it is actually capable of profundity at a different level of religious experience- the subjective or the notional.
What many fail to appreciate about modern art is that it can be the bearer of a different kind of religious longing or perception. An example would be certain forms and styles of contemporary art that seeks to evoke ordinary experience, rather than limiting the devotional or liturgical, as a legitimate bearer of religious meaning. This might provoke a reaction in some believers as it seems to displace the privileged place the devotional and liturgical can legitimately claim in the life of faith.
(3) The Primacy of the Secular Narrative
However, this reaction seems at times overstated and just too much as ordinary experience and subjective experience are legitimate bearers of Christian truth claims and routes of access to transcendent meaning and purpose.
I get the necessity of privileging real assent in terms of the Church’s liturgical and devotional rites, but there must be room for more than this in terms of the Church’s creative engagement with the arts. Why? Because real assent is not simply about how Christians experience devotional or liturgical realities, but how the Christian understands, and therefore accepts, common, everyday experience as being, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “charged with the grandeur of God”. And further, notional assent can direct direct our minds and hearts towards God in a different way, complementing real assent, and at times, purifying its intentions.
Can you elaborate a bit on the role of the arts in society at large and how it has changed in relation to a time when the Church had more influence and resources on the arts and artistic patronage?
Pressed, I would answer this question as what we see now is a diminishment of the Christian narrative regarding the meaning of the world and in terms of its cultural priority and significance. I believe that the prioritized narrative of Western culture is now best summed up in Justice Kennedy’s articulation of his reasoning in the “Casey vs. Planned Parenthood” decision- the right of individuals to decide for themselves not only the meaning and purpose of their own lives, but of the universe itself. This is, of course, absurd, but it is the prevalent cultural narrative and it is a narrative that positions the Christian narrative, indeed all other narratives that propose a meaning and purpose to life and the world. I identify this narrative as the secular narrative. The prevalence of the secular narrative that insists that meaning and purpose is individually constructed has been a driver of artistic expression for some time- artists often serve this narrative because it is the only narrative they know or because they truly believe in it, as artists once served the Christian narrative because it was the only narrative they knew or believed in.
(4) Conservation vs Innovation
The other characteristic difference is a sensibility that all the great Christian artistic and architectural forms and styles have already happened and the purpose of the Church has become custodial of these past forms, dedicating what resources it has to conservation, rather than creation. There seems at times an inability to appreciate that forms and styles like the Gothic, or the Baroque, were in the context of their own time groundbreaking and new, a departure from past forms and styles. A conservationist attitude is helpful inasmuch as it can preserve what is truly significant for the future, but when it results in a reactionary disposition that refuses to accept difference or the new simply because what is different or new can represent a departure from the familiar, Christian artistic expression will inevitably become kitsch and decline in its significance.
You mentioned cinema as the premiere media form of our time. Why cinema and not architecture, art, theater painting and sculpture? What does the Church need to realize about cinema that it doesn’t seem to get?
All art and architecture represents visual storytelling. But it is my impression that the most significant form of visual storytelling in contemporary culture is screen based, cinema, television. This kind of visual storytelling has the broadest reach and the deepest cultural resonance. For the most part, I believe that only cultural elites know who the architects, painters and sculptors are and the forms of theater than capture of culture’s attention do so because they imitate the spectacle and narratives of cinematic production. However, more than the elites know the creative artists of cinema and television.
The Church realized early on the impact of film and television, but lacking the ability to produce quality examples, it sought to leverage its cultural influence as a moral authority whose role was to police content. This authority has been rejected, the Church is now neither an arbiter or popular taste or a creator of popular culture. The result of this is that the Christian narrative has little to no impact or influence on the primary, contemporary form of artistic expression- film and television. The Church is, quite frankly, missing in action.
(5) Ideology vs Inspiration
Well-meaning Christians may enter into cinematic storytelling with projects targeted almost exclusively to a Christian market, but these films, some of which are presented with high production values and are financially successful, miss the mark. Why? Because their broader cultural influence is negligible. It seems to me that it is not merely a matter or money, for monetary patronage alone cannot change this situation. The real problem I think (and this is hard to say) is that the depth and profundity of the unique Christian narrative has been positioned not so much as a source of creativity or inspiration, but as ideology.
This often expresses itself in an emphasis on moralizing in Christian storytelling rather than an emphasis on the revelatory or the Incarnational. The impression left with viewer when moralizing is central to the narrative is that one is being corrected, rather than inspired; one is being introduced to ideology rather than finding a route of access to the transcendent. Creativity and inspiration produce great art. Ideology produces propaganda.
The Christian narrative, densely textured and radiantly humanistic, produced Chartres Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, some the greatest examples of visual storytelling that humanity has to offer, but the Church has yet to produce great art in the cinematic form and style?! Why is this the case? Christians should not evade responsibility for this discrepancy by directing attention to factors external to the Church as the reason, but should look at ourselves and consider what we have done and failed to do.
Do you have a closing question or provocation for readers to think through or carry on the conversation?
There will be no great Christian art without sacrifice. My question is this: What sacrifice are you willing to make so that the Church can do more than just conserve its great artistic patrimony, but also to support and utilize the creative potential of humanity to proclaim, represent and teach the Christian narrative- the revelation of God in Christ, a revelation that is ancient and forever new.
Written by Jesse Weiler
We Catholics have a hard time making the ask. Just talk to almost any FOCUS missionary. In fact, I tried fundraising my salary for a year when I worked at a Catholic organization.
Instead of trying to raise more money to fit my needs, I ended up adjusting my needs to what I could fund raise. This is a bad mentality, especially if you are a creative freelancer with a family.
