New York Society Celebrates 100 Years on Central Park West!
Anne Klaeysen, Leader, New York Society
On October 23, the New York Society for Ethical Culture celebrated the centennial of the meeting house, on Central Park West. This Centennial is an important milestone in the history of Ethical Culture, founded in 1876 by Felix Adler. October 23 is the same date as the original dedication in 1910, and to celebrate, the New York Society staff have created an accompanying journal, a documentary film about the building, and peripheral events that highlight our social reform history. A luminous Centennial Advisory Council assembled to guide us through the process and, to garner media attention. Kudos to the members and staff who have worked with such diligence and dedication!
Milestones on a journey offer opportunities to stop and catch our breath, to reflect upon the ground we have covered, and to look ahead, far down the road, to the future. We have lost some people on the way and gathered up others. Their stories keep us going when we falter, inspiring us with a faith in the goodness of humanity, in our capacity to make the world a better home for everyone.
The first members of the New York Society for Ethical Culture found that the stories they were told as children, religious doctrines that were "true and precious to others," no longer held any meaning for them. They wanted to tell their children new stories about a journey to a place where moral and social reform was at the center. They were women and men "with a religious nature, but without a religious home." So they built one! Led by Dr. Adler, they placed a cornerstone between the dogmatism of traditional theists and the materialism of radical atheists, organizing a religion of ethics that put them, "in touch with something transcendentally holy, an ideal of ethical authority."
This was no mean feat, yet they succeeded in creating a legacy that we celebrate today. We tell stories about the parts we played in the settlement house movement by founding Hudson Guild and the Visiting Nurse Service; in education by founding the Ethical Culture Fieldston Schools and the Encampment for Citizenship; in human rights by helping to establish the NAACP and ACLU; and in so many other areas of social reform.
Today we support a shelter for homeless women and a Supervised Visitation Project for non-custodial parents. We partner with people who share our ethical ideals, including the Justice for Juveniles Coalition. Let us also remember and celebrate the spirit these first members brought to their task and find a place for it in our future.
They "consecrated" their lives to the supremacy of ethics. They firmly believed that, "the supreme good of life is to be found in the act of creating harmonious relations." Do we still believe that? When we enter the Auditorium and see the wording above the stage, The Place Where People Meet to Seek the Highest is Holy Ground, do we understand what they meant and why it is still important?
Ethical Culture has always offered the invitation to explore, individually and in community, the meaning of "holy" in practical, here-and-now, terms. For Adler it was an experience of the infinite striking against the finite through an absolute moral law. He imagined people experiencing their spiritual natures through their ethical relationships with one another.
Whether or not we are comfortable today with words like "holy," "spiritual," and "consecrate," let us appreciate the meanings that they held for our ancestors, to whom we owe so much, and cherish not only the thought that went into creating a place where we can seek the highest, but also the feeling that nourished it. Our task remains to increase goodness in the world. As we reflect upon the road we have traveled and plan for the future, perhaps we will find that we, too, are standing on holy ground.
2 West 64th Street -- New York, NY 10023 phone: 212-873-6500 -- fax: (212) 362 0850
Website: http://aeu.org -- Contact: email@example.com