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2008: Year of the Congregation

Saturday, 19 January 2008 / Published in Congregational Development, News / 3,294 views

By Kripamoya das ACBSP (UK)

We’re taking eight petals of the lotus as our emblem for this years membership campaign

We’re only halfway through the cold month of January and already the 32 devotees who make up the teams of preachers and organisers for this years congregational development campaign have been extremely productive.

We have an eight-petalled lotus symbol for this years theme, as it neatly fits as an emblem for the eight projects comprising the campaign. OK, so lotuses have many more petals than eight – but by the end of the year so will we.

It started many months ago when I interviewed all the long-serving leaders of both London temples as to what the words ‘congregational development’ meant to them. We all have visions of what an expanded and improved Krishna consciousness movement looks like – based upon Srila Prabhupada’s criteria – and it does no harm, and perhaps a lot of good, to use our long-distance imagination sometimes.

After all the interviews were completed we had arrived at a lengthy ‘wish-list.’ Although many spoke of increased membership, they qualified that by describing an educated, compassionate body of men and women who were using their skills to reach out to others with the message of the Bhagavad-gita and the practises of the sankirtan movement. Its not that we don’t already have an enlivened membership in this part of the world – far from it – but it was felt that there was a lot of opportunities we’d like to be offering our members, and that required greater participation and better organisation.

So we boiled down the wish-list to a few key areas. For each area – each ‘petal’ – of improvement, we invited a team of three or four vaishnavas to apply their skills to figuring out the tasks that would be needed to create the improvement. We gave them three or four main objectives for their area and asked them to work out the detailed goals. Some of our members have acquired considerable skills in the corporate world that they are happy to now offer to Krishna, so they set about their tasks with enthusiasm.

I’ll make some brief notes here on the eight petals and what needs pressed us into creating solutions. Tomorrow I will write more about each one. There’s also a Powerpoint slideshow we created to demonstrate some of the ideas.

1. Educate – To create a clear path through the often bewildering array of books and other media available to a newcomer to ISKCON today. Some 600 titles, recordings and websites don’t make it easy for someone without guidance to understand what they should read first. We wanted to not only provide a systematic introduction, but to ensure that each member had access to locally delivered classes and a year’s worth of weekend courses in the practical skills of devotion.

So we’ve chalked out the first year and we’ve produced study aids and course materials to go alongside our main books.

2. Care – Many members did not have one specific, named guide to help them in their spiritual life; someone locally available to help with difficult questions, and to assist in the many adjustments required of a Vaishnava. We often found that our members found it hard to cope with the big stuff that comes along in life: bereavements, sickness, moving house or changing jobs. It was at these times that extra support was needed.

So we’re encouraging every active and committed member to keep regular times of the month for discussing with a senior, and inviting them to make time in their week to join with supportive devotee friends for kirtan and reading. (It sounds obvious, but we found that sometimes even the obvious doesn’t get done without planning) We are also training more members in the skills of caring, and we’ll be bringing those trained members together for discussions on how they’re doing with their caring.

3. Preach – This ‘petal’ is another obvious one for a mission like ISKCON, but again, its often surprising how the best intentions don’t always add up to action. The focus here is to come up with preaching activities that will gain maximum participation, and to create an emphasis right through the congregation of the need to reach out to others.

4. Congregate – We want to ‘bring the members of the Society together’ for group kirtan and activities; for retreats and festivals. There are two temples and 40 small groups in and around London – but there could be a lot more. Our campaign this year – and the new devotees involved – will bring people together for kirtans in the homes of newcomers, and raise regular ‘house programmes’ up to the level of self-sustaining local groups.

5. Communicate – A pretty straightforward idea again. The community here – in a city and surrounding region of 10 million – has got so big that many of the constituent groups don’t know what the others are doing. We want to engender mutual understanding and respect.

6. Volunteer – Many members have skills and a desire to serve Krishna through using those skills. This team is all about matching up the talents and volunteer-time with the needs of the hour.

7. Grow – This team not only helps with strategies of members individual commitment and increasing participation, but measures the many ways in which ISKCON is growing – or not.

8. Publish – We are going to resurrect ‘The ISKCON Handbook’ and other types of literature for both the members’ information and guidance, and items for specific preaching and teaching purposes.

One comment

  1. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This sounds like a very well thought out and well organized approach to congregational development. I can imagine in a big preaching environment like Southern England there is a great need for implementing such initiatives.

    Please consider that part of “communication” may be to keep the rest of the world informed of what you are doing (as you have done in this article). I am sure there will be much we all can learn from your experiences in congregational development in London.

    Your education materials and publications might prove valuable for other congregations and I hope they can be made available at reasonable cost to other temples.

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