I’m writing this because I’ve come across too many of you who are just not charging what you should for your work. If you make a little adjustment, then you will not only help yourself, but you’ll help the rest of us too.
Now, maybe you do contract work full time or maybe you are like me and use freelancing as a way to pad your income a little. I bring in anywhere between $10k–15k a year from contract work. This wasn’t always the case for me though. I used to make less than half of that with about the same amount of hours worked.
What changed? My attitude. I stopped thinking about helping and started thinking about working.
This may sound like a selfish switch and it may even sound like an insignificant switch. However, I assure you that if you do this, you will see a growth in your business and your income.
When you only think about helping someone when they hire you, three things happen:
- You significantly reduce the dignity of your work.
- You turn yourself into a patron instead of a contractor.
- You perpetuate the vicious cycle of low pay for creative work.
When creatives do this, it sends a message that our work is not worth paying for. People end up making more of a donation rather than an income and ruin future work for everyone else. (Fiverr doesn't help much either.)
We seem to be especially prone to this as Catholic creatives when it comes to "helping" Catholic organizations.
This is not good. Not good at all.
If this is something you struggle with, the first step to switching your mentality is to figure out your rate. Do you charge a flat fee for each project or do you have an hourly rate? There are tons of tools online that can help you figure this out. One thing to note; if you are full time, you should charge more than someone who is part time, especially if you are paying for your own insurance.
The second step is to stick to that rate! If you’ve done cheap work for a regular client in the past just tell them that you’ve done a skills assessment and that you have a new rate. If they like your work, they’ll try to figure out how to pay you still.
Results will vary, but I can honestly tell you that I have never been turned down because of my new price. I charge $100/hr with discounts if I’m hired for more than 20 hours of work. If you lose work because of your new rate, then just keep in mind that when you charge more per hour/project then you need less work to reach your desired income.
I used to charge $40/hr and it took me 250 hours to reach $10K.
Now I charge $100/hr and it takes me 100 hours to reach $10K.
For me, this means 150 extra hours with my kids and no loss in income. It’s a no-brainer.
Stop helping organizations and start working for them!
Setting creatives free so that they can unleash a new renaissance.
We do this by giving creatives experiences of belonging, affirming their identity, uniting them with each other and the Church, and inspiring them to hope.
1. We Were Made to Create
The first five words - “In the beginning, God created.” In Christ we are co-creators and co-redeemers in creation. We create because it is our identity, our prayer, and our mission. The Catholic Creative lives to bring meaning to a directionless world, to bear Christ’s light into the dark places of humanity, and to solve the problems of the modern age through the power of the Catholic imagination.
2. Community First
The Catholic life is the life of relationship. CC must first be the family dinner table, a place of communion, friendship, joy, and unity. We believe that the most important thing we can do is foster a family ecology where creatives find belonging, spiritual nourishment, and are organically connected to the network of learning, mentorship, and patronage they need to be healthy and to grow.
3. There is More than Enough
Scarcity mindset causes us to see each others’ victories as our losses. It inhibits trust and is a barrier to vulnerable community. We believe that our God is rich. We see eternal abundance in Christ’s miracles; 12 baskets of leftovers, wine that overflows. We believe there is more than enough for all of us. We trust in His providence. This means we are not afraid to collaborate, encourage, uplift, and share with one another
4. Speak the Unspoken
“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
Speak the Unspoken means always speaking the truth in love no matter how uncomfortable it is. It means listening to the truth even when it’s hard. It means embracing conflict, because only through conflict can we grow.
5. Beauty is The Language of God
We believe that the greatest power for social change in the world is beauty. Beauty is the incarnation of the Truth, a sensual experience of abstract realities. We believe that beauty in this definition is God’s preeminent communication because the Word took on flesh. Christ crucified is the ultimate expression of God’s Divine Imagination.
This means that we must value beauty financially. We must be willing to not only be martyrs for the truth but martyrs for beauty, selling all we have for the beautiful pearl.
I’ve felt like a permanent outsider since the day I was dropped off at Forestwood Middle School after being homeschooled by a Catholic charismatic theologian. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll just say this. It sucks being the one kid at the table who doesn’t understand the rules of football and gets laughed at every time you try and ask a question.
What is a Catholic Creative?
A Catholic Creative is a working or aspiring creative professional with a fire in their gut and a passion for re-imagining the world through heaven’s eyes. Put another way, a Catholic Creative is a Catholic who makes it their job to ask the question: “What could be?” every time they are confronted with “What is.”
So… What is a Creative?
“Creative” doesn’t necessarily mean artist. And it doesn’t mean someone separate from business. It means a person who creates. This creation doesn’t have to be graphics or videos. The creation can be a business, or the design of a building, or dance program. We’re not going to limit the act of creation to just the arts or media.
Why do Catholic Creatives Create?
Because We Were Made To
We Create because it is part of who we are. We were made in the image of a Creative God. We create because we believe that what we make has agency in our lives. It is a part of our prayer and a part of our heart's waking.
Because It’s Our Mission
The Catholic Creative creates out of a sense of mission. The Catholic Creative lives to bring meaning to a directionless world, to bear Christ’s light into the dark places of humanity, and to solve the problems of the modern age through the power of the Catholic imagination.
How do Catholic Creatives Create?
Through Incarnating the Truth
A centerpiece of our community has always been a conviction of the preeminence of beauty as the language of God. We create with the understanding that beauty holds a special and high role in God’s plan to encounter humanity and draw us into a relationship with Him. We do not define beauty narrowly - it is not only pretty, nice, romantic (although it can be those things), but it can also be startling, dark, and uncomfortable. Beauty is the incarnation of truth, a sensual experience of abstract realities. We believe that beauty in this definition is God’s preeminent communication because the Word took on flesh. Christ in human form is the ultimate expression of God’s Divine Imagination.
