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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


This is a case of consultancy in which Modern Psychoanalytic principles [i] [ii] were used to help a state-wide denominational body review and refine its organizational structure. This structure was created three years earlier as the result of a merger between two smaller bodies representing churches in Northern and Southern parts of the state. The original bodies dated back to the Civil-War and had evolved distinctive cultures. The Bishop who was head of the former southern body was appointed with a mandate to accomplish the long-overdue merger. Sensitive to criticism that his denomination and his own management style were too 'top-down', he supported efforts to create a more democratic structure than the one's being replaced. He also wanted to avoid the mistake of fusing two entrenched cultures that might compete perpetually for dominance. The new body was to be 'a new creation' (II Corinthians. 5:17) [iii]. The Bishop was a well-liked and visionary leader who could also be impulsive and autocratic in ways that belie his democratic ideals. In pushing the merger forward he had had to expend considerable political capital. He let me know early on that he hoped to be reappointed to a more prestigious position once his eight year term as Bishop of this conference was done. Since his term was due to end soon after the completion of this project, it was clear that he was concerned about his legacy. He did not want his successor to inherit a new structure that was unrefined and perhaps unmanageable. Our contract was with the Bishop and the 'New Day' Council (hereafter the Council) charged in the new structure with on-going review of the organization's overall effectiveness. In response to concerns about how well the Conference's new organizational structure was working, we were engaged to: 1. Conduct 18 listening sessions for both clergy and lay leaders representing member churches across the state. 2. Present perceptions gathered from these meetings in a report to be shared with all the participants as well as all the major work groups (executive staff, key committees etc.) responsible for running the organization. 3. Conduct meetings with each of these work-groups to discuss the report in depth and gather their suggestions for improving the Conference's new structure. 4. Assist the Bishop and Council in preparing a final report and recommendations based on the best suggestions made during these meetings. This report was to be presented by the Council at the Conference's next annual meeting and referred back to the Bishop's executive team for implementation. Except for implementation we had nine months to complete this project.