The Community Consulting Group, New York City - CCGNY
 BUILDING COMMUNITIES WITHIN COMMUNITIES
ARTICLE

A Collaborative and Consultative Approach Toward Understanding and Change in an Immigrant Catholic Parish: A Case Study

Mark B. Borg, Jr. PhD
[AUTHOR'S BIO]

M. Lynch

Borg, Jr., M. B., & Lynch, M. (2005). A Collaborative and Consultative Approach Toward Understanding and Change in an Immigrant Catholic Parish: A Case Study. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57 (2): 142-152.


Abstract

THE PASTOR OF A LARGE CATHOLIC PARISH serving Chinese immigrants in a major U.S. metropolitan area contacted the consultants to help him address issues tied to the changing demographic patterns in the immigrant population it served. Specifically, he sought help in identifying the underlying dynamics of his changing parish environment and in developing an appropriate response. Consultative work was grounded in community psychology and psychoanalytic theories, and entailed developing a research process to help the consultee(s) better understand the unity and diversity issues that were impacting the parish. In the first year, a project group was developed consisting of representatives of the various communities being served. The group accepted the responsibilities of researching their dilemma and subsequently working with the consultants to construct and implement an action plan. We found that acknowledging that unity and diversity issues were worthy of consultation was a challenge to the parish’s historic organizational model. Further, the primary issue was linked to what the project group perceived as their pastor’s impending departure.


Introduction

FATHER LYNCH, A JESUIT PRIEST WHO SPEAKS both Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, has extensive experience with social justice projects throughout Mainland China and Hong Kong. After completing a consultancy involving an analysis of a Chinese school affiliated with an immigrant Catholic parish in a major U.S. metropolitan city, Father Lynch approached the pastor about doing a broader study of issues facing the entire parish. Subsequently, Father Lynch invited Dr. Borg, a clinical and community psychologist, to work on this more extensive organizational consultation. Father Lynch and Dr. Borg met with the pastor of the Chinatown parish, who stated his staff’s desire to better understand the dynamics involved in welcoming a recent wave of immigrants from China’s Fujian and Zhejiang provinces into a church community dominated by Cantonese Chinese. In this meeting, the pastor said his primary interest was in learning how “to promote unity within the community while respecting the unique needs and gifts of each of its constituent groups.” The project began in the spring of 2002.

The two authors belong to a multidisciplinary community crisis intervention team known as the Community Consulting Group (CCG). Its members have expertise ranging from community and organizational consultation to public law and psychotherapy. The working philosophy of the CCG is grounded in community psychology (empowerment, prevention, and action research) and psychoanalytic theories and is best expressed by the idea of “building communities within communities”—that is, helping groups of people with a common purpose to develop and maintain an ongoing experience of community, both individually and collectively. This approach requires conscious investment, commitment, and maintenance in order to transcend more externally imposed socioeconomic, geographical and political descriptions of community. It has also been observed that proximity, commonality, and shared purpose do not automatically result in a sense of belonging to a community.

Community Analysis

A psychoanalytic approach to organizational or community treatment begins with the practitioners acting as observers of and participants in crisis management and structural change—providing a forum for the enactment of transference and countertransference experience between practitioners and community members that uncovers the unconscious dimensions of the community or organization. We will use the term enactment to refer to the activation and playing out of transference and countertransference experiences between the consultants and the community members as well as among the community members themselves (including their transference experiences vis-a-vis the organization itself).

Ideally, the process of community analysis evolves into one of collaboration that supports initial change and growth processes increasingly sustained from within the target community or organization itself (Borg, 2002; Diamond, 1993; Miller, 1993). In other words, collaboration serves as the intervention’s framework and becomes a supportive foundation for the participants’ efforts to develop hypotheses about how they function and how they can implement appropriate strategies in response. This could also be viewed as a special form of Schein’s (1988) process consultation, which “is a set of activities on the part of the consultant that help the client to perceive, understand, and act upon the process events that occur in the client’s environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client” (p. 11).

Community—specifically, empowerment—theory encourages solutions that are community controlled (as opposed to institutionally controlled), and therefore responsive to the various needs of different individuals, neighborhoods, and communities (Rappaport & Seidman, 2000; Stringer, 1999). Psychoanalytic treatment, community intervention, and even social policy are considered empowering to the extent that they allow people to develop their own solutions to their own problems. For community practitioners, the ultimate goal is to promote the ability of community members to define their unmet individual and collective needs in order that they can serve as advocates for themselves and their community in the larger world (Albee & Gullotta, 1997; Bright, 2000; Reason & Bradbury, 2001).

