A "citizen rabbi"

What does it mean to be a citizen professional? Previous posts on this blog have told the stories of a "citizen judge," a "citizen academic counselor," and a "citizen naturalist." As the daughter of a rabbi, I got to thinking about whether the "citizen professional" concept could be applied to professional clergy.

Clergy play many roles. Most traditionally, we think of clergy as leaders and experts within their place of worship. Clergy are also seen as "fixers." Diane Roth, a Lutheran pastor in suburban Minneapolis, writes on her own blog faithincommunity, that in some churches, there exists a "'which pastor can fix things' attitude, condescending clergy and a dependent laity, and 'church' as a service to be consumed rather than worship that we produce together."

Clergy may also serve as political "mobilizers," especially in this election year. Pastor Rick Warren of the 22,000 member Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., hosted presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain on the same stage back in August. And a Warroad, Minn., preacher wants to "open a dialogue" on political preaching so that clergy can engage in direct political campaigning - a move currently in violation of IRS law.

So, what about clergy as citizens within their professional roles? What would this mean?

To me, a citizen rabbi (or citizen pastor) would be one who engages with his or her congregants as equals, not as clients. A citizen rabbi is one who remains accessible, who partners with congregants to surface their talents and interests, and then works with them - as one of them - on community projects.

I recently met with Rabbi Renee Bauer, who is part-time clergy at a Minneapolis congregation called Mayim Rabim, within the Reconstructionist movement of American Judaism. I introduced the concept of a democratic professional and asked whether her training taught organizing principles - how to get people involved based on their gifts and interests, how to develop other leaders, how to hold people accountable.

Rabbi Renee says that framework was definitely part of her education. At the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, she said, there is a very strong value placed on the rabbi as facilitator, teacher, and organizational manager.

My dad the rabbi corroborates. "The Reconstructionist rabbi is much more of a facilitator or resource person than in other models," he says. "We were taught to ask each congregant, 'What does being Jewish mean to YOU?'"

Appropriately, Rabbi Renee spends three quarters of her time as the director of the Madison-based Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice. The mission of the ICWJ is to educate and mobilize the religious and labor communities of South Central Wisconsin on worker rights issues, to actively build relationships between faith and labor groups, and to support the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. "More than being a rabbi influences my work there, it's my work there that influences my being a rabbi," Rabbi Renee notes.

This post is the fourth in a series on "citizen professionals," or people who use their expertise to work with and coach others in making contributions to the common good. You may also be interested to read "Organizing is a way to integrate my faith and everyday life," a guest post by the Rev. Grant Stevensen.


Dani - Thanks for this interesting post. I think that the world would be a more just place if we all recognized the roles that we have as citizens in bringing our unique skills -- be they are spiritual leaders, social workers, engineers, educators -- into the public square to be of service. For me, that is the power of the whole 'citizen professional' paradigm.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs