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The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy is a theologically based covenant community, dedicated to "recovery of the soul" and promoting competency in the clinical pastoral field.

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September 24, 2014

First Impressions of Six Days of Tavistock On Attending the A.K. Rice Institute's 50th Annual International Residential Conference (June17-22, 2014) by Bill Sewall

<imgAt the opening session of this year’s AK Rice Institute (AKRI) International Residential Group Relations Conference I found myself sitting in a large meeting room with 40 other participants. We were arranged neatly in rows and gazed expectantly at the nine consultants who sat facing us in a straight line at the front of the room.

At precisely the appointed time the director of the conference stood up, went to the podium and talked to us for 20 minutes about the boundaries, authority, roles and tasks of the conference. He talked about how AK Rice conferences had evolved from the work at the Tavistock Clinic in the United Kingdom. His tone was imperious and unemotional. His description was so nebulous that I understood little of what was said and what the conference was actually about. The leader then sat down with the rest of the consultants who looked silently and vacantly at the participants.

I had no idea what we were supposed to do next. The participants proceeded to ask questions that either were not answered by the consultants or were responded to in very nonspecific terms. We had 20 more minutes before the opening meeting was scheduled to end. Silence and growing confusion filled the room. The tension became almost palpable.

Suddenly, one of the participants stood up and said, “Let’s pick up our chairs, make a big circle and get to know each other.” Pandemonium ensued as the room burst into action. Chairs were noisily shuffled and dragged across the room. Within minutes we were looking at each other in one large circle. I felt proud that we, as participants, had taken some ownership of the conference and were exerting direct responsibility for joining together as a cohesive group. If the consultants were not going to give us specific direction, then we had to take the authority.

Or so I thought at that moment. It was only after the conference that I read in Tavistock Primer II, “[M]embers frequently attempt to change the seating arrangement set up by the consulting staff in an attempt to flee from the anxiety the Large Group experience creates in them and to express their fury at the staff for putting them in such a situation” (Hayden and Molenkamp 2003). This type of revelation would be a common theme as I processed what occurred at conference. In the large and small group meetings I firmly believed that my actions and the actions of the group were rational and conscious, only to find later that a common unconscious force was leading us forward or, on occasion, backwards.

If anything, the Tavistock method is designed to maximize the occurrence of unconscious processes, projections and transferences. While the boundaries, authority, roles and tasks of the conference are clearly spelled out, there are no effective rules or rituals to constrain how a participant acts or reacts. When I was a middle manager in corporate America I knew the rules for when to voice my ideas and when to suppress them. I knew I should never act out in front of my boss or openly express unpleasant feelings. The penalties for such actions could be dismissal, missing a promotion or losing my bonus. At AK Rice the only rule, in the director’s words, was “Don’t break the law.”

With no effective restraints, all the issues that I had repressed as a manager came pouring out in an uncontrollable torrent. As the conference materials state, “Participants typically experience some difficulty as they explore issues of authority, responsibility, boundaries, … projection, organizational structure, and large-group phenomena. … Group members inevitably project on the staff their fantasies, fears, and doubts about authority and power” (

Projections flew like knives around the meeting rooms at the conference and I and several other participants experienced high levels of anxiety. Grown men and women acted out like frustrated adolescents. Towards the end of the conference and in the days immediately thereafter I endured several emotional, if not traumatic, moments that brought me to harsh and startling personal revelations.

As a Chaplain Intern in a hospital CPE program, my attendance at the AK Rice Conference has proved to be a critical turning point. Before the conference I could hear only one “conversation” within a patient’s room. During a case study seminar, with the help of my supervisor and cohort, I might be led to understand some of the additional unconscious material in that conversation. After AK Rice, the patient’s room is now a symphony (cacophony?) of projections, transferences and possibilities. The cues and clues are almost overwhelming. It is as if the real work of chaplaincy has just now begun.
Bill Sewall spent 40 years in corporate America in the roles of General Counsel, Chief Technology Officer, and Information Security Officer. Upon retiring in 2013, he spent two months walking El Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrimage route across Spain. He is a graduate of the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, California and will be ordained as an Interfaith minister later this month. He is currently the Palliative Care Chaplain Intern at Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in Vallejo, California, and finishing up his third unit of CPE.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 9:11 PM

September 15, 2014


How do you grow a spirited organization from 15 experienced, audacious, and enthusiastic pastoral professionals who come from the same culture, to an international ministry of qualified certification and accreditation serving over 1100 pastoral care professionals who represent a broad range of cultures, countries, races, ages, genders, sexual orientations and religious traditions? Certainly not by majority vote.
In his article included in this issue of the Pastoral Report, Ed Outlaw himself affirms that this phenomenal growth and development has indeed been the journey of the CPSP in the past 25 years.  However, he does not recognize that the answer to the question above includes credit to our consensus model of decision making.  The emphasis on consensus has allowed for great diversity of opinion without necessarily dividing the body or excluding the growth of participants.  Outlaw claims to represent people who do not like those who promote consensus or the decisions that have come out of consensus; the promotion of majority voting is seen as a way to obtain a different outcome, not an ethically superior process. Since Outlaw himself has regularly participated in consensus governance in the CPSP for decades, he well knows that he is being misleading when he contends that the CPSP has no representative form of governance and that only a few people are in charge of the CPSP and its mission.

