We almost did it. Rabbi away for a family simcha. Cantor present for shacharit and Torah reading. Everything else either not done, particularly those annoying Aliyah Sound Bites, or done by volunteers including a wonderful D'var Torah, simple, insightful and with a piece of herself revealed, not something looked up on the Internet during the week. One of the better experiences on a shabbat morning, much like the congregants of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El getting together, ditching their very capable clergy, and creating a fully traditional shabbat morning experience. I understand fully why transdenominationalism is taking hold and maybe understand a little better why the AKSE service is underattended, or at least why I have been rationing my mornings there.
There was an intriguing presentation on yutorah.org a few years ago:
The speaker was not talking about Rabbinical Judaism, which is how we function, but the experience of dealing with an ordained class of people as focal points. There is certainly great demand for the right Rabbi in a congregation or community which may be why Rabbi searches are often contentious and why placement organizations insist on manipulating the selection process. But once in place, it is not entirely clear whether these people augment or mar the Jewish experience. I am certainly rather uneasy admitting to a more satisfying experience without the Rabbi, though that is the reality repeated a few times for certainty. That grass roots experience of shabbos morning at university Hillels conducted entirely by students has never been surpassed at any dues paying congregation that I have attended either as a member or visitor. I've limited my attendance in the past based on disappointing if not unfavorable experience and I've gone so far as to change congregations once, but never with the formality that I do now.
This all has implications, of course. Congregations like AKSE struggle for membership looking at their membership as a source of revenue with volunteer participation as a bonus. Yet that membership has to be contingent on deriving something of value from it, be it worship, learning, fellowship or social action. But ultimately the experience is rather fluid and not that hard to individualize. If shabbos morning fails to inspire me, I can either remain uninspired or replace the experience, which is what I seem to be doing.