Now that the Pope has begun his retirement, all eyes are on the conclave. But what is it really like to lead a religious denomination in the 21st century? WNYC-FM business reporter Ilya Marritz spoke to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, to find out.
With a fewer members, many houses of worship were sold. Last year, it was reported that the church might sell its headquarters at 815 Second Avenue. Jefferts Schori said the building is not for sale, but church leaders are studying the “best use” of the building.
“It’s an asset of the church. It ought to be put to best use, and we’ve done that in a number of ways already. The Ad Council lives upstairs, so we’ve got some partners in this building,” Jefferts Schori said.
A former oceanographer, Jefferts Schori uses words like “evolve,” when she talks about the church’s future. She says responding to changes in society is “part of our formative DNA.” With a smaller worldwide congregation, Schori is now looking for new ways to measure the church’s impact.
“For those that want to simply be caretakers of the status quo, I think the future is not very rosy,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said his priority is to help synagogues attract Jews in their 20s and 30s, “these people who we love, but are actually allergic to institutional religious life.” Even though they have no formal affiliation with a temple, Jacobs said, “doesn’t mean they don’t have actually ideas about god about spirituality about ethics, about living a life of purpose.”
Reaching out to the disaffected may mean eliminating the traditional model by which synagogues pay their expenses. Most congregations require annual membership dues, which can run around between $2,000 and $3,000 per household. For younger people, that can be a turn-off.
“We have a congregation outside Philadelphia that moved to a model that is completely voluntary. And they were nervous they would lose their revenue base to do that. Turns out, they’re actually doing a little bit better moving from mandatory to voluntary dues,” Jacobs said.