Dear Friends of the North Carolina Zen Center,
I am writing to you here at the end of what has been a very challenging year for the Center. Indeed, one might call 2016 a watershed year, a turning point in the history of the Center. Friends of long standing have moved on to other things and other lives. New friends and new faces have emerged. Some friends who were distant have been brought closer, and some who were close have become more distant.
In January of this year the Center’s Voting Membership elected members of a new Board of Directors, to replace the Board that had resigned in the fall of last year. Matt and Kim Young, who were for so long fixtures at the Center with their two beautiful young girls, left the Center in the late Spring after being the Center’s residents for more than 12 years. In May, Dan MacKinnon joined the Center as its Senior Resident, and rapidly made himself indispensable in the smooth day-to-day operations of the Center.
The biggest change of all took place in March, when Sandy Gentei Stewart, the Center’s guide and teacher since its earliest days more than 35 years ago, gave up his teaching duties at the Center. For the first time in its history the Center has been without a teacher for most of the last year.
Through it all, what has truly amazed me has been the willingness of a group of dedicated members to step up and contribute their time, energy, and thoughtfulness to help the Center survive and find a new way forward. In spite of many challenges and difficulties, on Sunday mornings the kaihan can still be heard echoing through the woods by the creek, incense smoke curls above the butsudan, and there are people sitting in the zendo in silent meditation. Without the dedication of the Center’s closest friends, this small flame of the Dharma might well have been extinguished.
The business of the Center goes on, as well. Over the last year the Board has met either formally or informally in excess of a dozen times. We have put in countless hours of discussion and consultation with the senior members of the community, and with any one else who has cared enough to be involved and offer their opinions. We have worked extremely hard to put in place a foundational structure on which the Center can build for the future. And we have had three meetings with the Voting membership to consult with them directly concerning their thoughts and wishes for the future of the Center.
The results of all of this work became manifest at the most recent Voting Membership meeting held in early December. At this meeting the Board presented the members with documents outlining a new organizational structure based on committees peopled by volunteers from the sangha. These include a Practice Committee composed of the Center’s most senior members, which is charged with overseeing the ‘religious affairs’ of the Center while there is no teacher. We also put in place a Search Team, whose job is to begin the process of finding and bringing to the Center a new Zen Teacher, and a Facilities and Finance Committee whose job is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Center. We gratefully accepted volunteers for a number of positions on these committees.
We will be writing in more detail about these developments after the holidays. But I would like to say that at this point, it really feels to me like the Center has turned a corner, and has regained its equilibrium and focus. Through the efforts of everyone who has chosen to be engaged with the Center, it has weathered a difficult time. Certainly challenges remain, but I personally feel very confident about the future of the North Carolina Zen Center.
As we close the door on 2016 and look toward the future, it is with sincere humility that I offer thanks on behalf of the Center to all who have worked and cared for it over the years, and to those who have carried it forward through this last year. The Center’s mission is bigger than any of us. It is a small part of the great Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, whereby the Buddhist message of freedom from suffering, and compassion for all who suffer, can find its way into new hearts and minds. It is an honor and privilege to share a tiny part of that mission, and we, your Board, are honored to serve and to share your trust.
On behalf of the North Carolina Zen Center, we, your Board, wish you all a pleasant holiday, and hope that your New Year is filled with happiness and peace.
President of the Board of Directors
The North Carolina Zen Center.