By Rev. Ken Yamada
Once a year our temples typically hold a general membership meeting around this time. Let’s consider what happens there and why they’re important.
At this gathering, usually called a “General Meeting,” temple members meet, hear reports about the past year’s activities and finances, and discuss plans for the coming year. While most people see temples as a place for services and cultural activities, they’re often unaware of the tremendous work and number of people involved to keep it open. The General Meeting is a good way to get an overview of those operations and serves as a check to ensure the temple is fulfilling its mission.
For Sangha members, it’s especially important because helping to keep a temple open probably is the most concrete way of supporting the Buddha dharma, the Buddhist teachings. We see how much effort it takes and can appreciate the people who have assumed responsibilities. We also see how there’s a real need for members to pitch in.
People often ask how they can feel closer to the dharma and get more involved at the temple. At this annual meeting, you’ll actually see in detail what those roles entail.
At the temple in Berkeley, California, for example, board members and fund chairpersons present reports on activities and finances. Usually the temple’s minister presents a report of the past year’s major services, regular services, religious activities such as seminars and lectures, and funeral services of members and friends who passed away in the previous 12 months. The treasurer presents a financial report showing how much money was spent and the major expenses. Importantly, members see the results of fundraising, how those funds compare with expenses, and if the temple is running a deficit or surplus.
There also are other groups that members may not be aware of. For example, the women’s group, which in Berkeley is called “Women’s Buddhist Association,” gives a report of its activities, which includes many social activities, as well as fundraising conducted on behalf of the temple. Also, there’s a youth basketball program with more than 100 kids participating, which supports the temple by helping at activities. A teenage youth group, called Junior Youth Buddhist Association (Jr. YBA), also gives a report. Recognition is given to special contributors, such as Dharma school teachers and especially hardworking volunteers.
The organizational structure of our temples differs from Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan. Here in the United States, temples are nonprofit religious organization governed by federal and state laws. They consist of a board of directors with officers such as a president, vice presidents, treasurer, secretary and so forth. They follow nonprofit organization guidelines such as holding regular monthly meetings, voting on decisions and keeping meeting minutes. They also hold an annual meeting for all members, thus, the general meeting is held.
Usually all positions are filled by volunteer lay members. Often, the only paid staff is the minister, although at larger temples, there may be office staff who are paid.
In Japan, local temples tend to be inherited by families of the temple minister and held for generations. The temple functions both as a religious place of worship and home to the minister’s family.
In the U.S., it’s important lay members take an active role in assuming responsibility for keeping alive the temple and supporting its mission. In Asia, many Buddhist temples are more than a thousand years old. These temples would not have survived so long without the support of generations of sangha members. Thanks to them, the dharma is passed down over time. Likewise, our efforts now help future generations hear the Buddha’s teachings.
Start now by attending your temple’s general meeting. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, these meetings aren’t being held in person, but rather, conducted on online. Please contact your local temple for more information.
-Rev. Yamada is editor at Higashi Honganji’s Shinshu Center of America
GENERAL MEETING/NEW YEAR’S PARTY: The most important meeting of our temple is the General Meeting. The activities and various financial reports for the year 2015 will be presented and the activity plans for 2016 will be discussed. The meeting will begin on Sunday, January 31 at 10:00 a.m. There will be no Sunday service. After the meeting, the New Year’s Party will be held at Ohtani Hall at about noon. We hope that everyone will attend and participate in both the General Meeting and the New Year’s Party.