Rabbi Joshua Davidson, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester-Chappaqua, NY
A Congregational Approach to Prayer Book Change
With permission from the CCAR, Temple Beth El copied parts of one of the interim versions of Mishkan T'filah (MT) in 2005. We then created a full folio version of one complete service. That is, the worship service that was created could be prayed straight through. While acknowledging that praying with a partial copy of MT might not be as compelling as having the siddur in its entirety, we believed that this would be easier for the congregation at this early, experimental stage. And "experimental" was the key word, the congregation being told that no decision had yet been made regarding the purchase of MT.
The "copied" version of MT was used on most Friday nights during the summer of 2005 and then for the next several months. The goals of the clergy and the Worship Committee were to help the congregation become comfortable and familiar with the new structure of MT and to bring as many people as possible into the transition process. To support these goals, I ask worshipers entering the sanctuary to select one of the prayer options from the two-page spread and then to stand in place and lead the reading of "their" selection at the appropriate moment. Over time, and with increased familiarity, the congregation has found that fewer "stage directions" ("We read from the top left corner") are necessary, and that worshipers are more quickly and easily finding their places. At the conclusion of services, the Worship Committee informally interviews attendees about their experience of MT and gathers other anecdotal feedback as well.
Reactions have been mixed, and no final decisions have yet been made about how and when MT will be used at Temple Beth El. However, the clergy and Worship Committee believe that the process of empowering worshipers by increasing their familiarity and mastery with MT has been a positive and constructive endeavor.