Therefore, beauty will be integral to each and every discussion we have and everything we create, whether we're discussing solutions to the financial system, Facebook ad sets, building a brewery, or designing a logo. Whatever we do, we seek to incarnate depths of meaning through beauty.
Through Valuing Creativity
A Catholic Creative is someone who recognizes fair monetary value of work as an essential part of what will progress beauty in the world, enabling our creators to grow and raise the bar. While a Catholic Creative doesn't necessarily need to be a full-time professional, a CC needs to believe in the inherent monetary value in beauty and creativity.
Who isn’t a Catholic Creative?
As an organization, we’re focused on cultural impact both inside the Church and outside of it. This means that we are committed to excellence by all standards, not just Catholic ones. We believe that in order to make this kind of impact, we must dedicate real time and passion towards it. The Catholic Creative does not create simply as a hobby, but as a way of life.
The Catholic Creative, then, is called to be a witness in the world - working in the world while not being of it. This means that for the Catholic Creative creation is tied to the way we make our money and the way we spend it, whether you approach this as a creative a parent, a creative manager, a creative business owner, or a creative minister.
What Does this Mean for the Community?
1. A Wider Net
We've gone back and forth about whether this community was a community for artists, specifically for new media creators, and what role Ministers played in the group. Defining who this community is for as we've articulated in this blog means clearer communication, more focused conversations, and ultimately, more focus on our audience. We aren't just a professional organization of artists or designers or filmmakers. There's room for anyone with the DNA listed above and we truly believe that you can come from any background or any profession. Some lend themselves to what we are doing more than others, but that doesn't need to be a stumbling block as long as you aren't afraid of questioning a consensus and believe in leading with beauty.
2. New Guidelines to Facilitate Creative Conversations
We are re-committing ourselves to being the safest place for asking questions in which every option is put on the table and no sacred cows are left un-slain. Our guidelines for discourse will ultimately be laid out more clearly in order to facilitate this and will flow from our beliefs as listed above. We will be bringing on a wider assembly of podcast guests, and creating a richer experience at our live events as a wealth of more diverse perspectives join with even more fundamental core convictions.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Email Marcellino at firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback, ideas, or comments.
This statement is the work of community members Emma Moran, Conor Hennelly, Chris Duffel, Anthony D'Ambrosio and Marcellino D'Ambrosio.
Guest post from Sherwood Fellows.
I just stepped out of a sales meeting with a parish that’s considering hiring our agency in place of a full-time communications director.
As someone who’s been heavily involved in parish ministry and marketing in the business world, I suspected that using an agency like ours instead of a hiring a communications director would be great for a parish in many ways. They approached us about this- not the other way around. As someone who has long been waving a banner for parishes to hire communications directors, I saw it as a bit of a sacred cow. But the conversation with that parish confirmed a lot of my thoughts on this subject, and so in the spirit of transparency, I thought I would publish them.
Don’t think I’m just making a case for everyone to use Sherwood Fellows. How a parish goes about its communications affects everything: the future of the parish and even if more people will come to Mass. Parish leadership needs to make an informed decision.
Communications work shouldn't be managed by volunteers- it is absolutely essential to long-term parish success, and it needs skilled proficient labor to be done correctly.
So the question I am taking up with this blog is if you are looking at making your first major investment in communications, should you hire one professional or several professionals?
As a caveat to my title, I do believe that the goal should be to have an in-house team and a partner agency. There is a reason why every Fortune 500 agency operates from this model. The question I am taking up is specifically in regards to timing- which one should I get first?
Here are three reasons you should hire an agency before hiring a communications director.
1. A Jack of All Trades is a Master of None
Usually, a church that is hiring their first communications director is hiring someone who will oversee strategy, do a web redesign, do a rebrand, probably choose software, dabble in video production, definitely post on social media, and do lots of graphic design for promotional materials.
In the marketing world, these are all different jobs for different people.
A full-time communications director rarely can be proficient in all of these things, and they are almost never given a budget to hire outside help to do the things that they are not proficient in. That means some things will be done poorly, or not at all. You’ll probably have to hash out for agency help anyway to fill in the gaps.
So why not just hire an agency that can do all of these things until you have proven the value of communications and can afford a larger budget?
2. More Efficient Spending
Because a one-man communications director performs a wide array of tasks from strategy to design, hiring them means spending your money inefficiently.
For instance, the value of creating a communications strategy is much higher than the value of a poster design. If you hire one communications director, you pay the same amount for both. Not only will one probably be lower quality than the other, but you’ll be grossly overspending on the poster or grossly under-spending on the strategy.
If you hire an agency, they will allocate funds to different members of the team based on the value of each task. Their account director will be specialized in strategy and will be paid market value for it, and they can most likely get the poster done for a much cheaper than you would have paid your communications director for their time.
An agency’s ability to allocate funds across different roles makes your investment more efficient and potentially far more valuable
3. Craft the Right Position for the Right Person
When the strategy is done by an agency before you hire a full-time person, you have a much much lower risk of structuring the job in a way that will burn out your budding talent. The usual way that we hire communications directors in the church is very flawed because we don't already have someone on staff who understands communications before we make the hire.
If you don't have someone on staff that already is an expert in communications, you are almost assuredly going to either hire the wrong person or hire the right person for the totally wrong things. Ideally, you’d have an expert in communications that structures the job and then helps you hire accordingly. If you don't have that expert on staff already, you don't know exactly what a marketing professional can do or what you should expect from them.
