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The New NCRCR: Nurturing Sacred Communities

Among the most cherished values of our Reform Movement is the idea of sacred partnership between clergy and lay leaders. While a sacred relationship of trust, transparency, and collaboration is our highest ideal, challenges can arise that affect these relationships, especially during this time of pandemic crisis. We want you to know how the North American Commission on Rabbinic-Congregational Relationships (NCRCR) can provide support and healing to lay leadership and rabbis alike.

The NCRCR is a joint commission of the URJ and CCAR whose mission is to advise, support, and nurture sacred partnerships and healthy relationships among lay leadership and rabbis. Ideally, we are called early enough to help repair these relationships so that a resolution results in the rabbi maintaining their position in the congregation. At other times, the NCRCR process will clarify that a rabbi and congregation would both be healthier by parting ways. In that case, NCRCR can assist a congregation and its rabbi with an honorable and healthy parting.

The NCRCR provides three types of services: consultation, conciliation, and mediation. All conversations and services provided by the NCRCR are confidential. For consultation services, the congregation’s president or rabbi, separately or together, can reach out directly to one of the NCRCR’s co-chairs, Rabbi William Kuhn or Ms. Robin Kosberg (contact information below), for a confidential discussion by telephone, email, or videoconference.

When a president and rabbi together request an NCRCR conciliation case, we utilize volunteers from the North American Board of the URJ and members of the CCAR in our work. A trained volunteer team of one URJ lay leader and one CCAR rabbi will usually travel to the congregation for two days of intensive meetings with all of the key stakeholders of the congregation: clergy, lay leadership, and staff (though other arrangements will be made during COVID-19). Soon thereafter, the team and the NCRCR provide a report to the congregation and rabbi with detailed findings and recommendations. There is no charge to congregations or clergy for our services. Because we understand the sensitivity of the information we learn about a congregation and its clergy and staff, all members of the NCRCR, chairs, and team members rigorously maintain confidentiality.

In a recent case, one congregation’s rabbi said, “The NCRCR visit was crucial in our current success as an institution. The process elevated two concepts that have transformed our community. It definitely nurtured and improved the sacred partnership between the president and myself. The NCRCR also helped us see that governance needs nurturing, planning, and refreshing.”

The president of the congregation said, “Our congregation was facing an existential crisis, but the NCRCR process enabled our rabbi and me to better understand our respective concerns. The honest advice and mentoring we received from the NCRCR team truly helped us make our congregation stronger. For any congregation having difficult relationships between lay leaders and clergy, I confidently recommend engaging NCRCR. It is one of the best kept secrets of the Reform Movement!”

The NCRCR can also facilitate a mediation process by referring the case to a member of the URJ or CCAR trained in mediation services. The goal is to obviate the need for arbitration, although occasionally the rabbi or lay leadership may find it unavoidable.

In any given situation, contacting the NCRCR earlier is always better than later. The chairs of the NCRCR are available to talk to congregational leadership or clergy, together or separately. If a rabbi or congregational leader perceives a pattern of issues in the congregation affecting the rabbinic-lay relationship, it is time to reach out.

Rabbi William Kuhn is co-chair of NCRCR and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia where he served as rabbi for 23 years. The NCRCR is chaired by Rabbi William Kuhn, on behalf of the CCAR and Ms. Robin Kosberg on behalf of the URJ. Reach out to either Rabbi Kuhn at and (215) 603-5130, or Robin Kosberg at and (214) 240-4944.