Communities, organizations, and individuals all develop characteristic interaction patterns that serve as defenses against the inherent anxiety found in all systems (Jaques, 1955; Menzies, 1960). We use the heuristic community character to describe detailed patterns of institutional defense (Borg, 2002). Character, as an individual defense, determines what is taken in and what remains outside of awareness. It is an interpersonal operation that organizes self-experiences in the course of real or imagined interactions with others (Cooper, 1991). In other words, character can be considered a front—the enacted representation that we show to ourselves and others in order to navigate our way through experiences that might otherwise overwhelm our sense of self and our general ability to function. We view the organizational analogue, community character, as a means of describing group-level anxiety-reduction operations.

The community character usually manifests in a set of implicit “rules and regulations” in a community. For instance, we found that while certain characterological patterns of the parish served to reduce the anxiety that many new immigrants experienced in their transition into a new environment, they were implicitly required to play a kind of “victim” role. In fact, we found that these newcomers were expected to play a role of being helpless and in need of services so that the old-timers in the parish (members of the last immigrant group) could feel more empowered. They needed others to “serve” (i.e., disempowered newcomers) in order to maintain their own sense of status and value in the parish. While it seemed that this defensive pattern was relatively effective for reducing anxiety in the parish, it was not very effective in helping the parish work through the emerging issues related to unity and diversity in the church.

Point of impact (Borg, 2002) is a concept that describes the emotional epicenter of a painful and anxiety-ridden crisis—the point where immediate trauma and long-standing conflicts converge. It is also the juncture where chronic crises, problems, or pain become manifest in more acute forms (e.g., as aggression between or among groups), possibly overriding community character defenses. Acute trauma occasionally opens the door to a prior history of chronic trauma in a community or organization—for instance, generationally transmitted character defenses, prejudices, stereotypes, problematic communication, insularity (as witnessed among the parish’s Fujianese and Cantonese members), and communicative and behavioral taboos (politically-correct manners, gestures, and so on). These problems tend to result in implicit prohibitions against inter-group communication that are accepted as ways of managing anxiety and pain associated with chronic trauma. But such defenses are subtly perpetuated via emotional tones, behavioral symptoms, and the interactive patterns they sustain (Stern, 1997; Sullivan 1953). In organizational terms, a point of impact generally occurs when a situation threatens the organization’s ability to accomplish its primary task; that is, its reason for existing as such (Hirschhorn, 1999; Miller, 1993). We found that the point of impact in this parish was very much related to the theme of migration; in fact, it turned out that this point was related to the fact that the pastor himself was being threatened with a deportation out of the system.

In previous long- and short-term community consultations and interventions, CCG members have addressed the ways in which particular communities have been impacted by acute and chronic trauma. We frequently view acute trauma as a symptom that allows communities to diagnose problems and to develop intervention strategies that result in increased awareness of etiologies tied to more chronic trauma (Borg, Garrod & Dalla, 2001). One central goal that has emerged over the course of previous and ongoing consultation projects is the development of collaborative solutions and strategies that allow groups to work through their traumatic histories as well as their immediate crises (Borg, 2003).

The Client

The Chinatown parish has a long history of recreating unity in the face of new waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and China. Currently, the focus is on integrating immigrants from various parts of China. Although Fujian, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces and the city of Hong Kong are all located along China’s southeast coast, differences between these populations, and biases against each other, go back many centuries. The newcomers are frequently in need of social as well as spiritual services.

The Catholic Church is facing enormous challenges to its attempts to preserve traditional elements it deems inviolable while adapting its message to a world that demands flexibility. This process can be traced back to the 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council called for a movement away from an authoritative, controlling, and static model to one that was more collaborative, serving, and cognizant of development and change—in short, a change from an exclusive to an inclusive mindset. Some 40 years later the agenda is still considered controversial, and the current church hierarchy is facing a range of views that in some ways are much broader than those that separated Martin Luther from the 16th century church.

On the local level, the Archdiocese is dealing with sex scandals, financial difficulties, a shortage of priests, and the effects of failing to respond to demographic changes in areas such as Chinatown. The Archdiocese continues to operate seven churches within close proximity to Chinatown, an area that has experienced a sharp decline in the number of active Catholics. For the most part, parishes are allowed to manage themselves, creating a situation where no common vision regarding how to allocate personnel and resources exists. When a large number of Fujianese had a falling out with other members of the parish, they simply moved to a neighboring parish without making any serious effort to reconcile their differences or to communicate their specific wishes to their pastors. Due to demographic changes, the decreasing number of priests, and increasing financial constraints, the Archdiocese states that it is interested in restructuring its existing parishes. An ad hoc committee of selected priests has been established, but few suggestions have come out of a year’s worth of meetings.

