February 2016 Letter from the President

From the North Carolina Zen Center

Winter moves on to spring.  The cold nights give way to warmer mornings, the first buds give the tree-tips a reddish hue, the early daffodils and crocuses bloom.  Change is endless, all things forever losing their old forms and becoming something new, nothing static or permanent to be found, yet through all the change there is continuity.

Here at the North Carolina Zen Center we have been moving through a period of substantial change and growth, looking toward the future with renewed vigor, while always endeavoring to preserve and retain the best of what we have been.  Over the past few months many people have stepped up to help with this process, and we want to give you, our sangha, an update of where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.

Throughout 2015 the Board of Directors put in many hours working to revise and refine the organizational structure of the Center.  We did this in conjunction and consultation with many parties, in particular the closely engaged membership, but also with people from around the country with experience we could benefit from.  In addition we held three meetings of the Voting Membership, two in the summer and one in December, in order to closely consult with the membership, present our ideas, hear ideas from the membership, and refine an approach to bringing the Center back to a firm footing.

At the same time we studied the organizational structures of a number of other small centers such as ours. We also looked at the organization of other types of small non-profits including churches, in order to avoid reinventing what others have already done.  And we looked at ways other Zen centers have handled transitions from one teacher to another in order to find guidance for ourselves going forward.

All of this work came to fruition at the end of 2015.  At that time the Board introduced a set of policy and organizational documents which create a new organizational structure for the North Carolina Zen Center.  This structure is based around the creation of a number of committees.  These committees are staffed with volunteers drawn from the local sangha, and are charged with responsibilities for various aspects of the administration of the Center.

First and foremost is the Practice Committee.  The Practice Committee is staffed by three of the Center’s most senior, long-term members, all of whom have many years of committed Zen practice and have a long, demonstrated commitment toward the NC Zen Center.  Their responsibility is to provide guidance to the Board and to the community concerning practice at the Center.  Going forward they will form the core of the sangha, and will work directly with the Board, the teacher/abbot, the sangha, and the staff of the Center.  Also, currently they are charged with overseeing all aspects of the religious affairs of the Center during this transitional period when we do not have a teacher at the Center

We also have in place a Membership Committee.  The duties of this committee include overseeing all questions of membership status including Voting Membership, in addition to maintaining the Center’s membership lists, overseeing the proper handling and use of the Center’s private information, and addressing any issues raised by individual members.

A third committee in place is the Facilities and Finance Committee.  This committee is tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operation of the Center, including bookkeeping, booking and managing retreats, managing the Center’s various accounts, and maintaining the Center’s buildings and grounds.

More information about these committees may be found on the Center’s website.  We still have one more committee to fill, the Programs and Outreach Committee, and we are looking for volunteers.  Duties would include writing and/or editing the Center’s newsletter, setting up visits by visiting scholars and teachers, and arranging for outside groups to use the Center in ways that benefit the sangha and the community at large. 

We can also use further volunteer participation in the Membership, and Facilities and Finance Committees.  In particular we would like to have a volunteer join the latter committee who has bookkeeping experience.  If you wish to participate either formally or informally with any of these committees, please do not hesitate to contact the Center.  We would be glad to hear from you.

The other big step the Center took in December was to put in place a Search Committee, whose goal is to conduct a national search for a Zen teacher who will come to the NC Zen teacher, take up residence in the area, and begin teaching at the Center as the Center’s Teacher/Abbott.  This team has been working diligently in consultation with the Board and the Practice Committee to develop and refine a presentation of the Center’s history, mission, organization, and facilities, and of the expectations concerning a new teacher.  It has also been working to develop and implement a process whereby we successfully conduct a national search.

This process is well underway, thanks to dedicated and very professional work by the Search Team.  It is our expectation to make a public announcement of our search within the next two months.  At that point we will begin placing ads, making official contacts, and pursuing other avenues to let it be known that the North Carolina Zen Center will be accepting applications and conducting interviews.  It is our goal to conduct a process of interviews and visits to the Center by interested teachers over the course of the summer and fall, and it is our hope to find a teacher for the Center by the end of the year.

In the meantime, the Center is continuing as it has.  We have general meditation services on Thursday evening and Sunday mornings, usually conducted by a member of the Practice Committee.  Sunday mornings usually see around 10-12 attendees, often with one or two new visitors to the Center.  We also hosted the Center’s Winter Zazen-kai in January, which was attended by 12 participants, some from the local sangha and some from further afield. 

It is the wish of the Board to offer our humble and sincere thanks to all who have so selflessly offered their time, care, efforts, love and support to the Center over the past year.  In particular we would like to thank those who have joined committees and taken official responsibility for the care and operation of the Center.  I think we all agree that we are well established and firmly moving forward.

I would also like to personally offer the thanks of all who are close to the Center toward those who are more distant and yet hold the Center in their hearts, and also assist the Center with their donations.  Your continued support for the Center is a blessing, and it is not taken for granted.  In all our efforts we continually dedicate ourselves to the Center’s core mission, “providing a place for the study and practice of Zen,” and the further spread of the Dharma as a message of compassion and freedom from suffering, a mission I believe we all share.

Thank you all for helping to keep the North Carolina Zen Center alive and happy.  We at the Center wish you all a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2016.

Yours on behalf of the North Carolina Zen Center,

Jason Dowdle

President, Board of Directors