Deacon Dean’s thesis, “Effective Church Operational Systems” comes to a close with Chapter Six. It is a reiteration of the challenges the Roman Catholic Church has recently faced and a short summary of the transformational process at All Saints Parish with the implementation of The Strategic Way.
He again compares parishes to the human body. He writes, “If the body has a depressed immune system, it is vulnerable to all sorts of things. The same is true in congregations.” This continues the type of thinking that is aligned with New Age ideas.
Then under the sub-heading ‘Biblical Foundations’ he states, “Biblical leadership is all about integrity…The top leader must first be an individual of integrity.”
Then under the sub-heading ‘Creating and Implementing an Operational System,’ he says his first step was to “develop an effective team.” Deacon Dean writes, “Here is where I experienced the greatest level of success, but experienced the highest level of difficulty. Coming in as a new leader, I did not choose the staff. Initially, they did not all want to be a team, and some of them were not interested in being coached into anything and just wanted to be left alone. Applying the basic principles of accountability and casting a vision for team [sic] caused some of the biggest problem individuals to withdraw themselves. Eventually, through hiring and dismissals, it took four years to develop the team that would be capable and desirous of working together to make this implementation really work.”
Now realize that when he talks about “problem individuals” withdrawing themselves, he is speaking of Marie McCaig the former youth minister, who had (and continues to have) a very large and successful lay apostolate serving the young people in the Corning area. Her rapport with teens and their families was so well-known and respected that when she finally left the position of youth minister, many teens and families left the parish. Today she has a very large and successful youth ministry program, continuing to provide for the spiritual and material needs of area teens. The youth ministry program at All Saints Parish has not recovered.
Secondly, Deacon Dean himself states that dismissals (the dictionary defines dismissal as being ‘axed’ or ‘discharged’, with ‘layoff’ being an inferior synonym) occurred over a four-year period of developing a team “capable and desirous of working together…” This can only refer to Alene Goodman and Eleanor Black, two well-respected employees. Parishioners will remember a weekly bulletin article that said Alene and Eleanor were ‘laid off’ for financial reasons only. However, that does not seem to be the case.
The trauma of the dismissals on parishioners already reeling from the youth ministry debacle, the sale and eventual destruction of St. Patrick’s, and the complete shock of the proposed sale of St. Vincent de Paul, as well as Immaculate Heart of Mary, caused even more families to leave the parish. Most have not returned.
These kinds of blows to a parish family have wide-ranging negative effects, and they continue to reverberate at All Saints. For instance, attendance at parish events is not what it once was, and those who do attend are often the same faces over and over again – parish staff, parish council and committee members, their family/friends and some active volunteers.
Again, this cannot be termed a successful team building experience. Sadly appropriate is the expression used to describe how this effort at team building is being implemented throughout the parish. Deacon Dean writes, “It is now beginning to bleed into the wider parish.”
Further on, he states it will take another two years to fully implement the new system in the parish. That means a six-year process! Under the heading ‘Where to Go From Here’ it is clear the intent is to market this system to a wider audience. “The beauty of this system is in its ability to be universally applied. This methodology need not be restricted to churches, but has multiple application potentials. In addition to congregational ministry it can easily be transferred to secular industry or non-profit organizations of all types. Perhaps the most fascinating application that I see for this system is for the family.”
Later Deacon Dean speaks of developing four books with accompanying manuals to equip different organizations to implement his system.
The thesis ends with a quote from II Corinthians 12:7-10, the famous request of St. Paul to have a messenger of Satan, the ‘thorn in [Paul’s] side,’ removed. It is obvious from the tumult in All Saints Parish over the last six years, that there are thorns aplenty to go around.
To sum up what I have learned from “Effective Church OperationalSystems” is that some people are not gifted to lead, especially if their view differs in essential ways from an existing organizational structure. I believe that while the Catholic Church is being challenged on many levels, its basic structure and hierarchy (founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and tested over many centuries) is spiritually and structurally sound.
One does not upend an intact and working system because of challenges, either within or without the organization. Adjust, of course. Reform if needed. But bringing in an amalgamation of secular, New Age, and Protestant beliefs, and attempting to insert them into a sacramental Church, is dangerous and has proven protracted and problematic.
Either the organization with its members will eventually become Catholic in name only, having succumbed to the infection of false belief systems, or they will resist in various ways and fight to remain true to authentic Roman Catholicism. I believe that while Deacon Dean had good intentions, the foundation of his transformational system is based on ideas that are not Catholic and do not belong in a Catholic parish. The foundation of true spiritual transformation—the sacraments—were ignored or merely paid lip service. This is a profound defect, but one that could not be avoided in the attempt to build up a parish that is led by the laity.
Perhaps the end-game question for parishioners is this: What does it mean to be Catholic?