If you make an uninformed hire, they’ll most likely end up as a foot soldier who operates at the beck and call of the other ministries, unable to achieve conflicting goals from four bosses with conflicting visions.
I have seen this over and over, and it often leads to either burnout or simply ineffective work, or both. This is because communication strategy starts at the very highest level of organization leadership and permeates each level of leadership after that.
For a communications director to be successful, they need to be able to hold the entire staff and culture of the church accountable to the brand and strategy that has been established. Basically, their role on staff needs to be set up according to these communications principles. If you hire a (good) agency first, you are likely to have a much better understanding of what you need in a director, and you will set them up for much more long-term success.
Of course, this all depends on hiring a great agency (that is actually good at consulting and strategy and all the other pieces as well). Also, I believe the ideal is to have both an in-house staff and a partner agency; there is a reason why almost every successful company uses both. It’s more of a question of who to hire first.
Objections and Rebuttals.
I brought these thoughts to the Catholic Creatives group, and the perspectives of communications directors and other people with parish work experience were insightful. I wanted to bring up some of their objections and give a clear answer to them.
“I think a major downfall of an agency, especially if they aren't officing right down the road, is that having that personal, face-to-face expert on communications can have a huge impact on the success.”
Communication doesn’t have to be face-to-face to be personal. Online communications tools like Slack (which is free) make communication easy, and they make everyone accessible. An agency would feel like they’re just down the hall. People in the same office already Skype or call each other already.
“I think that you will find that your biggest struggle will actually be ... getting people to actually buy into the value of what you are doing or the value of Communications Director full time for that matter. I may have the position but sometimes I do have to convince other people on staff why I am requesting we do things a certain way or why a certain aspect is so important.”
That’s certainly a challenge, but any parish that’s really considering a Communications Director should already understand that they’re making an investment for a reason. And they also don’t want to waste money or time by not having that Communications Director armed with the right branding and tools. An agency can’t convince someone to buy something they don’t need, but the people who already understand will recognize the value of preparing the right assets for the Communications Director, whether full-time or part-time. In fact, with the right assets, even a part-time Communications Director would have a huge headstart.
“As an agency, your major downfall is going to be the fact that you don't have the ability to build a relationship with the people who are running the ministries at the parish. These people are present day in and day out and, believe me, it takes time to gain their trust.”
Definitely a good point. Not just any agency could walk into a parish and be effective; they’d try to run it exactly like a business. Only an agency with a deep understanding of the parish ecosystem and a true love for the mission of the Church could make this work.
“As far as strategy, it depends on what the church is trying to accomplish. If they want to grow the parish as a whole, then that's one thing and strategy is definitely needed. If they are just trying to increase communication within their own parish and get more parishioners involved then good luck. The Catholic Church is its own type of beast and traditional strategy just doesn't always work."
Again, an agency with a strict business mindset might not cut it. The agency would have to know that just putting something on the website doesn’t mean anyone will see it. A modern communications plan doesn’t mean “just online.” It means using best-practice thinking to use all available communication channels to accomplish the parish goals -- and that includes the bulletin.
“So if you were to be approaching parishes, I'd suggest drawing a STARK distinction between your agency and any other agency because you're actually Catholic and have the knowledge and sense of how things work in the Church and pitfalls to avoid.”
And that’s exactly where Sherwood Fellows stands out. We’ve all been deeply involved in parish ministries and are committed Catholics. We’re not going to help a parish like we would help a retail store. We’re familiar with how parishes work, and we love to see parishes thrive.
Whatever the parish, I think these challenges can be overcome with commitment from both sides, and an agency like ours could help produce great results and set up the future Communications Director for success.
What do you think?
“I think a major downfall of an agency, especially if they aren't officing right down the road, is that having that personal, face-to-face expert on communications can have a huge impact on the success. If no one at the parish is fully committed to implementing a strategy or the day-to-day aspects, there is only so much an agency can do.... ”
“The church I work for did some branding prior to the Comms Dir position being created. However, the person who helped with this was a parishioner and volunteer. The agency did not, however, help with any branding from a larger perspective. We have a logo, letterhead, some fancy mailing stickers and business cards, but that is as much as I know that they created for the parish as far as collateral.”
“I think that you will find that your biggest struggle will actually be the part that you were discussing about getting people to actually buy into the value of what you are doing or the value of Communications Director full time for that matter. I may have the position but sometimes I do have to convince other people on staff why I am requesting we do things a certain way or why a certain aspect is so important.”
“As an agency, your major downfall is going to be the fact that you don't have the ability to build a relationship with the people who are running the ministries at the parish. These people are present day in and day out and, believe me, it takes time to gain their trust. That is really, really difficult to do when you aren't actually present on site. Also a note on the ministries - there is no perfect system to get them all on board and good luck getting 60 plus ministries to try to comply with your branding guidelines - it just won't happen. And if you try to force it in their parish I believe it will end badly. You have to remember the years that these people have spent investing in their own parish before "outsiders" came in to try to run things. That isn't to say it wouldn't work - but it's delicate.”
“As far as strategy, it depends on what the church is trying to accomplish. If they want to grow the parish as a whole, then that's one thing and strategy is definitely needed. If they are just trying to increase communication within their own parish and get more parishioners involved then good luck. The Catholic Church is its own type of beast and traditional strategy just doesn't always work. For example, posted a SoMe post about a call to action and almost nobody responded for a week. Posted the same message in our bulletin and I had more than a dozen people respond to the call. So, something that should have worked based on our modern marketing principles, didn't inspire anyone to do anything. That's not to say that strategy isn't important, I've done more of it in the last six months than ever, but the strategy for the church isn't necessarily going to work as it would for a traditional nonprofit or for-profit business.
