A Catholic anthropologist from Massey University in Palmerston North has embarked on research into the rapidly-changing composition of people in parishes, and the impact of diverse cultures in the Church in New Zealand.
Dr Robyn Andrews, a parishioner of St Mary’s church, said anthropology is the study of people and cultures, and she hoped the research would be able to provide a greater understanding of the cultural differences, as well as a snapshot of the general trends in the Church.
She said that, at present, there is no research that collects “qualitative materials” or stories from participants in this area in New Zealand.
“I’ve had this idea for about five years now to do this research and applied for some of the large funding grants. I was looking at working with two other people as well,” she said. “I wasn’t successful in that grant, but I still felt the need to do this research. I felt it [would] be useful for the different people in the Church to have some sense of how things are going for others, and now Massey University has provided funding for me to embark on a smaller version of that project.”
Dr Andrews said the participants who will be interviewed for the research will fall into three categories: long-standing parishioners, migrants, and parish priests or people working in a parish role.
Dr Andrews said she will focus on three parishes in Palmerston North diocese, and hopes to interview around ten people in each category, in each parish.
‘I am interested in . . . what the change in composition is meaning to different groups at these parishes,” she said.
She said she wants to find out how the situation has impacted long-standing parishioners like herself.
“I’m excited by the energy they (migrants) bring, and just the fact that the pews are full again, and there are a lot of families. I think that’s pretty healthy for the Church,” she said. “Everybody won’t necessarily feel as I do. So, I wanted to interview people about that.”
Dr Andrews said she plans to interview people from two migrant communities: South Indians, who are mostly from Kerala, and Filipinos. These are the two main migrant communities in the Church, based on the 2013 New Zealand census statistics.
She said she had already done two research projects on the Anglo-Indians in the diaspora and found that, if they were Catholic, “it’s really important for them to find a parish to belong to as part of their settling-in process”.
“From the migrant’s perspective, what are the challenges as well? Can they practise their faith in the same way as they are used to? Can they practise their faith in a way that deepens, nurtures and maintains their faith?” she said.
As for parish priests, as well as those who run the administrative side of the parishes, Dr Andrews wanted to find out what accommodations are being made to allow migrants to practise their faith
in a way that is comfortable for them.
Dr Andrews said that, as an example, there might be activities in the parish church that a migrant community can lead, and in which long-standing parishioners can participate.
“That can help them (migrants) practise their own faith in the way that they want, but also help them feel as though they are part of the wider community,” she said.
Dr Andrews started interviewing people last month.
“The ones I’ve spoken to already have different experiences, but there are a couple of people whom the (parish) church had helped enormously in their faith, but also in the practical terms of getting settled, getting a roof over their heads
and working out what needs to be done,” she said.
Dr Andrews said the people in the parishes from whom she sought permission to undertake the study were very supportive of the research.