Radical Mission, Radical Love: The Diocese of Dallas’ Convocation on Youth and Young Adults
A Dream for Unity
When Bishop Edward Burns announced that he would be coming to shepherd the Catholic Diocese of Dallas in 2017, the Catholics of Dallas could not have been more excited. The Diocese had recently hired Jason Deuterman as the Director of the Office of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry, and the ministry was already doing incredible work towards unifying the youth ministers across the Diocese.
They saw that many of the youth ministers and young adult ministers were doing incredible, innovative work in their parishes, sometimes unseen and often unsung. Dallas is a place where mini renewals are taking place in powerful ways everywhere, but sometimes in isolation, due to the large size of the Diocese and other factors. Bishop Burns and Jason both knew that if they could connect these ministers more intimately with each other and with the rest of the Church, they would see powerful transformation take place as the lay ministry leaders would begin minister out of the overflow of family, and their best ideas and strategies would easily flow from one to another.
Just as these hopes were rising to the surface, Pope Francis announced an upcoming synod on youth and young adults. He called for every diocese in the Catholic Church to survey its young people and to submit insights about the state of youth and young adult ministry to the Vatican.
Jason and Bishop Burns recognized that the Holy Spirit was at work in them as their plans were already aligned with the Pope’s vision. They wanted to answer the Holy Father’s call with the full brunt of their efforts and resources, no anonymous internet survey would do for the Church in Dallas. Both Jason Bishop Burns valued in-person relationships, human connection, and stories far too much to send out a google form with a couple of question and ask busy youth ministers to contribute some superficial data points.
They came up with an idea: host a convocation where lay ministers, young adult volunteers, and other ministry stakeholders could come together in person. They would share their thoughts, voice their concerns, and pray as a community. It was ambitious, but if done well, could create a major impact for the Diocese and for the universal Church, as the highway of information and relationships it would create would be enormous. Moreover, it would also express to the ministry leaders of Dallas that they were seen, that what they did truly mattered and that the Diocese was totally behind them. This convocation could swing open the doors of the Diocese, bringing ministers more fully into the family that the Church in Dallas is and is becoming.
Invitation, Not Obligation
Jason and Bishop Burns understood that many ministers felt burdened by obligation. They deeply wanted people to attend, but knew they couldn’t simply add it as another mandatory meeting; attendees would be less likely to contribute, more likely to check out. An event on the scale that they dreamed the convocation could reach would require enthusiastic participation from attendees. They needed to get the message out that these ministers were valued and could bring their most authentic, unfiltered selves.
The Diocese of Dallas hired us to help them to call the youth ministers to join in the work of the Spirit that this Convocation would be— but not just by publicizing the date and location. This needed to be an evocative invitation.
Marketing That Matters
The Sherwood Fellows team was honored to assist the Diocese as they worked to invite people into an experience of healing, belonging, and sharing. We helped them discover the opportunity they had to communicate a message across all marketing materials: “The work you’ve done is important. We, the Diocese, want to hear from you.” With a promotional video, posters and postcards, and various social media outreach, the Diocese told the story that we knew they lived in their day in and day out. They highlighted the experience of ministers through a video campaign that echoed their story, including the sacrifices they make and struggles they have in their work.
This helped orient the convocation as a chance for the Diocese to listen to and learn from ministers. After feeling alone for so long, youth and young adult ministers would know that the Church saw them. The Diocese had a place for their voice. The Church wanted to see their battle wounds and hear their stories, not to just tell them how to do their job, but to celebrate good while creating lasting change.
The brand mark included a circle of Christian Fish, with one fish colored red to denote Bishop Burns’ presence as another listener and member of the group. The imagery drew on stories of Jesus’ disciples “casting out into the deep,” and it paralleled the deep, difficult work ministers had done to seek out the souls of young people. The circular shape was reminiscent of the Church’s long history of gathering the voices of leaders together through councils, synods, and convocations.
This approach to event marketing did the work of beginning to heal hearts, even before the convocation. Youth and young adult ministers responded with gratitude, expressing that the messaging had portrayed their needs great accuracy. They felt the doors of the Diocese swinging open to them. Healing had begun, even if not one person showed up to the event.
Of course, that wasn’t the case at all.
An Event Filled with Hope
Representing 49 parishes, 780 youth and young adult ministers, young people, families, priests, and other church staff chose to attend the Convocation in July of 2017. It was a dynamic, engaging three days of dialogue, prayer, honesty, and depth — centered around participants who were excited to be there.
We were infinitely impressed with Bishop Burns, Jason, and the entire Diocese. Their questions evoked rich responses; they sincerely received each participant’s’ stories; they created an environment that welcomed people with open arms. Jason called this event a “watershed moment in the Diocese of Dallas,” a call to “step up to the plate,” and we couldn’t agree more.
Buoyed by the empowerment they’d found in the initial marketing messages, lay people across Dallas felt heard, seen, and known. They shared authentically, and ultimately, they felt encouraged to continue investing in the lives of youth and young adults.
The Convocation overflowed with hope. Despite the data about young people leaving religious institutions, despite the cultural and social problems tugging at young hearts, this event rang with hopeful voices. Even those who highlighted the struggles were quick to point out solutions. Even stories that were pockmarked with difficulty glimmered with the desire for renewal.
Beauty Speaks to Dignity
We worked with the Diocese and Ministry Training Source to turn the stories they’d heard and the ideas they’d gathered into a shareable document. Using Ministry Training Source’s summarized research, our design team transformed this information into an engaging report that anyone across Dallas could access and enjoy reading.
The Sherwood designers created a document that reflected the bold, creative forward motion of the Convocation. Using human images, simple type, and geometric page designs, the report told the story of a radically loving Church on a radical mission to set young lives ablaze with joy. It bursts with color while remaining clear for physical or online reading. Striking images of young people stand next to heartfelt stories about their desires, difficulties, and dreams.
Our creation worked to captivate readers, making sure they weren’t spending energy deciphering text or refocusing their attention on a bland document. It spoke to the importance of the Convocation findings; a beautiful design says to participants and readers, “These stories matter to us. We spent time making them beautiful, because they are necessary.” We believe that a design like this further enjoins people to put the Convocation’s findings into motion.
That motion continues to grow. The Convocation and the report are a gift to the universal Church. Pope Francis asked for ground-level testimonies of the greatest challenges, joys, and opportunities for this generation, and by creating a space where people could openly share, the Diocese gave the Church’s shepherds an authentic look into the lives of young people. Their insights will shape the Church’s direction as it works to include and empower young people.
Of course, the Convocation is shaping the Diocese of Dallas’ direction, too. The Convocation showed a path forward. The Diocese has continued to create initiatives for young people, with solutions and opportunities that responded to people’s expressed needs.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Convocation and report affirmed ministers throughout Dallas. It kickstarted collaboration and communication among parishes and with the Diocese. They felt invested in; they knew their voices mattered. Together with the Diocese of Dallas, we were proud to create a space where people could tell their stories and know their worth.