I was youth minister at a parish that hired an agency and while the kickoff worked well for a branding and website redesign, the follow through wasn't there. Like a previous poster wrote, they weren't down the street and definitely not in the office - they weren't there for the daily or weekly corrections in message that the parish wanted. It basically devolved into ministries sending their weekly images for the TV display in the vestibule and monthly/quarterly meetings where the parish staff tried to explain the minutia of parish life to the non-Catholics who were running the agency.
So if you were to be approaching parishes, I'd suggest drawing a STARK distinction between your agency and any other agency because you're actually Catholic and have the knowledge and sense of how things work in the Church and pitfalls to avoid.
As far as the daily/weekly life of the parish, that's where you're weakest against the comm director position. If you could somehow insert yourself in the everyday - maybe a slack board for each parish where they can post thoughts about messaging or happenings in the parish (bishop visiting, sudden and unexpected deaths that impact the parish, frequent renovation updates, etc). Of course, it would require someone to be committed to that. - Andrew Sciba
Guest post from Sherwood Fellows.
Now that churches have begun to take communications a little more seriously, they are beginning to spend money to help fix the problem.
The big kahuna of problems, the one that is getting worse by the minute, is this: if churches don’t learn to communicate to the new generation of millennials now, they will have to close their doors in twenty years. Or sooner.
Churches have seen droves of youth graduate, go to college, and then never return to the pews, and churches have caught on. They’re scrambling to hire part-time communications directors, cobbling together budgets for new websites, creating communications committees, and marshaling funds for promo videos.
But what they don’t know is that in their beginning forays into communications, they are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on poor communications investments and many times aren’t much closer to fixing the problem as they were when they started spending.
As a voice crying out in the wilderness for the Church to invest in communications, these efforts are actually very hopeful to me. So don’t let my alarmist tone actually alarm you.
But I do want to help churches investment in this field wisely so that the investment yields a hundred fold (and so that people like myself get bigger budgets to work with!).
Here’s my concern: because churches don’t have the right definition of communications, their communications initiatives often end up leading them into costly, ineffective, long-term blunders.
So let’s avoid these blunders before they happen. I polled the Catholic Creatives group (a collective of over more than 1,000 committed Catholic designers, marketers, and artists) about this, and the answers boiled down to the following mistakes. I’ve anticipated some objections, so I’ve thrown in a little Aquinas style to address them. Let’s get started.
Mistake #1: “Getting Into” Communications
Their biggest mistake is thinking they need to "get into communications," when in reality, they already communicate whether they realize it or not. -- Chris Duffel
Your church already communicates through every experience that your parishioners have when they come to your masses, meet your staff, hear your homilies, walk by the bulletin board, and call your office. The mistake most churches make when getting into communications is thinking that “communications” refers to external elements: logo, website, videos, and social media.
The truth is this: your website and your social media emanate from your brand (your parish message) just as much as your homilies and your bulletin do.
To communicate effectively, the impression that people get from each interaction should be uniform. Every element of your communication, from a homily to a logo, should be shaped by the message you want people to hear. And if you don’t know what that message is, the external stuff doesn’t matter.
So if you hired someone to build you a website but you skipped over branding, go back and do it. Before you do anything else, the lion’s share of your time and money should be spent on your branding.
Again, “branding” doesn’t just mean a logo. It means understanding your purpose, your primary audience, your language, your visual aesthetics and what they mean, and how each part of a parishioner’s experience fits into your brand.
Don’t put the cart before the horse. Start with “wax on, wax off” before moving on to the crane kick.
(You aren’t ready for this yet)
“Sounds like too much of a commitment, though! We don’t really have the budget set aside for branding… We need a website tomorrow because people are calling us every day asking for Mass times.”
See Mistake #2, Committing Halfway.
“We are totally on the right track then! We have a volunteer committee making the brand, and are looking to hire someone to redo our website in July!”
See Mistake #4, Volunteer Committees & Free Work
Mistake #2: Committing Halfway
In the Catholic Creatives poll, multiple people echoed and re-echoed their frustration with church communication initiatives: “Parishes don’t value this enough, so they expect the youth minister or parish secretary to also handle parish communications.”
Stop piling communications into other job descriptions. Please.
Every church has to prioritize where its money goes. If it doesn’t decide to commit to good, strategic, thoughtful communications, that money will be wasted, because there won’t be results. No communication is only marginally worse than bad, haphazard, and unprofessional communication, no matter how well-intentioned.
Don’t settle for making communications a side note to the job of someone who isn’t trained or proficient in this. Don’t settle for treating it like icing on the cake. It is essential.
“But Anthony... I value it, I just can’t afford a full-out branding process right now!”
Sure, for the sake of argument, I’ll let you have that excuse if you promise to do it next year.
“We promise that we will ink that branding thing into our budget for when the fiscal year turns over; we just don’t want to do a cheap job on something that important right now. In the meantime, we just need a website that wasn’t made in the Jurassic Era.”
Proceed to Mistake #3:
Mistake #3: Jump First, Think Later
There’s a lot of pressure right now to jump into having a Director of Communications.
As soon as people on the parish council imagine the possibility of competing with Elevate mega church down the road, people begin to get excited. As soon as the parish secretary realizes that if a communications person gets hired, then wouldn't have to do the bulletin anymore or they wouldn't have to write the emails, they will put pressure to move quickly.
As soon as everyone realizes that they actually could have updated confession times on the site, everyone goes bonkers.