Chinese cultural characteristics have also affected the parishioners’ views of unity, diversity, and dependency. The Chinese world-view is based on the philosophical and religious tenets of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism (Chin, Liem, Ham, & Hong, 1993). Significant regional differences exist, but East Asian culture is generally collectivist with a strong emphasis on family, formal hierarchy, and preserving male lineages (Hong & Ham, 2001; Tung, 2000). Maturity is measured in terms of one’s position within family and social networks as opposed to the Western emphasis on independence (Kim, Brenner, Liang, & Asay, 2003). Asian cultural beliefs are also marked by emphases on interpersonal harmony, compromise, respect for authority, and acceptance of one’s fate (Miscevic & Kwong, 2000).

Of the approximately 500 families that attend the parish’s five weekend Masses, 50 are English-speaking families from a variety of cultural backgrounds, 150 are Cantonese speakers (mostly from Hong Kong), and 300 are described as Mandarin speakers (mostly from China’s Fujian and Zhejiang provinces). The English and Cantonese speakers represent the long-term church community, while the Mandarin speakers are, for the most part, recent immigrants to the U.S. who are still struggling with the trauma of dislocation and isolation. Moreover, a significant number of the new members are illegal aliens which presents an additional challenge to their efforts to acculturate. The parish also operates three schools: a kindergarten, an elementary school, and a school for Chinese language instruction. The schools tend to serve the needs of the more settled immigrants though some efforts have been made to offer language and parenting classes specifically tailored to meet the needs of more recent immigrant church members.

The parish staff includes a bilingual (Cantonese and English) priest and a part-time monolingual (English) assistant. Both are Caucasian. The two priests belong to a religious order of primarily American priests who feel a calling to missionary service. The parish also has an administrative staff of three (two Chinese and one African American) and a pastoral staff of four (two Chinese and two Caucasians). This order has a long tradition of involvement with this particular parish despite the general policy that members must perform their work outside the United States. For many years, the majority of teachers in the church grammar school were religious sisters, but they were gradually replaced by lay teachers beginning in the 1980s. During this same period, the parish leadership consisted of Chinese priests. Unfortunately, the parish suffered from mismanagement, conflicts between the head pastor and the school principal, a sharp decline in membership, and dissension among the three Chinese priests who lived in the rectory.

In 1991, the current pastor was appointed with a mandate to restore order to the parish and schools. His tenure marked the beginning of a renewal period though his first few years were painful for all concerned parties. The manner in which things were “put back in order” was controversial, and a number of decisions were considered affronts to the sensibilities of one segment of the Chinese Catholic community—those who maintained their emotional ties with the leadership that this pastor displaced. Soon after the new pastor was appointed, the three Chinese priests left the parish.

At our initial contract meeting, the pastor said that what he “really needed” was “more space.” But since he felt that we “could not help” him achieve that, he suggested an assessment of unity and diversity issues in the parish along with the development of a five-year plan to be considered later as a subsequent consultation stage.

The Consultation Project

The stated goal of the consultation was to help the pastor and his staff determine whether the diverse needs and resources of the congregation could be further integrated into parish life—in the pastor’s words, “How do we manage this changing demographic pattern in the church and maintain a sense of community?” Our response to this question was initially framed as an effort to collect data for the purpose of developing a five-year plan in response to the challenges facing the parish. While the creation of a five-year plan was never addressed formally, we believe the idea provided an important framework for interpreting the information we gathered.

We joined a process of collaboration with members of the parish with a sense that something about the issues of unity and diversity in this church were manifesting an acute manifestation of a crisis that was actually more chronic in nature and in duration. We believed that if this point of impact was addressed and brought more thoroughly into the awareness of the leaders of this community, a more conscious approach to change could be undertaken by the parish. We hoped that such a change would have a ripple effect (Fuqua & Kurpius, 1993), and that change strategies that were developed to address one area of organizational functioning could then be applied to other problem areas.

