State of Our Sangha, 2023

By Michael Stoner, President, Valley Insight Board of Directors

The year 2023 was an extremely active one for Valley Insight Meditation Society, with some significant, beneficial changes that will continue to impact our Dharma teaching, study, and practice for many years to come. Some of these changes were apparent: our teacher team was enriched by the addition of two new members and we continued our exploration of Insight Dialogue and Dharma Contemplation. But some happened out of (the) sight of most of us: the Board of Directors continued to make some important changes in Sangha governance to ensure that Valley Insight can continue to operate effectively in the future.

Practicing and teaching the Dharma in 2023

Karen Summer continues to serve as Guiding Teacher for our Sangha, coordinating the work of a vital and engaged Teacher Team that grew this year by the addition of two teachers, neither of whom are strangers to us. Subha Srinivasan has practiced with Valley Insight since 2008 and graduated in January from the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program founded by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Subha led our first mindfulness series for the BIPOC community and, in partnership with Doreen, co-taught our December retreat. Joel Lazar, who has practiced with us since 2018, co-leads our monthly Social Justice Awareness practice group with Doreen; coordinated an EcoSattva training for a small group in the spring; and helped to facilitate our Book Group. Joel was certified as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction leader in October.

Our three weekly sits flourished during the year. After experimenting with a hybrid format for several months, the Monday evening sit, led by Karen, now meets in our Online Dharma Hall every week. The Tuesday evening sit meets in our Online Dharma Hall, except for the first Tuesday of the month, when it meets in person at St. Barnabas in Norwich. Lee Steppacher coordinates a teaching team of Charlene Gates, Adam Knowlton-Young, Peg Meyer, and Penelope Prendergast. And Doreen’s Thursday sit continues to meet in person and online every week. Joel Lazar leads the sit on the second Thursday of the month.

We continued our exploration of Insight Dialogue through a retreat with Jan Surrey and Marsha Lawson in the spring. In the fall, Marsha joined us for a series of Saturday workshops coordinated by Doreen and Subha.

Ajahn Jayanto visited us again in September for a daylong retreat nourishing our ongoing connection with the Buddhist monastic community.

We’ve also hosted a number of small-group discussions and practice sessions throughout the year. Molly Grover and Gina Sonne lead a group that gathers on Sunday morning once a month for discussion and practice. Subha led a mindfulness practice group on Saturday mornings in the fall. Peg Meyer and Carol Rougvie lead an ongoing group that meets monthly to consider various topics related to racism and white privilege. A group meets every weekday to chant the refuges and precepts with Doreen. And Lee Steppacher led nature walks regularly through the year.

Our Support Sangha––Terry Cioffredi, Connie O’Leary, Kate Schaefer, Maria Schell, Mindy Schorr, Shideko Terai––continues to offer food and other types of assistance to those in our Sangha who need it.

We opened the New Year with a gathering on January 1 led by Doreen, Karen, and Subha. We celebrated Vesak Day in May with a gathering in our Online Dharma Hall and at St. Barnabas. And we co-sponsored Lebanon, New Hampshire’s community reading of Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July address on July 4, an annual tradition for our Sangha since 2019.

Board of Directors focused on governance.

I’d wager that most people who have a relationship with Valley Insight never think about our Board of Directors. In some respects, that’s a good thing; it means that things are running smoothly. On the other hand, it also means that our Sangha isn’t aware of the hard work that our board puts in to ensure those operations remain friction-free. So let me offer deep gratitude to our board members––Michele Burlew, Charlene Gates, Adam Knowlton-Young, Sue McGilvray, and Carol Rougvie––and to Karen Summer, who, as our guiding teacher, attends every board meeting.

One of the reasons we invited Michele to join the board in September is that she and her husband John Bauhs are devoted members of our Sangha––and live in Minnesota. This is one way we can make sure we’re taking into account the interests of the significant number of people who attend our events solely through our Online Dharma Hall.

We focused a great deal of attention in 2023 on Sangha governance. Valley Insight is registered as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization in New Hampshire. We spent the year reviewing our bylaws and rewriting several key sections to make sure that the way we operate our Sangha is consistent with our bylaws and New Hampshire law. The revisions were adopted in December. Our focus on governance forced us to table discussions that emerged in 2022 around how Valley Insight can remain vital in the future, though we did make progress on our goals of adding new and younger teachers to our Teacher Team and stepping into the process of addressing a more diverse population with Subha’s BIPOC offering. We plan to return to this process of discernment more directly this year.

The board meets the second Thursday of every month and anyone in the Sangha is welcome to attend meetings. If you’d like to attend, or are interested in reading the summaries of board meeting discussions, please email Michael Stoner.

Our Sangha’s generosity in 2023

We’re really grateful for the year-round generosity of our Sangha, but particularly in the fall. If you wonder why you got a lot of emails about fundraising in November and December, it’s because our Annual Appeal is now the only source of income we can rely on.

In total, Valley Insight received $26,448 from our Annual Appeal and $4,374 in month-to-month donations. And collectively our teachers received $10,110 in dana through online donations. This dana goes directly to the teachers, just as it does when it’s paid by cash or personal check sent to them individually.

In total, 79 people contributed to Valley Insight this year. We had 15 new donors and 21 people who gave to our sangha for at least four years in a row.

With deep gratitude:

Each year when I write this report, I am grateful for the opportunity to recall the many opportunities we’ve had to study, practice, and share the Dharma and the contributions of the many people who’ve made this happen. One of the practices we follow at our board and teacher meetings is to acknowledge those people to whom we’re grateful––and the list is often long. We are fortunate to have people who give in many ways: our teachers and group volunteer leaders, the members of the Support Sangha, those who help make our retreats happen, and those who offer dana to our Sangha.

Thank you! I am deeply moved, and deeply grateful, for your practice, your inspiration, and your example.

In closing, I want to acknowledge two Sangha members who died this year: Jim Bell and Ann Raynolds. Jim sat with us for many years and was a much-loved practitioner and a respected member of the Upper Valley medical community; Ann integrated her Buddhist practice with a strong commitment to the Episcopal Church and was a co-founder of the nascent Upper Valley
NAACP chapter.

with metta,
Michael Stoner,
on behalf of Valley Insight Board of Directors and teachers

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