01: Vocations to the Catholic priesthood are often encouraged in parishes with at least one assistant pastor and with elementary schools, according to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based Catholic research center.
The survey found that among pastors who reported multiple vocations in their parishes, 58 percent had an assistant pastor or parochial vicar and 64 percent had an elementary school. Sixty-six percent reported such practices as eurcharistic and Marian devotions. Most of these parishes with multiple vocations also had strong youth programs and service projects. A survey of recently ordained priests who were asked about the characteristics of their home parishes showed similar findings to that of the pastors’ study.
The findings show that the “shape of parish life has a direct impact on a vocation decision and suggest that personal attitudes about vocations originate in parish context,” according to CARA.
02: The Christian Reformed Church continues to lose a substantial number of members, leading both critics and leaders to lay the blame for such losses on the sharp conflict over women’s leadership in the denomination.
The 285,000-member Calvinist denomination was among the first evangelical denomination to approve the ordination of women (aside from Pentecostal churches)– and has been experiencing one of the steepest membership declines among conservative bodies. Church statistics from 1997 show a loss of close to 7,000 members — its second largest membership decline in its history (the church lost 11,000 members in 1993-94), according to the Christian Century (June 3-10).
Since the debate over women’s ordination began in 1992, the denomination has lost 37,000 members, most of whom have joined conservative split-off movements.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
03: While the portrayals of religion has increased in recent years, such depiction’s of faith are still few and far between, according to a recent study by the Media Research Center.
The center’s annual report, “Faith in a Box: Entertainment Television on Religion, 1997,” analyzed 1,800 hours of prime time programming and found only one portrayal of religion for every 3.3 hours of entertainment television programming. The study found the total number of treatments of religious subjects has increased over the past few years — from 287 in 1995 to 551 in 1997. Forty two percent of shows in 1997 showed positive treatment of religion, while only 22 percent were negative.
This 2-1 ratio was almost identical to that of 1996, and a good deal better that 1995’s 4-3 positive ratio. Depictions of religious laity are increasingly negative, while there were almost twice as many positive portrayals of religion in institutional or doctrinal role (such as references to the Bible) as there were negative. Even though there are more religious shows, such as “7th Heaven” and “Touched By An Angel,” they seldom deal explicitly with religion, according to the study.
Religion has the least visibility and influence in TV commercials, according to another study published in the journal Sociology of Religion (Summer). Out of 797 commercials studied by sociologists Brendan Maguire and Georgie Ann Weatherby, only 16 had religious or spiritual content. Since several of the 16 commercials are repeats, the researchers actually found only eight distinct commercials Only three of these commercials carried what could be called conventional religious themes (churches, clergy, etc.), while the others either had non-conventional themes or images (featuring, for instance, the Dalai Lama) or just generic spiritual messages (Lexus putting “soul” into the production of its cars).
Maguire and Weatherby conclude that the rarity of religion in commercials can either mean that advertisers have little use for religion (seeing it as divisive or irrelevant), or, less likely, they feel that the subject is so sacrosanct that any use of such themes would cheapen religion.
(Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Dr., Holiday, FL 34691-1239)