By Amanda Poppei, Senior Leader, Washington Ethical Society
In March I spent several days hosting the Humanist Clergy & Organizer Collaboratory, the second iteration of an international gathering of humanists that I co-founded in 2017. For our first Collaboratory, we focused on bringing together Ethical Culture Leaders, Unitarian Universalist ministers, and humanistic rabbis, with the hope of building relationships among those groups. And it worked!
This time around we wanted to expand the guest list, focusing especially on the relationships between congregationally based, or religious, humanism (like Ethical Societies) and secular humanism (like American Humanist Association chapters, Camp Quest, and other secular groups). We also sought to amplify the voices of people of color, queer folx, and women—those who haven’t historically been centered within institutional humanist leadership. We hoped to have conversations about what we think humanism is, who “owns” humanism, how we honor humanism’s history, and what we imagine for humanism’s future. And…it worked!
But first, who is this “we” I’m talking about? The organizing team included Unitarian Universalist minister Patrice Curtis and ministerial candidate Leika Lewis Cornwell; Ethical Culture Leader Mike Franch and Leader-in-Training Christian Hayden; and secular organizers Diane Burkholder and Luciano Gonzalez. I said several times during the planning that if the whole Collaboratory itself was a bust, it would still be worth it for the time I got to spend learning from and working with these amazing people. Together, we crafted an agenda that focused on questions and connections, and was flexible enough to change entirely if we felt the group needed something different—a flexibility we implemented on Tuesday when we shifted to a more focused concentration on relationship building and began to imagine what “products” we hoped to create coming out of the Collaboratory.
One of those products was a conversation with WES members on Tuesday evening, when about ten folks joined us to hear about our work together and get a test-run of our ideas. We heard excitement about the idea of a new Humanist Manifesto, one that decolonizes humanism—while not forgetting our history and the thinkers in the western tradition that have led to our modern understanding of humanism. Some of the Collaborators have excitement and energy around expanding our knowledge of indigenous and global worldviews that feel connected to humanism, and others are planning a series of gatherings that focus on humanist art.
Ethical Culture, which represented almost half of the attendees, should benefit from the ideas shared and the relationships created. If there was ever a time for our brand of relational humanism to be shared with a world were relationships are breaking a part, it is now. The wealth of new energy and perspectives that came from humanists outside of Ethical Culture should serve us well as we welcome a new generation of Leaders into our movement.
I feel sure that the relationships built between secular and congregational humanists will bear fruit, as well—I can’t wait to connect more with folks from Washington Area Secular Humanists, whose leadership attended! And we know a few next steps are for sure: TheHumanist.com featured an article on the Collaboratory, several of us will present at the UU General Assembly in Spokane, WA, and some of our collaborators will share during the American Ethical Union Assembly in Tampa, FL. Finally, the next Collaboratory is already in the planning stages, and will be held in Minneapolis, MN! It gives me great satisfaction to know that something that I started—along with Rev. David Breeden and Rabbi Jeff Fallick—will continue to serve the humanist community in the future, bringing in new leadership and new ideas each year.
Following the Collaboratory, the National Leaders Council met for discussion, training, and planning.
Standing: Jone Johnson Lewis, Richard Koral, Carolyn Tabak, Joy McConnell, Randy Best, Bart Worden, Je Hooper, Hugh Taft-Morales
Sitting: Christian Hayden, Kate Lovelady, Sarah Tielemans, Amada Poppei, Anne Klaeysen, and James Frey Croft
Photo credit: Christian Hayden