The Alban Institute announced yesterday that it is closing. Until not long ago, Alban was the premiere publishing house and consulting firm for churches. Even before it began a concerted effort to work with synagogues, I knew many rabbis who drew heavily upon its abundant resources. What made Alban unique was its ability to apply serious research to real-world issues of congregations: leadership, conflict, clergy personality types, congregational culture, finances—and pretty much every pertinent issue for congregations. When it opened 40 years ago in 1974, it was far ahead of its time. Now, like so many religious endeavors, it seems that time has passed it by.
So what can the Jewish community learn from this significant event?
• Organizations have lifecycles. There is wisdom in knowing when it’s time to turn off the lights.
• If you are personally involved in one of these situations it can be incredibly painful and stressful.
• Some services and products that were highly valued last century have declined dramatically or may even be irrelevant. And, people may be unwilling to pay for what they did in the past because of an expectation of “free.” Business models of any kind for faith communities are very uncertain and all budgets need careful board scrutiny, with some eyes from outside the organization, too.
• Protestant and Jewish faith communities share many of the similar challenges of living in 21st-century America. We Jews are not as unique as we once were and share much in common with Americans as a whole.
• Common issues and problems provide opportunities for shared learning. That’s one of the reasons why I’m honored to have Ellie Roscher, who holds an M.A. in Theology/Urban Ministry from Luther Seminary, as co-editor of our forthcoming book, Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education.
I’ve made some wonderful friends at Alban over the years and I’m proud to be an Alban author. Fortunately, I’ll still be able to work with Alban’s exceptional former director of publishing, Richard Bass, who is already deploying his considerable editorial expertise at Rowman & Littlefield, a distinguished publishing house that acquired the Alban imprint and titles. Thank you, Alban, for providing clergy with unparalled resources. You made a difference.
Tags: alban institute, faith, leadership, Organizations, seminary