As stated above, our approach was based on a combination of psychoanalytic and community psychology theories. Specific procedures included individual interviews with the pastor, parish staff, and parish council members; small group interviews; attendance at church functions; and the creation of a research group (that we called the “project group”). The project group became a powerful participant-observation tool that also presented opportunities to emphasize the empowerment concept—as well as to play out (enact) the transference-countertransference dimensions of our work. The project group consisted of 10-15 lay members of the congregation, as well as a number of rotating representatives of the parish staff and the parish council (ostensibly the parish’s governing body). The Fujianese, Cantonese, and one American-born Chinese participants of this group represented the core of the parish’s most active and concerned supporters.

The bimonthly project group meetings served as a point of intersection between the perspectives of an outsider (Dr. Borg) and an insider (Father Lynch). Although the data reflected a broad range of perspectives from all of the individuals and small groups that were interviewed, it was within the project group context that many of the parish’s salient dynamics—its leadership, functions, and problems—were consistently and most profoundly enacted.

During the project group meetings, we developed research questions that were used to guide our interviews, and also developed a parish survey to collect information regarding what were
perceived as the parish’s most important functions. The initial research questions were:

  1. How do unity and diversity impact the organization’s primary task?
  2. Does the organizational structure allow staff and members of the congregation to maintain boundaries and to have clearly defined roles in their community service?
  3. Is unity encouraged or hindered by the parish’s administrative structure?
  4. How does the parish structure influence the ways that the congregation deals with diversity?
  5. How are unity and diversity impacted by the exercise of authority and power within the parish?
  6. Do traditional Chinese values play a significant role in how issues of unity and diversity are experienced in the parish?
  7. Is the Catholic faith a major point of unity among the diverse groups within the parish?
  8. How do the shared immigration experiences of church members affect unity and fragmentation in the parish?

We used parishioners’ responses to these questions to guide the project group’s ongoing tasks, which included writing a questionnaire to address the issues of unity and diversity within the parish. As relevant as these questions were to our consultation, it was the process of meeting with groups and individuals that allowed the salient dynamics associated with chronic anxiety over succession to surface.

We made an effort to predict, identify, and address resistance to our consultation, and learned that the pastor, staff, and volunteers (including members of the project group) all worked much longer hours than required to fulfill their job or volunteer responsibilities. We also learned that parish work was not grounded in terms of a clear vision or mission, and that goals had never been negotiated nor defined. In many ways, these circumstances acted as barriers to formulating and maintaining a clear and coherent understanding of the primary task of this parish. Even though the church was providing many kinds of meaningful social services (e.g., giving care to new immigrants, running a school, and attending to individual spiritual needs), there was little understanding of how the parish was actually impacting the internal and external communities. The result was a feeling that staff and volunteers could work as though they had infinite personal and institutional resources, and that there were no boundaries or limits on what could be done nor on available time to accomplish their many tasks.

In a parallel process, we found it difficult to limit the scope and scale of this consultancy. For example, despite our efforts to specifically frame our tasks and goals in a contract, we failed to maintain the agreed-upon boundaries and did far more work than planned. The ease with which we were pulled into the enactment of parish routines and approaches to work was remindful of Levenson’s (1972) comment that working through represents the psychoanalyst’s ability to be “trapped, immersed, and participating in the [transference-countertransference] system and then work his [or her] way out” (p. 174). Increasingly frustrated and irritated, we often felt entrapped. Any time we tried to set limits on our work, we encountered rejection from the parishioners. Moreover, the two of us frequently disagreed over when to push ahead and when to reestablish boundaries. However, the process gave us a much better understanding of the implicit rules and taboos that protected the parish’s community character.

Several questions emerged from the consultants’ enactments: Were manic activity and the absence of clearly defined tasks linked to anxiety that resulted from a choice between competing interests? Or, did manic activity simply serve as an avoidance tactic? If so, would that explain the parishioners’ resistance to role and structural changes that challenged their accustomed model? And, did interpreting all actions and ideas in terms of Christian ideals and providing special care for immigrants allow the parish to distance itself from repeated role and boundary violations, the opacity of their primary task, and the pain of maintaining their current procedures? We used these questions and our personal experience and enactments of manic activity and rejection to establish more realistic boundaries for ourselves and to support each other in maintaining them in the face of occasionally severe countertransferential reactions from group members.

After personally experiencing the dynamics of this system, we hypothesized that overwork was linked to a sense of belonging; i.e., those who wanted to belong were willing to give their lives in the same manner as the primary role model, the pastor. As one parishioner jokingly commented, “We are here because we have no lives.” Church staff and members of the congregation worried about others getting burned out and were very understanding of the limits that their peers placed on their service time. But those who voiced sympathy over other’s attempts to limit their activities often showed a remarkable willingness to sacrifice more of their own time and energy in service to the parish—including their membership in the project group. We personally experienced the repercussions of failing to reenact this process.

