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The Scheidt Seminar not only presents a remarkable number of quality ideas, but also conveys the sacred and volunteer nature of this task we are undertaking. I met people from many walks of life, with many different skill sets, and, I believe, made inroads into true friendships.
Last month, at the first of this year’s two URJ Scheidt Seminars, I met 54 presidents and presidents-elect from our congregations. Representing Reform communities across North America from Ontario to Hawaii and from the largest of the large (with more than 1900 member units) to the smallest of the small (with fewer than 50), they came together to learn, to network, and to build relationships that will enrich their work as presidents and as Reform Movement leaders.
As I surveyed the array of lay leaders at the opening session, I marveled at their commitment as volunteers. Despite demanding professional jobs, parenting responsibilities, a range of other obligations, and incredibly hectic lives, each one has taken on this sacred calling to lead and inspire sacred action in their own communities. The diversity in their life experiences, skill sets, and faith journeys stirred me – and strengthens Reform Judaism.
Throughout the four-day seminar, I saw relationships forming among attendees, who were grouped together based on their congregations’ size for much of the shared learning. This configuration ensured that discussions related to their needs around such topics as thinking like a president, governance, engaging the next generation, creating a culture of philanthropy, and defining a congregation’s “why.” In several sessions, participants were grouped by URJ Community, encouraging networking and relationship-building among presidents from the same geographic region.
On Friday, when I met with each of the four size-based groups, I knew that part of my job was to help them coalesce. At Shabbat dinner, I noticed the conversations (and the laughter) were deeper, as people shared more about themselves and their congregations, and truly started to weave a network of support for each other. Shabbat – with its worship, text study, and ongoing relationship building – reinforced that network. When I met with one of the groups again late on Shabbat afternoon, it was clear I was crashing their party. Their shared experiences and concerns had helped them bond as a group and build a support network that will continue well beyond the face-to-face gathering.
The Scheidt Seminar – as always – offered participants many important takeaways. As Helen Holden of Temple Chai in Phoenix, AZ, shared with us, “I came…thinking I would meet some nice people and have some resources I could integrate into my board leadership. I left feeling inspired to take action.” For my part, I am hopeful that participants (and their other congregational leaders back home) will remember that they have a unique relationship, a sacred partnership, with each other. Most of all, I want them to know that the Scheidt Seminar marks the beginning of the URJ’s support of them as leaders, and the sacred congregational endeavors they undertake. I am eager, indeed, to see what outstanding programming, initiatives, and leadership will unfold from the actions Helen and her fellow Scheidt participants will inspire within their own congregations.
This year, to accommodate more congregations than in the past, the URJ scheduled two sessions of the Scheidt Seminar. The April 2017 Scheidt Seminar will be held from April 20-23 in Peachtree City, GA. Registration is now open and will close on March 20 or when all spaces are filled, whichever comes first.