Even if you are saving money for a bigger branding investment in the future, and you need something to hold you over while you save for that, you should give yourself the time to strategize before you do something drastic. Like, for instance, hiring a communications manager to help you be more efficient at communicating an unclear message.
As Chris Duffel said in the Facebook group, “First define clearly what's the problem is with communications at the specific parish. More detailed the better. That's the hard part. If you have sufficiently defined the problem, the solutions are often obvious. If you have defined the problem as ‘we are bad at communications’ you haven't sufficiently defined the problem because you can't act based on that definition.”
This sort of strategy work will help guide you in prioritizing skills in your hire. An employee is a gigantic expense to add to your plate. Don’t let yourself be forced into hiring the wrong employee because you need to move fast.
(Pro tip: Freelancers or agencies can help buy you time before you make your first hire. I wrote a second blog about why churches should hire agencies before they hire communications managers. It has some great advice on this. Read about it here.)
When hiring communication people, we see this time and time again: parishes Frankenstein together a job description that should never be expected from one person.
A graphic designer is not an IT manager is not a web developer. Don’t try to hire a person to do all these things because you just happen to really need someone to fix the internet, and your website needs work, and both need to happen asap.
“Ok, cool, Anthony! We are starting a communications committee with volunteers who can consult and help us think things through before we do anything huge. Maybe they can even help us with some of the things you are mentioning, pro bono. We even have someone from HP’s corporate marketing team there!”
Hold that thought and keep reading.
Mistake #4: Volunteer Committees & Free Work
Volunteers can be incredibly helpful, and pro bono work is great. I would never frown upon free stuff, because I’m Italian, and we love free things.
However, we all know that free usually isn’t free. Volunteers must be managed by someone who really understands communications. The odds that your volunteer really knows communications well enough to do that is very low.
The odds that they’ll approach it with the same seriousness as a professional are even lower.
You definitely don’t want to delegate branding and website to volunteers and then paying a professional (your communications hire) to use tools crafted by amateurs. You wouldn’t hire a professional construction crew to build your church and toss them they keys to a volunteer-made crane when it’s time to raise the roof. Not safe.
You probably would get more mileage out of getting a professional crane and teaching a volunteer to use it. That’s exactly what a real branding process does for you.
Again, if it isn’t clear yet, here are the things that you should never ever give to volunteers:
Branding & Logo
Do that professionally. It’s the seed from which all the other things grow. Do this right, and your volunteers will have a solid shot at doing really good work. Don’t do this, and your volunteers will have great ideas, run in circles, do a couple good things for you, and most likely fizzle out when they aren’t getting traction.
Your website is your mothership for communications. Most of the other things that you do are little X-wing squadrons that you send out from your bigger, badder, more important website. Don’t hire someone for $20k to do a video, and someone for $10k to do a website. Put your money into your communications infrastructure first.
Here are some things volunteers can be good at:
- Social Media (given good branding)
- Web Updates (given a good website)
“Great! Actually, the person I was telling you about from the HP Marketing Team is interested in leaving his corporate job and working for us! I am trying to figure out how to hire him! He is a rock star.”
Finally, let’s move to Mistake #5...
Mistake #5: Going for Shiny
When parishes are really ready to invest in communications, they begin looking for their anchor hire: the director that is going usher their communications into the new millennium.
If your parish is ready to buy, there are some serious dangers that you need to be aware of and avoid if you want your program and your hire to be successful.
Firstly, don’t just get excited about shiny. You may come across resumes of people who have worked for very large companies -- someone who did marketing for American Airlines, or someone who did marketing for H-E-B, or someone who worked in the corporate office at Dell, etc. You’ll get very excited about the buffed resume and forget to focus on your strategy and the real priority of needs.
Secondly, corporate America has some really great things to offer the church world, but corporate experience isn’t the same as parish experience, especially because your parish looks more like a startup than it does a Fortune 500 company. Fortune 500 marketing departments often have an almost impossibly granular division of labor between roles. The person you will hire needs to be very adaptable to different roles and to organizational change. They’ll need to do many different creative tasks.
Whatever the case, if you have strategized and branded correctly before you hire this anchor, you will know exactly what you need and what role they will need to fill. Don’t lose sight of that vision. (And please, please plan to give your first hire a sizable budget. You can’t get results from nothing.)
No one person or one thing is going to be the silver bullet that fixes your communications problem. You will need a team to turn your brand perception around in your parish, city, or community. Whoever you hire will absolutely have a select skill set that is narrower than the needs that your parish has.
If you get the right person and don’t plan a budget for them to hire out agencies to help fill the gaps, you will burn your anchor out and lose the investment before you had a chance to see it bear fruit.
Go Forth and Be Effective
Congratulations -- now you know the blunders to avoid. If you’ve already made some of them, don’t worry. You can always get on the right track.
Just remember to value communications by doing it the right way. Get your strategy down, do first things first and take the time to make good choices, and make sure to hire the right person and give them a budget so that they can be successful.
Then proceed to communications, evangelization, and marketing success at your parish.
Guest post from Sherwood Fellows.
If Your Parish Wants to Grow, Invest in Communications
One of the biggest objections that I hear from Catholic churches and other nonprofit organizations when they are considering investing in communications is that they simply don't have it in the budget to spend more than a few hundred/month on it.
This is understandable for many reasons. A 2001 study found that Protestants in the U.S. donated an average of $1,093 to their churches in 2001, whereas the average amount given by Catholics to their churches was $495.
Furthermore, we are seeing a drop in donations to churches across the board; some creatives in the Catholic Creative group who work in diocesan offices reported a 20% drop in yearly income. So Catholics are working with less than half of the budget of the average Protestant church, and yet our churches need to do more than ever to keep people in their pews.
