18 years ago, when I attended my first Annual Congregational Meeting at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ, a fight almost broke out.
I remember that Jonathan, the treasurer, had presented the budget to the 80 congregants who were in attendance. Max, an older gentleman asked a question regarding the rabbi’s salary. I recall that Max didn’t like Jonathan’s answer and thought he was hiding something. The verbal exchange became louder and more animated, until the president told Max to keep his voice down. Then he asked him to leave the meeting. On his way out, Max asked Jonathan if he wanted to step outside and made a pose like a boxer.
That kind of experience leaves quite an impression with you!
This year’s annual meeting was last Thursday evening. It was scheduled to start at 7:00 PM. Although I knew from attending in past years that the meeting wouldn’t start until they have the required 72 congregants in attendance. I arrived at 7:25 PM and was the 39th person on the list. It took another 30 minutes until a quorum had been reached and the meeting could begin.
It was a very well organized presentation with PowerPoint slides on strategic planning and budget. Perhaps there were 80 people in attendance representing maybe 50 different households. During the strategic planning presentation, a gentleman offered a litany of complaints about the clergy. No fisticuffs, just a little bit of discomfort as we listened to his many issues.
In my mind, the Annual Congregational meeting is an opportunity for celebration. It is a vehicle for recognizing accomplishments of congregants serving on the board and on various synagogue committees.
The 80 people in attendance are already insiders. They are board members and past board members, people currently serving on committees, and even some supportive spouses. What is to motivate anyone beyond the core group to attend the meeting if the focal point of the meeting is simply the passage of the congregation’s budget?
Federation Annual meetings often apply some of these program ideas I mentioned to enhance the required agenda items from the By-Laws. Such gatherings are an opportunity to recognize involved congregations with awards for leadership and for community service. You might also think about having a well-known guest speaker about a topic of interest.
Why should any congregant beyond the synagogue’s core group feel obligated to come when the meeting, for the most part, promises to be pretty boring?
Back in the day I guess the chance of a screaming match or even a fistfight might have attracted a few congregants. I would like to think that we can create an environment for an annual gathering so it is an opportunity for meaningful engagement, not just obligatory budget votes and ice cream.