The experience of feeling overburdened appeared to be linked to sensations of exhilaration and a deep sense of belonging, but also reinforced a disconnection from the underlying tensions that drove the work. We eventually viewed our most important task as bringing to the surface the underlying issue that the resistance was serving. The answer, we discovered, was acknowledging the possibility of losing the current pastor and having to adjust to a new one. This concern was enacted at all levels of the organization. On several occasions, it seemed as though our resistance to becoming totally enmeshed in the system was experienced by parishioners and staff as rejection—a sign that we, too, would eventually abandon them.

The succession issue provided one of the clearest examples of a “point of impact.” During the consultation, we learned that there was a real possibility that the pastor would be required to become the Superior of his order for all U.S. operations. At one point, the pastor asked Father Lynch whether the Jesuits would be willing to take over the parish and expressed concern over whether his achievements and the good work that was currently being performed would endure. Linguistically, the parishioners had good reason for concern; the pastor’s order had made it clear that it would no longer appoint one of its own to staff the parish and the odds of finding a competent priest who speaks Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese were small.

During a meeting late in the consultation, the pastor clearly recognized the need to consider alternatives to the way that the parish had been managed. He suggested that a layperson could be hired to take over school operations and that the parish council could take on more responsibilities in making day-to-day decisions. These comments were clear indications that he was aware of other management models and the resources required to make them work.

The issue of succession came up on several occasions during project group meetings, especially when we discussed the idea of a five-year plan. There seemed to be great reluctance to contemplate the loss of the pastor at the same time that group members were acknowledging that the parish’s future demanded reflection and action. Emotions surrounding the issue gave group members a glimpse of their dependence on a single individual and their lack of real power. Their hesitancy to address the issue spotlighted their deep loyalty to their pastor, as well as their fear of a future without him. Near the end of our consultation, the pastor successfully excused himself from consideration for the position of Regional Superior and it appeared as though he would remain as pastor indefinitely. Immediate anxiety was reduced, but critical issues may have gone underground again.

Findings/Key Learning

The parish exemplified the Catholic Church’s ongoing effort to adapt to an increasingly complex planet, and its chronic tensions suggested core problems in its organizational model (Steinfels, 2003). The Chinatown parish’s organizational model—characterized by a vertical power structure, heavy reliance on clergy (and its members’ expertise), and a lack of transparency—tended to disempower grassroots community-building and to compartmentalize diverse groups within the church.

Elements that were symptomatic of this structure had a profound impact on parish life in Chinatown and the work of the local Archdiocese. From our vantage point, the Archdiocese appeared to make many decisions in reaction to perceived threats to its organizational survival, especially in light of the many crises it was currently facing: sexual scandal, mismanaged resources, and growing polarization within the church. The strategy of protecting the institution itself rather than promoting other aspects of church life meant that resources were increasingly diverted from pastoral care and community building in favor of administration, fundraising, physical maintenance, and the most visible religious activities (e.g., liturgies and music). Such decisions sometimes dramatically dissociate those anxieties that were exerting the greatest impact on how the organization was functioning. So when problems and anxieties surfaced, it was often in the form of subtle enactments that were misunderstood as the status quo—for example, compartmentalization of diverse groups, authoritarian decision making, and lack of transparency regarding finances. These enactments were paralleled in the operations of the Archdiocese.

The situation we just described is an example of an institutional model, one that reflects a single aspect of what it means to be a church. Examples of other models are the church as servant, the church as the provider of communion, or the church as prophetic herald. Each model represents a primary church function. Emphasizing one over the others results in a task-appropriate leadership style and strategic approach. In the present climate, there seems to be exaggerated stress within the Archdiocese and in the larger church on an institutional model that is ill-suited to deal with the issues of unity and diversity.

Moreover, following an institutional model means that the primary focus will be on the parish’s administrative functions and that identifying unity and diversity as central issues might be interpreted as a challenge to that preference. In that model, valid expertise and reliable information—key ingredients for empowerment—are held solely by the pastor, setting up a sense of dependency in the parishioners and burdening the pastor with their idealization of his functioning. Schein (1999) discussed the pitfalls of what he calls the “purchase of information or expertise model” (pp. 7-8)—specifically, how presenting oneself as the expert potentially sets up a state of dependency in the client(s), as well as resentment when the idealized consultant disappoints the client. It is interesting to consider how by selling our expertise to the parish, we were re-enacting a model that was akin to the pastor’s administrative (expert) style. Though we used a collaborative framework to buffer ourselves against these pitfalls, the general transference patterns that parishioners enacted toward authority figures made it inevitable that we would be experienced as experts selling our highly valued information, and be pulled into these enactments ourselves.

