Friday, August 31, 2012

The Institute of Catholic Culture - An Organisational Model for the New Evangelisation

How to make your organisation at once local and personal and still gain national reach and recognition

I recently gave two talks in Virginia (close to Washington DC) at the invitation of the Institute of Catholic Culture. What impressed me about them was the organisational model that their founder and Executive Director Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo has developed. I have never seen anything quite like it before. I think that this has applications in fields beyond what the ICC is involved with. It's mission is stated here: the Institute of Catholic Culture is an adult catechetical organization, faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and dedicated to the Church’s call for a new evangelization. The Institute seeks to fulfill its mission by offering education programs structured upon the classical liberal arts and by offering opportunities in which authentic Catholic culture is experienced and lived.

First of all, this mission seems to me to fulfill what is needed at the moment. The need is for education. We also have to ask ourselves, in my opinion, why educate? Who are we trying to reach? I personally do not think that any programme, or any number of programmes will educate society into transformation. Most people won't be educated, or not without some other agent of transformation. I believe that we are trying to reach those who will be the creators of the new culture. Thinking now of the fine arts, those who create art and music are the ones who will create the forms that participate in the timeless principles that unite all Catholic culture; yet also speaks directly to the modern age. We looking for something that is both new and timeless. This is the popular culture that is beautiful, true and good and will create the 'new epiphany of beauty' called for by John Paul II. This is what will in turn open people's hearts so that they will accept the Word. I addressed this in a previous article Why Create New Art or Music? The people who we need to reach and form are the future artists, composers and the patrons who will pay them to do it.

I spoke on a Friday evening and a Sunday evening and both times the hall was packed with nearly 200 people. I don't flatter myself here, they came because they trusted the ICC to provide lectures that interest them. The Institute organises at least two lectures every week in its curriculum of learning; and each attracts similar numbers. Furthermore, people were watching live on the internet; and DVDs of previous talks were available to all who come, for free. Their organisation was such that by Sunday a DVD of my Friday talk was being distributed. For those who are interested you can see my two talks online at the their website here: Culture, Liturgy and Cosmos; and here: Catholic Traditions in Sacred Art. From the questions people were asking afterwards, many in the audience were artists who were serious about contributing to the New Evangelisation. All of this and the salaries of its employees are funded by many voluntary contributions from those who attend the lectures, not from large donations.

The Institute's model is one of creating a local community of learning. People are drawn from about 10 parishes locally. This means that they have to be in an urban area where the population is large enough to have 10 parishes that a close enough so that people will travel to the talks. They come because the talks are interesting and of high quality and they enjoy the whole experience. For most lectures, Deacon Carnazzo draws on professors from nearby Christendom College. He says that having good speakers and people who are used to teaching your material is vital. In order to give variety he occasionally pays for speakers to come in from outside. The week before I came Denis McNamara gave a talk on sacred architecture (and you can see his presentations here).

At each talk food is available and the lecture hall is prepared so that it is comfortable and looks attractive. One talk (on the transcendentals!) was held outside in a park overlooking waterfalls on the Potomac River and sausages were grilled for any who wanted them. This organisation is possible because there is a team of volunteers who work to make it all happen. Deacon Carnazzo has created a community devoted to learning and to giving back to the organisation. He has done this by careful attention to the personal element. He makes sure that people enjoy the whole expereince. After my Sunday talk I was ready to return to my hotel. He told me that I would have to wait because he and Melanie Baker, his assistant, always stay on to socialise with any, but especially any volunteers, who want to stay on after the lecture.

This personal touch is vital for the growth of the program, and in my belief to the success of the process of its education. The traditional model for a college, for example, was built around the idea of creating a community of learning because the personal relationships that it engendered (all centred on the liturgical life of the community) allowed for the possibility of God's grace to transform information learnt into wisdom. This is why the old Oxford colleges are designed as they are.

But this model has a limit to how much it can grow. The group of people cannot grow too large, otherwise this sense of community will be lost. If the Institute of Catholic Culture is to grow, therefore, the answer is not for it to develop a larger and larger group of people (with a beaurocracy growing along with it to organise them), but rather, to create new communities of learning. This is what Oxford University did. When each college reached its limit (perhaps 300 at most), it was not allowed to grow, but instead new colleges were founded.

I know that Deacon Carnazzo is aware of this because I had this very conversation with him during my weekend stay.

Although, their focus is on lectures, they do organise events around the liturgy and promote the liturgy of the hours especially by connecting events to the celebration of Vespers. They have organised traditional Latin Vespers, Choral Evensong by a congregation from the Ordinariate and Vespers in the Eastern liturgy. I have posted two posters (if you forgive the pun). One is for a Byzantine Vespers at Melkite Catholic church which is on Saturday September 1st at Holy Transfiguration Church in McLean, Virginia. This is combined with a Middle Eastern Food Festival at the Church and before and after Vespers, Deacon Carnazzo will give tours of the church describing its design and explaining the importance of the icons to the liturgy.

Below a similar poster for the Choral Evensong earlier this year.

Most of their events are in a very smart church hall in the area, but sometimes they go for a more spectacular site, on the bank of the Potomac River. Here is the location for the talk on the transcendentals, in which the sunshine of the good, the true and the beautiful (and perfectly grilled sausages and burgers) more than made up for the rain.

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