Stewardship in Action with Green Bay Zen Center
by Christine Henson
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Shunya Prajna Lynn Hyer to learn more about the Green Bay Zen Center and the rich legacy of community service they continue to be engaged in, following in the footsteps of their beloved leader Vimala Muni John Nemick, Roshi who departed in July of 2021. Vimala studied Buddhism and Zen practices for almost fifty years, and the deep commitment, generosity, and joy within his practice continues through GBZC’s numerous community stewardship efforts.
Green Bay Zen Center, originally called the Green Tara Sangha, was named for the gift of a Thangka (Buddhist painting on silk) of Green Tara, gifted to Vimala and the newly established sangha by Jun Po. Jun Po’s sister, Ma Dhyana Kathleen Kelley, “Katma,” was near the new sangha with her own yoga studio at the time.
After years of work as a counselor, Vimala keenly understood the nature of the emotional suffering humans face, particularly from the stress of life’s pressures and addictions. He worked selflessly to alleviate and transform this suffering where he found it. Vimala and Jun Po worked closely on the development of the Mondo Zen process together, as Jun Po understood the urgent need to transform our reactive behavioral patterns. Outreach that began in the early days of the sangha with the Green Bay Correctional System is still ongoing, with a weekly men’s group that continues to meet. Prison work has continued to be a powerful example of compassion in action, treasured by both the sangha and the men they meet with.
GBZC sangha members are actively engaged in work with the Jackie Nitschke Center, which offers a 30-day addiction treatment program in Green Bay. Grateful for the opportunity to contribute to program participants, sangha members have time with each group during their month of early recovery to introduce Zen mediation as part of their self-care toolkit.
The sangha meets in the beautiful and historic Fisk Family House, built in the Civil War, and close to St. Norbert Community College, where Vimala worked professionally. The Shakespeare Garden, also nearby, is a special part of the Fisk Family House property, where Vimala was especially fond of eating his lunch, exercising, and meeting people he counseled, as well as with sangha members from time to time. An even deeper appreciation for the beautiful outdoor spaces the garden came during COVID-19 when many indoor spaces were closed. In the spirit of Vimala’s love for all things botanical, the GBZC sangha works together to volunteer at a Pollinator Corridor garden at a nearby coffee shop where they sometimes meet for fellowship. Zen Garden parties hosted at Shunya’s house are another example of this love and remembrance, as Shunya graciously gifts extra segments of her own pollinator perennials to spread the joy of gardening and co-creation with plants with her sangha.
GBZC has about twenty members and meets twice weekly on Sundays and Thursdays, offering both in-person and online services. In addition to the formal services, they regularly participate in fellowship as a sangha in events that are purely fun, enjoying “Noodle Thursday,” held at a local Asian restaurant and friendly meetings at the coffee shop to converse as friends and share their love of life.
Christine Henson is a volunteer writer and sangha member of Hollow Bones Zen.