Parishes have been doubling their efforts, putting money into youth ministry and music programs and better facilities in an effort to keep up with the growing need for a parish to create community in the midst of a disconnected and disinterested culture.
So I get you. Money is always tight. Our budgets are all accounted for, and adding big expenses for "fancy" design and "professional" media seems a bit superfluous to those unfamiliar with design and its effects on a community.
It seems like a nice thing to do, but not until we already have heaps of extra money and a bunch of extra time on our hands, because how is that new 200-pixel logo really going to help us more than having another youth ministry staff member, or Spanish-speaking minister?
What if I told you, though, that doing the logo could be the direct cause of having the heaps of extra money and heaps of extra time on your hands? What if I told you if you invested in a real way in design (not just hiring an entry level person to do some part time work), you could hire that new youth ministry assistant and bookkeeper next year?
What if I told you that the feeling of drowning in ministry that your staff is experiencing right now will never go away until you invest in professional design?
Bold claims, I know. But I hope that by the end of this blog, I will give you a small insight into why design matters for your organization and how it can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars saved, and even more won from committed disciples.
Let’s start with a story. There was once a police officer named Chief William Bratton. This policeman became chief of police in New York City in the 90s, when crime was at an all time high. Murder, rape, and burglary were serious problems that were ramping out of control, as an under budgeted police force tried to stretch meager resources to cover the growing crime in the city.
Bratton knew that he could not focus on all things, and that stretching his resources would never be a winning strategy. So he decided to make a psychological play few outsiders could have expected: He focused all their resources on cleaning up graffiti and enforcing subway tickets, two things that were the lowest priorities of all past officers.
What happened next was astounding. During the next ten years, the crime rate plummeted -- burglaries, rape, and murder all dropped to the lowest they had been in years. https://www.city-journal.org/html/how-new-york-became-safe-full-story-13197.html
The lesson from Bratton speaks to the subtle but powerful influence that the appearance of things can have on a person's psyche. Design, appearance, and environment profoundly affect how people behave. It also speaks to the issue of budget.
In the church, we approach prioritizing our spending similarly to the ways that the police chiefs previous to Bratton would have done: when approached about our website or our logo or our ugly bulletins, we say something like, “the appearances of things are nice, but we can’t justify spending money on addressing all that if we aren’t already nailing it with the bigger stuff.”
We have limited resources, we are spread thin, and in that tunnel vision, we allow ourselves to place it on the bottom of the pile. We forget that appearances can have a powerful and unexpected impact on everything else.
So here is my thesis: If you have to pick and choose between giving people an intentional, positive emotional impression of your organization and bailing water, start with the former, and you'll get what you need plug up the holes so that you can stop bailing.
How Can this Help us Make Money?
You will be able to raise more money if more people trust you more, and less money if people feel like you are in perpetual crisis mode.
“He who has, more will be given him.” This is a classic “stewardship” lesson out of the bible, but we tend to read it spiritually and don’t realize how true it rings simply on a psychological level. People will probably give more money to those organizations in which they trust more.
But how does something like design help people to trust you more? Let’s take something as insignificant as your website as an example. Of people polled, Nearly half (46%) of people say a website’s design is their number one criterion for determining the credibility of an organization (Source). In 2012 (5 years ago), 46% of church attendees said that a church’s website was important in picking a church to visit (Source).
Your website, your logo, your bulletins, even the language you use in your greetings and announcements at mass all have a significant (but subtle) effect on whether or not your congregation trusts you as an organization. If you look at the most successful churches with the highest rates stewardship, participation, and involvement of volunteers, you will find excellent design/media across the board.
You are without a doubt wasting your time. This is a fact of organizational life. You have people duplicating each other's work, communication issues that cause backups, inefficient processes/ tools... every organization has these. You probably are already aware that clarity is usually at the root of these issues.
What people don’t know about professional design, is that when it is done well, it creates a cohesive inner clarity that permeates organizations and helps team members understand each other. Without the clarity professional design processes have to offer, each day, each week, each month, each year, you are leaving more and more money on the table as your organizations spend time inefficiently.
Seem far fetched? Think about it. All of your staff probably has a halfway-decent understanding of their own roles, and they probably believe that they understand the mission statement fairly well. However, the mission has probably simply been communicated verbally: bare words, without lots of intentionality behind the delivery method.
When we begin branding with a team, we present different aesthetic directions that we feel like we can take with adapting an organization's mission into a visual identity. When we do this, teams MARVEL at how not on the same page they were about the mission (even with the closest members of a team).
This is because as long as something stays conceptual and not physicalized in symbol, color, or font choice, everyone is free to read whatever connotation they would like into your statement. When you have to make design decisions about your brand, you will be forced to achieve a level of clarity in your vision that you would never have been able to achieve while thinking about it in the abstract.
This clarity cascades through all levels of your organization and affects the communication and efficiency in all levels of your team.
The goal of every church is to make disciples. This is the great commission, what every parish and every priests and every Christian exists to do. However, we find this mission difficult to get people on board with as our religion is cast more and more universally in media as bigoted and small minded.
It goes without saying that being a Christian in our culture is to swim upstream. The part that we don’t really think about with this though is that the fewer people we convert to this mission, the less resources we have to keep working. Committed members are all that we have keeping us going.
So it stands to reason that we must do everything that we can give them a deeply emotional and clear connection between the mission of Catholicism in general and our parish in particular.
Especially in major cities, all someone only has to drive for a few extra minutes to find a different parish. If your parish doesn’t live and breathe the mission of the Church, people can go elsewhere fairly easily.
How does something like a functional website work to achieve that?
