Zone 1 Leadership Conference participants.
This past weekend of November 24th to 26th saw ISKCON leaders from across Zone 1 temples in North America descend upon Toronto for the annual leadership conference. Zone 1 encompasses ISKCON centers primarily across Canada but also includes one temple in Minnesota and some very northern states, as well as Alaska. The Zone 1 temple contingent has grown in recent years, now consisting of 25 centers from coast to coast.
Under the inspiration and title coined by HH Bhaktimarga Swami, “Let’s GO! Let’s GROW! Let’s GLOW,” this year’s event was organized by Zonal Supervisors Vrinda Dasi and Indresh Gaura Das. It was well attended by over 60 devotees from 23 of the 25 centers in the Zone 1 region. The aim was to share successes, ideas, and innovations as well as plan for the future.
It was the first in-person conference since the pandemic, and the 3-day event was jam-packed with information and brainstorming sessions. The conference was held in service to Srila Prabhupada, so it appropriately began with an opening Guru Puja, Prabhupada quotes on leadership, and an official inauguration by HH Bhaktimarga Swami.
“This gathering really showed the value of getting together in person, in spite of cost and logistical challenges. It was such a privilege to be in the room with a wealth of devotee-power in the form of both experience and fresh new ideas,” said Vrnda Dasi, Zonal Supervisor and co-organizer.
The growth and sustainability of ISKCON and its benefits to the public and devotees are both vital and multifaceted. Presentations and discussions included a variety of topics. Unique and perhaps for the very first time in an ISKCON leadership conference, there were provisions for child care, ensuring that parents could fully participate while the younger generation was cared for by devotees.
“Instead of just presentations talking to a room full of leaders, we decided to make it more engaging with panels giving various views, discussing challenges, and even bringing in outside experts. This effort paid off with solid attendance and many even delaying their departure on the last day of the conference along with accolades from attendees,” said Indresh Gaura Das who helped coordinate the conference.
The first day of the conference began with a presentation on student youth ashrams with semestered enrollment using the example of the in-temple Bhakti Academy in Toronto, which was modeled on the Krishna House concept in the US. Next was a presentation on financially empowering the next generation of devotees through the Prabhupada Foundation.
Growth was the next theme of day one, with discussions and panels on temple growth and revitalization, including new temple projects, rejuvenation of established temples, and a vision of the future with a goal of consistent year-over-year expansion of the number of new centers. Here, ISKCON Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Thunder Bay, and Muskoka showcased their plans for new temples or rejuvenation and reconstruction of existing projects. Fundraising, congregational development, and fostering relationships were also discussed by participants, and many ideas were presented. The day concluded with a short film about Toronto’s 50th Ratha Yatra, the collective chanting of Damodarastakam, and the offering of lamps.
Day two was titled “The Pillars of ISKCON – Sacred Wisdom, Sound, Food, and Love.” Sacred Wisdom included presentations and interactive panels on children’s education, such as Day School programs, as well as the systematic organization, management, accomplishments, and growth of book distribution. Sacred Food discussed Govinda’s innovations and successes in Toronto, restarting Govinda’s in Ottawa, lessons from Vancouver, and how they may serve as examples for other centers. The Sunday Love Feast’s mood and mission were also discussed.
The pillar, Sacred Love, encompassed a number of important topics, including building a circle of safety from child protection to misconduct and abuse, devotee care, temple leadership, and the Regional Governing Body structure.
Rounding out the day was Sacred Sound, which included a “Dance Trance” by Bhaktimarga Swami and some poetry on Lord Damodara. It was later followed up with a review of “Kirtan Standards” and a related poster sent back to each center.
The day concluded with a trip to ISKCON Toronto, New Remuna Dham, where attendees had the opportunity to take darshan of Sri Sri Radha Ksira Chora Gopinatha as well as sing and dance. This was followed by dinner at Govinda’s and a tour of the temple and its recent renovations, along with sweet stories about Srila Prabhupada when he came to Toronto.
The final day centered on “Glow,” emphasizing the showcasing of ISKCON. Topics included newcomer development and outreach as well as large annual festivals with discussions on successes, opportunities, sponsorships, and challenges. Participants also had an exciting session with a special guest speaker, Mark Halpern, who shared insights on fundraising through estate gifting strategies, adding a valuable dimension to the conference’s financial discussions. The day concluded with a celebratory cake and an invite to Toronto’s Sunday Program.
HH Bhaktimarga Swami summed up the conference nicely, “My special thanks to all who attended the best AGM ever for Zone 1 in Mississauga this year hosted by ISKCON Toronto. You were all great. I especially wanted to thank Vrnda and Indresh as the principal managers.”
Overall, this year’s leadership conference was a resounding success. Delegates praised the interactive panels, variety of topics, organization, and scrumptious prasadam. The conference not only fostered the exchange of ideas, successful experiences, and strategies but also strengthened relationships between temples and leaders, leaving attendees inspired and motivated to continue the growth and glow of ISKCON on a variety of fronts.
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