Although temple membership can be applied for any time during the year, the temple is slowing its membership push with the end of the 1st quarter of the new year. During this time, the running joke that you tend to hear relative to temple membership is: “What do you get with temple membership?” The answer (and punch line) is: “You get to volunteer.” Of course, the answer provided is not necessarily true. You do not have to be a member to volunteer, although being a member does put your name on a volunteer and mailing list.
Given that the temple does ask people to become members, it is reasonable to expect the question, “What do you get with temple membership?” In trying to understand this question, however, I began to think, “What does a member get that a non-member does not?” Before one can answer this question, one has to understand the services that the temple provides. Although it provides a physical space and access to equipment and facilities found at the physical site, when talking about temple services I’m sure most people think about things like weddings, funerals, memorial services, educational services and programs, ritual and perhaps counseling. When thinking about these things, temple membership becomes quite perplexing. All the things that I listed can and are provided to both member and non-member alike. With perhaps the exception of facilities use and educational programs, there is typically no difference in expectation between member and non-member. There is, for instance, no member rate versus a non-member rate.
If that is the case, most will probably wonder, then what is the point of membership? This approach towards trying to answer the question of “What do you get with membership?” does not lead to a satisfactory or rational answer. Using a different tact, then, let’s begin with the question, “What do membership dues provide?” Through the funds generated by membership dues, the temple is able to maintain the facility as well as provide for ministerial services. Through these resources the temple is able to provide people access to the tradition known as Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and to help people mark very important milestones in their lives with the ultimate goal of helping people understand their lives in total. All these things are provided regardless of whether or not a person is a member or non-member. In thinking about this, the conclusion that I came up with is that membership dues allows the temple to share its greatest treasure — the teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism — through the beauty of ritual and the temple’s educational programs, as well as provide support for anyone who may want to take some “time” to heal, figure things out, or to belong. The membership dues, I was able to conclude, is offered the temple in support of sharing and kindness that hopefully all will be able to find at the Venice Hongwanji because of the support of our membership.
Rev. John Iwohara