Small Congregations Eligible to be Served by Small Congregation Clergy Collaborative

January 23, 2024Rabbi Paula Winnig

To continue to meet the needs for clergy coverage for our smaller congregations, the URJ, CCAR, and ACC, in consultation with HUC-JIR, have created the Small Congregation Clergy Collaborative. This joint effort has brought together ordained rabbis and cantors to ensure that congregations of 75 or fewer households will continue to be served by clergy. The rabbis and cantors who have joined the collaborative have agreed to make themselves available to these congregations without increasing expenses for congregations that have previously been served by HUC-JIR students.

For years, many of our smaller congregations have been served by student rabbis and cantors from Hebrew Union College's campuses in Cincinnati, New York, and Los Angeles. These relationships mutually benefited the congregations and the students; the students honed their skills in the pulpit, and congregations' Shabbat and holiday celebrations were enhanced by the students' enthusiastic presence. Many rabbis and cantors maintain warm relationships with the communities that nurtured them during their education.

Enrollment in HUC-JIR's rabbinic and cantorial programs has been declining for a while, a situation which was not improved by the COVID pandemic. Due to these circumstances, there are not enough students available to support the congregations that have historically been served by student rabbis and cantors.

To join the Small Congregation Clergy Collaborative, clergy and congregations with 75 or fewer households can express their interest with the CCAR by contacting Rabbi Alan Berlin, the director of Congregational Search Services. The matching process is streamlined to allow interested congregations and clergy to freely choose with whom they would like to cultivate a relationship for the year without engaging in a full search.

There are many options for clergy and congregational leaders to meet your unique needs. Some congregations choose to engage clergy for High Holidays and monthly Shabbat visits, some focus exclusively on High Holidays, and others request a few Shabbat visits throughout the year. The timing and frequency of visits will be mutually determined by the congregation and the clergy member; congregations are not required to offer a set number of opportunities for clergy visits.

It should be noted that HUC-JIR is in the process of making major changes to its rabbinic education program which will likely positively affect the numbers of students enrolling in the coming years.The Small Congregation Clergy Collaborative program will be altered as needed to respond to those changes.

Following its official launch in 2023, seven congregations throughout North America are currently being served by rabbis and cantors through the Small Congregation Clergy Collaborative. If you want to learn more, please join us for an informational meeting on Wednesday, February 28, at 8:00 p.m. ET . For more information about the Small Congregation Clergy Collaborative, please reach out to Emma Osborn or Rabbi Matt Reimer. You can also reach out to Rabbi Alan Berlin or Rabbi Leora Kaye with questions about participating in the placement process. Cantors with questions about participating are welcome to reach out to Cantor Mary Thomas.

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