Wednesday, June 6, 2012

They Do It Better

My wife's choral concerts nearly all take place in local churches.  Most are mid-sized to large enterprises affiliated with national Protestant organizations.  Each concert has an intermission and some are followed by receptions which affords me a few minutes to wander around the lobby or sanctuary entrance traversed regularly by regulars and visitors alike.  Each place has literature for the taking in a racks of varying size somewhere in the lobby, which is itself designed as a place where people might congregate, big enough to wander around but small enough to keep the people there in proximity to each other.  As subunits of larger enterprises, these churches have access to a certain amount of sales literature promoting the organization, yet each also has local brochures of rather good design.  All include a brief mission statement of the church, a brochure specific to the church and opportunities for finding one's niche within the many church activities.  All seem to be promoting multi-generational elements of the primary mission.  Some programs develop people, not necessarily members, from within while others reach out to the needy or vulnerable whose service is integral to the church's mission.

Staff blurbs are included.  Unlike synagogues that have a dominant Rabbi, the staffs of the Protestant churches are larger as the individual salaries are less than the going rate for Rabbis.  Even the Senior Pastor has very little biographical information, with the paragraph instead outlining his or her vision for what the members of the church need to do to enhance its mission.   Pictures of recent events, baptisms of babies, member families that have signed on in the last quarter, the camping trip of the sponsored scout troop are set aside on a bulletin board that is updated, leaving the impression of vibrancy for whoever stops by.

The periodic bulletin, presumably the one mailed each month or quarter to people on their mailing list, has its own place in the literature rack.  The content of the brochure again focuses more on what the people in the church did or plan to do than on what the clergy or machers think.  Most have an interesting "Pray For" section, listing members who are in the hospital or in harm's way in the military or studying for their big exam or in a job search.   It leaves the sense that all members have an obligation to others that have fallen on difficult times.   Their versions of Nachas Nook usually seems small.

איזה הוא חכם--הלמד מכל אדם  Who is Wise? One who learns from all people.  [Pirke Avot: 4:1].  Having been to a lot of synagogues of all types, particularly my own, most seem to approach personal connection in an almost primitive way compared to what the Protestants routinely seem to do.  Do I really care about the Rabbi's academic pedigree?  I should by able to stop in at the lobby on my way to the sanctuary or en route to Kiddush and remind myself in one minute what the shul is about, what is going on there that might make me eager to return let alone write an exorbitant dues check for its support, who are the friends I've not made yet, or what opportunities exist to merge my personal mission with their organizational one.  After seeing so much thought and effort go into this at the churches I have visited, I wonder why the synagogues in whose lobbies I have wandered, including my own AKSE, have never sought or achieved parity with this.

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