Conversations That Matter
The World Café is a group conversational process where we will explore things that are important to our Shir Tikvah community. We will have conversations that matter.
We will meet in a café-like environment where we will gather around small tables. Around the tables we will discuss topics near and dear to our community. Out of these discussions, we hope to connect diverse perspectives, listen to each other, and make the collective discoveries which will come from our sharing.
What is your dream for your Jewish spiritual community? How does your vision grow stronger when shared with mine? And how will we realize our dreams?
As we listen and share, we hope to use our collective wisdom to steer our Shir Tikvah community toward our shared future.
For more on the World Café, go to http://www.theworldcafe.com/
The dates for Shir Tikvah’s World Cafés will be Sunday May 15, 1.15-4 pm; Thursday May 26, 7-9.15 pm; and Sunday June 5 , 1.15-4 pm. Please plan on attending one of these cafés. They will be held at Bridgeport. Child care will be available on both Sundays with advance registration
The results of the World Café process will be published for congregants to read in August. Once published, the Steering Committee will be using this data over the following 6-12 months as it plans for Shir Tikvah’s future and takes steps to bring about this desired future. Steering will also keep the congregation informed as to how the World Café conclusions have influenced their decisions.
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Shir Tikvah: Are We A Visionary Congregation?
The following is excerpted from a sociological study on the liberal American Jewish synagogue by Isa Aron, Steven M. Cohen, Lawrence A. Hoffman, and Ari Y. Kelman:
A major theme in American religion over the last twenty years or more has been the rise of meaning seeking on the part of Americans of all faiths. In Robert Wuthnow’s terms, religious adherents have increasingly shifted from the mode of ‘dwellers,’ where extant religious structures are sufficient, to that of ‘seekers,’ where the journey is an end in itself. Current and potential congregants choose to affiliate and to become more or less involved in congregational life based in part upon the extent to which such involvement provides them with genuine meaning. Congregations are challenged now more than ever to provide environments and experiences where meaning making can happen. As people and culture continue to diversify and evolve, the objective requires ongoing innovation. As Alan Wolfe observes, “All of America’s religions face the same imperative: Personalize or die.”
How Can We Recognize a Visionary Congregation?
The synagogues we studied successfully challenged their congregants to be life-long, year-round, thoroughly committed and practicing Jews. We call these synagogues ‘visionary.’ Our interviews suggested that visionary congregations have these six qualities:
• Sacred purpose: a pervasive and shared vision infuses all aspects of the synagogue.
• Holistic ethos: the parts are related to each other, such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Torah, avodah, and g’milut chasadim are intertwined throughout synagogue life.
• Participatory culture: on all levels—congregants, lay leaders, professionals, and family members of all ages—engage in the work of creating sacred community.
• Meaningful engagement is achieved through repeated inspirational experiences that infuse people’s lives with meaning.
• Innovation disposition is marked by a search for diversity and alternatives and a high tolerance for possible failure.
• Reflective leadership and governance are marked by careful examination of alternatives, a commitment to overarching purpose, attention to relationships, mastery of both big picture and detail, and a planful approach to change.
Visionary communities maintain a holistic ethos where the parts are integrally related to the whole. This ethos attempts to minimize boundaries between people, programs, institutions, groups, and space and to promote cooperation between and among the various domains of the congregation. It rejects dualisms such as education versus entertainment and study versus action. It rejects the segmentation of functions common in most congregations, such as compartmentalizing worship, learning, caring, and social action. It also rejects an atomistic view of the congregation as separate from everyday life, the larger Jewish community, and the larger society.
The visionary congregation contrasted to the ‘functional congregation,’ which had these characteristics:
• Consumerism: the fee-for-service arrangements provide consumers with discrete services, in particular, education of children for ceremonial celebration of bar or bat mitzvah and clergy officiation at life-cycle ceremonies.
• Segmentation: programs stand on their own, with little integration of worship, learning, caring, social action, or community building.
• Passivity: professionals exercise firm control over congregational functioning; worshipers sit passively; parents drop off children for religious schooling; boards deal with marginalia.
• Meaninglessness: rote performance of scripted interactions, with little genuine significance or feelings of transcendent connection with Jews and Judaism.
• Resistance to change: the routine is supreme, preventing diversification and serious consideration of alternative modes and structures.
• Nonreflective leadership: focuses on program and institutional arrangements rather than purpose and vision.
In short, at the heart of the visionary congregation is an overarching commitment to sacred purpose, a commitment that suffuses all aspects of the community. Where the functional congregation delivers specified services to consumer-clients, its visionary counterpart provides sacred experiences to members of a holy community.
For leaders, clerical or otherwise, of visionary congregations, a highly participatory culture signifies not loss of control but success in leadership. Congregants’ participation, initiative, and leadership are not seen as impinging upon the prerogatives of leadership; they are signs of its effectiveness and success in making engagement with the congregation truly inspiring and meaningful.
In Conclusion – The leaders of the visionary congregations with whom we spoke cast themselves as change agents who promote innovation but carefully pace and monitor change. Given the complexity of instituting and monitoring innovation, a visionary congregation requires a leadership and an organizational culture not merely predisposed to innovate but also committed and capable of engaging in genuine reflection.
For years social scientists have been tracking the ever-quickening pace of change in technology, culture, and society. Management experts have been nearly unanimous in proclaiming that corporations and the people who lead them need to develop the tools to make sense of the changing world around them, to recognize emerging obstacles and opportunities, to manage adaptation and innovation, to assess their successes and failures, and to adjust their responses in light of these assessments. Innovation demands ongoing reflection and attention.
No congregation performs perfectly as a visionary congregation in all aspects. Rather, we envision the six characteristics shared by visionary congregations as continual, in which the core distinction of a congregation is that it is always in pursuit of sacredness over consumerism, holism over segmentation, participation over passivity, innovation over routine, meaning over rote interactions, and reflection over inattention.
Behind these characteristics lies the larger story, the story of how the synagogues themselves were transformed, from ‘limited liability’ institutions to sacred communities; from shuls with schools to congregations of learners; from having clergy who made hospital visits to having congregants who visit one another; from having a small and somewhat beleaguered social action committee (or no social action committee at all) to joining a citywide social justice coalition that engages a broad range of congregants.