In a few hours, I'll be taking 15-ish individuals to dinner at the Iron Hill Brewery. It's a thank you for responding positively to a question: "Can you help?"
Each of them (plus several others who can't make it tonight) helped lead services this summer. Some lead Torah Study discussions, or read Torah, or sang, or lead the service, or gave a D'var Torah. Some worked with partners (many hands make light work, after all), and some worked solo. Some had lead services many times; some, a few years ago, hadn't led since their bar or bat mitzvah (if ever), and couldn't imagine being responsible for a congregation's worship experience. All of them, to a person, found the experience meaningful (some more challenging than others). Most importantly, all of them, whether they were eager or intimidated, were glad to be asked.
The best congregations are those that ask questions. Sometimes we ask the wrong ones. We spend more time asking how we can make the experience better, or what people want. But the most important question in any community is "can you help?"
Asking to help allows people to have real ownership over the experience, to learn, to connect with others in a deeper way, to feel empowered. Of course, asking new people, or different people, can involve the possibility that we'll have to do some teaching, or that people will make mistakes, or that it won't be perfect. But then, if we don't, we miss out on the opportunity to learn something ourselves, to see a different way of doing things, to get fresh perspective, to expand our world.
Yesterday in Torah study I asked the congregation what they're carrying into the new year. I'm going to add an additional question, for each of you in your own communities: what gifts do you have to share, and can you help?