AZC Re-opening Survey, and a Retrospective

Dear Sangha member,

May this brief message find you and your families well. As you know, the Austin Zen Center has been largely shuttered to public in-person activities since March 15th, 2020. We have deeply missed our ability to practice together face-to-face for so long!.

While we’ve endeavored to continue offering the dharma through our online zendo and outdoors when possible, as well as to creatively improvise opportunities for our sangha to practice together through our Discord chat server and zoomed group meetings, it has been a very challenging time for us all.

Now, with the recent CDC guidelines for the vaccinated (and unvaccinated), we are turning towards the somewhat formidable yet hopefully rewarding process of gradually reopening to the public.

Many questions arise as we undertake this effort: How do we safely return? What are we returning to? Who are we as a community now? And what will it take to rebuild?

In addressing these questions and more, it might be both beneficial & engaging to begin by:
1. having a look back at where AZC leadership left off at the start of the pandemic, and
2. seeking counsel from our core membership and the wider sangha.

To this end:

  1. Check out the below time-capsule-snapshot, as it were, of the 2020 AZC Board’s proposal for where we thought we were headed, and
  2. Take a Brief Survey, which asks a few simple questions about reopening concerns, future offerings, and prior to future participation.

We extend our heart-felt gratitude to everyone for staying connected, supporting our temple & community, and most of all, for continuing to turn the Dharma Wheel in all the many ways you have, known & unknown.

With boundless love and compassion,
Rev. Doshin Mako Voelkel
Austin Zen Center Head Teacher

Retrospective: The 2020 Vision Proposal for Austin Zen Center

[Please note that AZC, like everyone, has/is undergoing significant changes in staff, Practice & Board leadership, residents, and membership over these arduous and long months of the pandemic. The purpose of presenting the 2020 vision below is to give a snapshot sense of where things were when we first shut down in mid-May. As a community-run practice center, many upcoming opportunities for each of us to contribute to the overall re-building and re-organizing for a sustainable and thriving temple abound! We hope you join us!]

Propose a 2020 vision and process that:
• aligns with the mission of AZC
• provides a mechanism for soliciting yearly board and sangha input on AZC direction.
• gives board members space and information to align future roles with vision
• aligns with the budget for 2020
• begins a tradition for future boards that may include a longer 3 or 5-year vision

The AZC Board is classified as a “working board” with fiduciary and strategic duties, so board members partner with staff to fulfill management and technical functions. The board works with the leadership staff and Sangha members and collectively we all preserve and maintain the operation of AZC. This vision document includes strategic goals and operational planning where necessary. It is provided as a complementary document with the budget. Together these documents give AZC an institutional target that is archived and are a part of leadership accountability for the board and staff.

Timeline for Adoption of Yearly Vision
As part of the yearly rhythm of AZC leadership, the board proposes a vision at the beginning of the new calendar year. We are now soliciting sangha-wide feedback via email and a Town Hall – Way of Council meeting on Wed February 26 at 6:45PM before finalizing. The final vision will be presented at the Membership Annual meeting on March 7. A copy of the 2020 budget is also available in the membership forum for review and will be distributed at our upcoming Annual Meeting.

Focus of 2019 AZC Leadership and Board of Directors
In 2019 the AZC board and leadership focused on stabilizing the organization in three main areas: governance –ethics and conflict resolution; finances – breaking even with membership pledges, donations, and program revenue; and membership – closer attention to the needs of AZC members. Our membership responded energetically this year and we made progress on all fronts – a more detailed description follows the goals

AZC 2020 Proposed Goals
The board supports the primary mission of AZC which is to provide a safe place for the practice of Soto Zen for all beings. In addition to meeting the needs of membership, AZC will look toward the community, fulfilling the mission by extending welcoming arms for new members and reaching out to the community with programming. AZC directly promotes the practice of Zen by supporting zazen, encouraging the deeper understanding of self, and making highly qualified teachers available for practitioners. The board will devote its time and energy to maintaining fiscal responsibility by controlling expenses and building income, by assisting in the management and maintenance of the facilities, and by understanding and responding to the needs of the Sangha and greater community.

2020 Focus on Membership:
• Invite new members and increase active membership at AZC from roughly 110 to 125. We consider this to be “full membership” for the existing facilities.
• Cultivate and train senior membership – these are regular practitioners, residents, and doan ryo who can help establish zendo forms. Maintain an active class for those desiring to receive precepts.
• Provide programming that will more fully engage the sangha including:
– Retreats, visiting teachers, and sesshins
– Volunteer events targeted at AZC needs that can strengthen Sangha bonds
– Social events– firepit gatherings, entertainment evenings.

2020 Focus on Finances:
• Manage expenses responsibly with finance committee meeting monthly
• Provide transparency of income/expenses – the board is accountable to the Sangha
• Set a revenue target which is 10% above 2020 expense budget for rainy day fund
• Achieve target through pledges and donations.
• Explore creative ways to increase revenue such as grants, classes, and cultural donors.

2020 Budgeted Items (selected):
• Fair/appropriate wages for our Head Teacher & Director
• Operational expenses – utilities, zendo supplies, building repairs, and insurance.
• Visiting Teacher Program
• Services to maintain website, member database, and payment-processing.
• Rainy-day fund with 10% of yearly income. For unexpected AZC expenses.
• Continue subsidizing our residential program – attract committed Zen practitioners.
• Scholarships for members and guests in need.
• Outreach efforts to further AZC’s mission.
• Kitchen – plan and overhaul easing tenzo role for providing food for sesshin or activities
• Architectural investigation for increasing the carriage house capacity

2020 Focus on Member Ownership of AZC:
• Foster ownership among members who help operate and maintain AZC.
• Provide ways to engage the sangha members who want to give of their time.
• Start a public list of zendo roles and names associated with roles
• Start an ongoing public list of specific tasks and projects that need to be completed

2019 AZC Leadership/Board Work
The 2019 Board of Directors was comprised of David Adelman, Melanie Gulick, Jeremy Shoemaker, Joshua Kopin, Maureen Milligan, Mary Meagher, and Dave Pietruszynski. Mako Voelkel and Tim Kroll were the non-voting staff representatives. Ernest Caple remained as board chair carried over from 2018. The summary of work in 2019 included:
Membership –committee addressed the needs of existing members and welcoming new members – supported the Spring Fair, established the greeter program at the weekly Saturday services, held a first membership Council, and promoted social activities.
Governance -Set new ethical policies based on the 2018 work of establishing a safe environment for all beings to practice Soto Zen at AZC. The policies defined and set appropriate boundaries on relationship between leaders and students, established ombudspersons to facilitate conflict resolution, and updated our diversity mission statement.
Financial – Met the goal of revenue meeting expenses for 2019. Established a transparent communication link with the membership for full transparency. The staff made significant cutbacks to achieve the breakeven goal.
Fundraising – convened early in the year and implemented a campaign in 2nd half 2019 with the goal of increasing pledges by 25%. This was done through phone calls and a membership brunch for active members. Donations increased between 20-25%.
IT –Together board members and Sangha members improved the operational software. The staff became aware of errors in pledge-maintenance, the pledge process, bookkeeping, and accounting. By year’s end, the bug list, errors in pledge-maintenance, the pledge process, and accounting problems were greatly decreased.
Operations – The staff increased the responsibilities of the office manager resulting in a new hire. This offloaded the head teacher and director of operational tasks to focus more on Sangha need and practice.
Building and grounds maintenance/repair – Initiated the refinishing of zendo and lobby floors during December interim, resident A/C repairs – (new A/C unit will be purchased in 2020).