From another perspective, the parish’s chronic tensions regarding unity and diversity could be viewed as symptomatic of this model. The pastor’s request for a consultation could be interpreted as a call for help (what we described earlier as a point of impact) that specifically targeted the existing governance model. We subsequently chose to follow a methodology—use of the project group—that employed the parish’s indigenous and diverse resources when searching for an alternative or supplemental parish leadership model.

It may have been the actual threat to the pastor’s position that allowed the central enactment to surface in a way that informed our consultation. This issue presented many insights into the manic activity we observed in the parish, the dissociation of key aspects of organizational awareness, and community character. It is reasonable to assume that parishioners feared a return to the chaos they experienced before the current pastor arrived and to the painful events that marked the first years of his tenure. Certainly the improvements he brought to the community conveyed a sense of stability that alleviated the parishioner’s prior anxiety. Such a collective experience may be even more powerful within an immigrant community that has already dealt with dislocation and loss. In such a context, fear over succession may have functioned as a powerful disincentive to considering other governance models for the parish, even though the alternatives might be better in terms of unity, diversity, and power issues.

The manic activity and chronic violations of work boundaries we observed could be interpreted as powerful expressions of an unconscious need to enact the current institutional model. Expanding the idea of a “service model” might serve as a useful means of reframing the parish’s approach to its chronic concern over unity and diversity—especially given the parish’s concern for immigrants. Without negating institutional demands, such a reframing could trigger a stronger focus on the parish’s established tradition of providing immigrants with services and education. This would promote collaboration, communication, leadership training, and grass roots involvement required to bring together various constituencies. We suggested that parishioners use the project group format to supplement the institutional model, thereby creating a framework to develop a set of strategies to address their most salient issues.

Summary

Returning to our proposal for helping the parish create a “five-year plan” requires an examination of the potential (at one time perceived as inevitable) loss of the pastor—the clearest example of a point of impact. At the beginning of the consultation, the unconscious and enacted question on the parishioners’ minds was “What will we do without the pastor?” Identifying this point of impact provided key information regarding the chronic anxiety that we observed in the system. In addition to being enacted in many ways within and among the parish leadership, staff, and congregation, the anxiety was also sustained by a manic character that made it very difficult to recognize enactment patterns. We therefore reframed the question apropos of the “five-year plan” from “What will the parish look like in five years without its current leadership structure and in the absence of a leader who is strong enough to maintain it?” to “What will this parish look like in five years if its current vision, mission, goals, work boundaries, and staff and lay leadership roles continue to be guided and contained by its current leadership structure?” In short, we were challenging our clients by asking if the parish’s primary task was to maintain the status quo by protecting its current organizational structure and processes.

This manifestation of a point of impact that threatened organizational survival tapped into our original research questions. In addition to struggling with the survival issues of unity and diversity, we also considered whether or not the central issue was one of transformation and adaptation to an increasingly complex and difficult environment. Responding to this question would also address the dilemma of sustaining a system that would provide a legacy for future generations.

Our research questions—which present alternative ways of viewing what the parish wants to accomplish and how to proceed—suggest experimentation, collaboration, and more than one model for creating a sense of empowerment and leadership. At the same time, each question required that existing anxieties be made manifest (whether acknowledged by the parish or not) within the point of impact—the expected loss of the pastor. During our consultation, we observed this scenario through numerous enactments and statements, many of them made in jest. When the most acute form of the crisis was behind them in that the pastor is not leaving, it appeared that the parishioners could confront their sense of dread over identifying and developing an organizational structure that could tolerate changes in leadership.

We have considered the possibility that this consultation was serendipitous, and that the creation of a project group during this particular period in the parish’s history to develop a plan of action was not an accident. This project group seemed capable of developing the necessary skills for leading the parish into its future. Further, it is reasonable to believe that future project groups will structure themselves according to specific tasks, and that they will be formed with a conscious intent to represent the parish’s diverse character. Our hope is that the project group can serve as an alternative leadership model that can be replicated in the parish and the Archdiocese. At the end of our contract, the pastor, parish council, and project group discussed the possibility of using the same approach to broaden the scope of the consultation. We agreed to continue our work for another year and are planning several retreats to construct our next contract and to develop strategies for intervention and research.


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