When Outlaw requested that his comments be published in the Pastoral Report, he demanded that they not be edited or abridged in any way. In this case, our community deserves to critically evaluate his assertions as he presents them, without any editing, knowing that the Leadership Team of the CPSP takes issue with his statements. Although Outlaw did not refer to him by name, George Hull was the author of the article Outlaw criticized.  Hull was entirely correct in stressing that "Removing consensus decision making would radically change the very nature of who we are in CPSP." 

Consensus is not in opposition to democracy or good order. Consensus operates on a different plane and seeks decisions based on a full expression of opinion and differences, and the determination to then entertain the needs of one another, not one side versus another. Openly, and often with deliberate patience, our representative process of consensus achieves the decisions for our organization, whether at the level of the local Chapter, the Governing Council, or the Leadership Team. The issue for Outlaw is that he wants results that differ from what has emerged from consensus. He says nothing about concern for what is important to those with whom he disagrees, which makes his exaltation of Robert’s Rules of Order especially disturbing. By definition, the use of RRO presumes an oppositional process in which one side, the majority, has the right to rule the other. One provision of RRO even calls for a voice vote in what is called a “motion to divide the house”, a notion and procedure that are anathema to the spirit of the CPSP.

Several of us on the Leadership Team have been committed to the CPSP since 1989-1990, in part because of the brilliance and mature value of consensus decision making, and we have experienced the same history that Outlaw has experienced. There is no claim to perfection in the CPSP, nor does the consensus model promise perfect outcomes. But consensus makes room for the extraordinary growth and variety of persons and ministries in the CPSP that reflect differing and expanding opinions and visions about the needs of God’s people. That is the very growth in outreach, clinical integrity, and personal commitment that we seek in the future. Yes, the future of the CPSP is not jeopardized by consensus but will rely on continued use and increasing appreciation of consensus, no matter what forms of distraction and obfuscation Outlaw attempts; his premises are simply wrong.
Consensus brings with it the conviction that we are all on the same journey both during and after decisions are made. Consensus leaves little room for persons to be destructively oppositional, while requiring each of us to tolerate a few ambiguities. Consensus can be a little unsettling at times, but whatever may be unresolved in any moment is not a cause for dissension but an opportunity for more creative engagement. 25 years ago, the CPSP was an experiment in community building, as well as a new model for the certification of qualified clinical pastoral professionals and the accreditation of their training of others. That experiment has thrived because of a decision to implement consensus as a path to the greater good of all of us. To that we must continue to aspire.

William Scar, CPSP Diplomate
For the CPSP Leadership Team

William Scar, CPSP Diplomate

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:37 PM

Advocating Democratic Voting Process for CPSP: Simply, “Let conveners vote" By Ed Outlaw


My friend, who is an attorney, reviewed the decision making process of “consensus versus majority vote” and wrote the following “adopting voting up or down by conveners of CPSP following Robert’s Rules of Order is practicing democracy. Voting works. Voting honors each convener’s opinion, each vote counts. Voting objectively gives direction to the organization and officers. Voting avoids many of the troubling, serious difficulties CPSP has been and is currently having. Voting is the American way”.

Raymond Lawrence and the initial founders of CPSP adopted a so-called “consensus method of decision making” for the organization in its infancy. In the recently published Pastoral Report, attempts were made to justify continued use of this non-democratic decision-making process. The author, in defending “Consensus Decision Making: CPSP History and Tradition,” claims, in so many words, that conveners would be failing to live by the covenant if we adopted democratic vote by majority rule. This writer suggests that as “spiritual pilgrims” we promise not to be “predatory” to each other. Our Covenant does not leave room to “attack or diminish one of opposing points of view” whether by consensus or majority vote. (See article)

Incidentally, the statement from the nominating committee to the conveners was a suggestion supported by some, but not all of the committee. I claim ownership as I have strong feelings about the issue, as this article will indicate. I have since resigned from the committee both for health reasons and to enable the committee to function in its nominating process uncompromised by a division that I sensed might develop.

A discussion process of working through points of view, respecting and considering variations of possible solutions, ending in each convener voting his conscious is what living by the covenant is all about. Certainly, when conveners conduct themselves with professional collegiality and respect, the results of a majority vote can give the needed positive direction sought by the organization. This is not “winning or losing”; voting is essentially clarification and validation of mission. If done in the spirit of “addressing one another in a truly theological sense” and being “mutually responsible to one another”, voting does not lead to conflict.