Let’s say that someone wants to go to confession, and maybe they haven’t been in a while. They look up nearby Catholic churches on Google and find your parish website. They try to find your confession times for a few minutes, but the navigation is so confusing and the website is so slow to load that they give up.
The impression this gives is very clear: your parish doesn’t care about getting people to confession. Whether or not that’s actually the case doesn’t matter so much. If you don’t tell a clear story to people (for instance, having a promo for returning Catholics on the homepage), people will tell their own stories about you.
There’s a lot people can overlook, and maybe people can overlook an old logo, an ugly bulletin, and a broken website for a long time and see the heart of service that lives at your parish. But if you really have that heart of service, why in the world would you bury it under bad design?
It’s the equivalent of being a really great person but having bad personal hygiene. You’ll have a hard time starting conversations with people.
You could call this shallow thinking, or you could call it a search for honesty. People expect transparency -- meaning that your messaging, your design, and your work are all consistently with each other. You wouldn’t hire an editor who had a misspelling on his website.
The beauty of great design is that you only have to do it once.
When you go through a professional branding and design process, you come away with all the tools you need to communicate to your parish and to the outside world. You have all the design decisions made for your bulletin and even for the next flier you have to make. Your website is clear and gets people the information they need so they don’t have to call the parish office a million times.
Most of all, once you have great design, all you have to do is focus on consistency: making sure your clarified message is heard over and over until your parishioners can repeat it to their friends who ask what their church is all about.
At the end of the day, some people will always join your parish despite bad communication -- maybe they have friends there, or they liked the first homily they heard. And that’s great. But don’t think that just because some people join despite a bad website that a great website wouldn’t help bring more people, and therefore more budget for your parish to continue its mission of conversion and service.
So if you think your parish needs better communication, talk to us. We’ll help you stop bailing water and discover where you’re going as an organization and how you can get there.
We believe that the Holy Spirit is bringing a new Renaissance about in the Church in art, creativity, beauty, and innovation. The Spirit is calling us as a Church to move away from a defensive posture to an offensive one, and in order to do that He’s creating community, infrastructure, and support systems for the leaders, artists, creators, and innovators. Catholic Creatives is a part of that movement.
This Community Needs You
Catholic Creatives need support not just online but real, in-person community. That’s why we are looking for leaders to help host regional CC events. We want to build you up as missionaries to this community and give you the resources you need to be effective in your city, because only out of thriving community can a New renaissance be birthed. To that end, we’ve compiled some of the lessons we’ve learned over the last year as our community has grown, so we made this guide to give you what you need.
First, let’s start with who we are.
What is Catholic Creatives?
Primarily this group’s primary purpose is to build a support community for creatives. We do that by
- Supporting and Encouraging each other
- Fostering Collaboration
- Encouraging a Culture of Honest Critique
- Broaching Taboo Topics,
- Killing Sacred Cows (obstacles to good media/art/business)
- Giving our members a platform to speak to the larger community.
How do the Regional Events fit into our vision?
CC exists to build a community where artists/makers & innovators find belonging. That’s why in everything we do, we always take the utmost care in inviting people to our events who match our values and who would contribute to each other. When someone takes on the role of hosting a regional Catholic Creatives event, they essentially become a curator of our regional community. Regional communities are the places we see the greatest ideas, collaborations, and businesses grow out of because proximity matters. Eventually, we would love to see regional groups living together in community, working together in coworking spaces, and building their own economy together. The regional events are beyond important for us as a community, so let’s do them intentionally.
Currently, there are two kinds of CC regional events, the Hangout and the Meetup.
Happy Hour, informal, 2-3 hour event. Can be at a bar, during a larger event or anywhere alcohol or coffee is readily available. The hangout is a great way to start the ball rolling with a regional community.
Half design sprint, half party, the meetup is an awesome half day community builder hosted at an event space or a members house. In a CC Meetup, the leadership selects a problem that the group will brainstorm on. They will lead the group through the design sprint process and after the event, write up a case study on their discoveries.
How to Curate:
When you invite people to into your regional events or into regional online groups, always default to a smaller group of the right people rather than a larger group with too many people mixed in who don't ascribe to our values or beliefs.
So who are the people you’re looking for?
Catholic artists, creators, ministers, & entrepreneurs who express their Catholic worldview through their medium, whether that is a canvas or a business. Look for talent, an entrepreneurial outlook and vulnerability.
Who is this group not for?
- Domineering people who take over conversations and don't leave space for others.
If a person needs a ton of work to host, doesn't understand social cues in a big way, and takes over conversations, they might not be the right person.
- Self-promoters. This community is only safe if the people in the group are all contributors.
Host a Hangout
If your city hasn’t had a hangout, start there.
You don’t need our permission to have a hangout, but it would be good to for us to know when you’re doing one so that we can help you and hear how it went after.
Create a private facebook event, use our branding to create any design elements needed, and start inviting people. Know that you will have to reach out to people individually if you want to be successful. A post inside of the CC facebook group is not enough to pull off an event.
Host A Meetup
Once a hangout has been successful, let’s set up a google hangout and talk strategy for putting on your first meetup.
A meetup will require the following:
- A problem to solve or a theme (Ie. The Ugly Church Bulletin, The Vatican Website...etc)
- A creative space
- Food & Drink
- Someone to lead the design sprint
- Design sprint materials (post-its, sharpies, wall posters)
Meetups are a blast and always lead to a much deeper community than hangouts, but they require more planning. The good news is that we're here to help, so get in touch with us and we’ll help you set it up.
You are welcome to use our fonts and design elements as needed.
Want to get in touch about hosting a regional event?