Seasonal Changes at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture
Seasonal Changes at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture (www.bsec.org) --
Rebecca Lurie, BSEC Member
About five years ago, the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture encountered a crisis. There was infighting amongst board members, unaccounted finances, the facility was being underutilized, and the Society had shrunk in size. The Board, with the help of the AEU, agreed to a management consultancy by the Alban Institute. After a few months of research, meetings and interviews, the Alban consultant delivered a report of recommendations to the Board. This report gave eleven specific recommendations. One statement warned that when a community is in such turmoil, it may be "living beneath the threshold of change". The Society, and particularly the Board of Directors, had a lot of work to do.
Turn the clock to now, 2011! A LOT has transpired. Our small Society has grown, our budget is balancing every year so we are not draining our endowment, the administration of rentals in our historic building is stable, generating the revenues we need to thrive, and we've transitioned to a new clergy leader, Catherine Bordeau, (after two years of members successfully running the Society on their own after the retirement of our longtime leader Lisel Burns). All these accomplishments create the terra firma on which we can build our future.
This past fall, the board scheduled a Strategic Planning meeting. Recognizing that change can behave like a rubber band, (and return to its old shape,) we wanted to facilitate a process that would help to make sure that the changes that have just been made will stick and move us ahead. In planning for that meeting we asked ourselves tough questions. Would the Society be ready for strategic planning? Were members aware of all the changes that had been made since the Alban Report? How could we offer a process that acknowledges all the Society has accomplished in making improvements since the crisis? And how might we incorporate all member input? We needed this discussion to make sense even for new members, but we did not want to revisit the details of what happened five years ago.
We wanted to recognize and give some tribute to what we have been through. While it was certainly important to acknowledge where we once were, we wanted to emphasize all of the progress we had made.
We started with a quick review of the eleven items that had been recommended by the Alban Report and since addressed by our Board.
We framed the ensuing discussion as "Seasons of Change".
Seasons follow a simple process of growth. The spring; we have hopes and dreams for new growth, and we plant seeds. The summer; we begin to see the fruits of our labor and the blooms bear fruit. The autumn; we see our full bounty and evaluate what went well and what would need to change. During winter, we rest, regroup, dream of what we will do next, do differently and we make plans to improve. The spring comes again, and we begin to implement our new vision based on last year's yields and losses. Cycles. Seasons. Change. Growth.
As we considered our entry point for beginning a new strategic planning process, we realized that we needed to examine the seasons of the changes that had already taken place in our community. We needed to see and celebrate our bounty; much like a harvest festival would do every autumn. We needed to review what we want to do next, better, differently. We were eager to frame our change not as something that is over and completed, not as a success or failure, but as something that returns, reassesses and grows. And then we looked to the future. Together.
Everything we are going through as a Society could be laid against these seasons as we acknowledge our development as a community; ongoing, with progress made and room for growth. What is our vision? What are our plans? What does success look like? What could be done better? Referring to these four stages can give us a shared approach to working together, celebrating together and growing together. It assures us that we examine our effort and honor our success. It provides a perspective to review and assess any activity as a stage (or season) of effort.
Indeed we can say now that we have crossed over the threshold of change.
There was one other thing the Alban Report advised for the Society; "When in doubt, do the right thing and keep doing it." With ongoing community dedication and engagement we are doing the right thing; different stages at different times, cycling through the seasons of growth.