Given the growth, diversity and sophistication of CPSP members, it seems more plausible at this stage that CPSP’s “consensus decision making” is indefinite, undefined, and unstructured. This unaccountable process is more likely to lead to confusion, misunderstandings and misdirection for the officers and staff, in short, unnecessary potential conflict. Confusion and frustration for members of any organization occurs when mission action or inaction is the subjective judgment of one or a few individuals.

When CPSP was smaller, composed of 20-30 chapters, the conveners (I was one of them) had time for a few people to speak and the rest remained silent in agreement or acquiescence. Today CPSP is different with over one hundred twenty-five chapters. Even if only a simple majority is present or represented, the only way for every person to be heard, though it may be silent, is through a vote. They can exercise their franchise and vote.

Although CPSP is not structured or ruled by the Constitution of the United States, our size and mission would be most effectively determined by the American model that honors individual input. For an organization of one hundred twenty-five chapters it is to believe in a myth to think every voice is heard and considered by a moderator. In truth, a moderator’s discretion wields the essential power of the organizational direction.

As a matter of fact, in “consensus decision making” many voices are not heard. It is only those who are vocal and choose to promote or block the action proposed by someone in the body of decision makers. Under the rules of consensus, one person, for very personal or highly moral and/or philosophical reasons can stop the progress and shut down a proposal if that person chooses not to stand aside with their objections. In that case, only one voice really makes the difference, no matter what other voices speak. If nobody objects it does not mean consensus. A Wikipedia article this writer researched stated that often consensus is reached not by agreement, but by intimidation by the body or the presenter. Nevertheless, it would be reported by the presiding officer that there was consensus and the false assumption would be unanimity.

Robert’s Rules of Order, or a modification, allows for expeditious decision making while providing for input from as many as choose to speak until the body votes to close debate. After a motion is made and a second is given, the floor is OPEN for DISCUSSION until some action is taken. There is no unproductive talking about something because once there is a motion and second, there has to be a follow up action by the body. It may be an up or down vote, postponement, amendment, or be delayed by being tabled.

To reiterate, if we are “spiritual pilgrims, not predatory, and addressing one another in a truly theological sense”, such a process will not be destructive, nor unproductive.
In like manner, in an election we choose the person we believe will best serve, rather than resort to cronyism or favoritism, as is the case in our present appointive system. A nominating committee has the freedom to select from the whole body and vet the nominees for suitableness for the office or position. Professional colleagues with high regard for one another can do this amicably and collegially.

Nostalgia has a way of fogging memories. The wonderful spirit of utopia described by the author of the referenced article is not the reality this writer remembers. “I was there” as a convener, attending many meetings of the Governing Council, when it was very uncomfortable as colleagues shouted and finally with enough intimidation the group moved forward with supposed consensus that was more present in the announcement than in reality.

Let’s recognize the changes in CPSP and move forward into the future. We began twenty-five years ago with fifteen very dissatisfied and disillusioned ACPE and AAPC Caucasian pastoral educators in pastoral care and pastoral psychotherapy certified as Diplomates, located in North Carolina and environs.

We are now more than eleven hundred African, African American, Asian, European, Caribbean, American Caucasian, Native American, East Indian and Middle Eastern pastoral care givers in multiple institutions, pastoral counselors, local church ministers, pastoral educators in pastoral care, counseling, and psychotherapy, some of whom do not even know our history in the struggle with ACPE.

We are certified as clinically trained ministers, Board Certified Chaplains with a Specialty in Hospice and Palliative Care, Board Certified Clinical Chaplains in various religious and secular institutions, Board Certified Pastoral Counselors, and Diplomates in Clinical Pastoral Education and Pastoral Psychotherapy. Let’s not let nostalgia, as comfortable as it is, get in the way of a new day in CPSP.
Ed Outlaw, D. Min.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:31 PM

September 7, 2014



A Boston Globe Magazine editor asked William Alberts, a CPSP Diplomate, to write an article for The Boston Globe's commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Boston's public schools.

William Alberts writes in his article published in the Boston publication: Comparing Boston 40 years ago to Ferguson, Missouri, today reveals that an entrenched, white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, and legal power still exists in the United States. Today, as then, the aim of many in power is not to resolve these inequities, but to simply regulate them. If “equality and justice for all” are ever to be fully realized — as well as racial peace and harmony — we have to do much better.

He continues: Comparing Boston 40 years ago to Ferguson, Missouri, today reveals that an entrenched, white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, and legal power still exists in the United States. Today, as then, the aim of many in power is not to resolve these inequities, but to simply regulate them. If “equality and justice for all” are ever to be fully realized — as well as racial peace and harmony — we have to do much better.

To read the full article, click here.

Bill Alberts is a CPSP diplomate and a member of the Dover, New Hampshire Chapter. He was a hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center for over 18 years, retiring in 2011, and now covers on occasion as a chaplain consultant. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, based on his work at BMC, is available on His new book, called The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is a collection of 56 of his articles in Counterpunch-- its publication planned for this fall. His e-mail address is:

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 6:55 PM