Wednesday night, I attended a calendaring meeting and a board meeting at $current_congregation. I was there at the request of the President of $mens_club, as the bum was off vacationing in Cancun. The things I do for my friends :-).
More seriously, I did attend the board meeting, and a few things about it have been sticking in my head… and the only way to get them out of there is to share. Hence, this post.
I’ve written in the past about how I would like to have $mens_club be a role model in how to do welcoming right. It appears that one of the themes of the board this year is similar — they are trying to establish relationships along the lines of those talked about by Rabbi Wolfson, and they were all energized to do this from the recent
UAHC URJ Biennial. We did an exercise of doing elevator speeches about selling the congregation to someone you meet, and that word “welcoming” was constantly there. People were sharing their wonderful experiences about making friends, kids in the religious school, etc. I even shared about $mens_club.
Something was off. I noticed it because I’m not a member of the board. This was my first meeting there. And other than the one person I know from Sisterhood who I sat next to (and who did calendaring with me), no other board member came over and greeted the new person. Translation: Although they talked being welcoming, they didn’t follow through with the stranger in their midst. This is the problem: we can all say we are welcoming, but it takes actual effort to break away from your friends and greet someone you don’t know. They had the opportunity to establish a new relationship, and potentially draw in a new volunteer (c’mon, if I’m stupid enough to attend a temple board meeting in someone’s absence, I can be talked into anything)… and they didn’t follow through. This is yet another example of just not seeing the little things that aren’t welcoming. Welcoming is more than a nametag and a hello: it is an attitude shift and (in many ways) a paradigm shift from the comfortable cliques.
I was also thinking, during the elevator pitches, about the pitches themselves. As someone who hasn’t had the positive experiences (other than with $mens_club), they weren’t resonating. Consider: someone who hadn’t seen the warmth was just hearing words about how warm the place was. What is needed (and I couldn’t put it in words at the time) is something that goes beyond words: doing something that demonstrates the warmth. Invitations. Personal connections. Now there was some of that in the speeches, but perhaps I’m too much of the colder computer scientist to always pick up on it. However (and I think this is important), when giving such speeches, one needs to be aware that you might be talking to someone like me. What do I want to hear? Tell me why this isn’t the typical Reform congregation — why this isn’t a marble house of plastic people.
I had a second observation on the meeting itself. The meeting consisted mostly of reports — there were almost no action items for the Board to act upon and discuss. Some of these reports went on longish, perhaps too longish. I’ve learned from my ACSAC meetings that meetings work best when condensed down to the actions that require the entire board to take, or short announcements that the entire Board needs to hear regarding upcoming due-dates. I didn’t get that sense here. Further, there was the sense of exclusion again. When there were committee reports, there was extensive attention paid to the $youth_group representative, who was new. Other groups that might have had items to report (I shyly raise my hand) were never given the opportunity. Why one group over the others? In short: more focus was needed — reports should be (a) from all committees and auxiliaries, and (b) highlighting upcoming actions and activities within a 60 day period (which is significant for publicity purposes). The focus should not be selecting particular groups to report, and then cutting off when the time limit is reached. Meetings are for the efficient conveying of information and the taking of necessary actions. Meetings are the forum for cross-committee interactions, or extra-committee or higher-level decisions. In particular, upcoming events should be discussed to ensure that there aren’t surprise impacts, and so that everyone can support and discuss them.
Will this scare me off of volunteering again. Probably not. This was a typical temple board meeting — I’ve been to my share. It only means that work of being the role model is even more important.