One of the pleasures of being the executive director for the American Ethical Union is that I can visit the member Societies on a pretty regular basis. And ironically, during the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve actually had more visits to more Societies then I typically get to have. It’s been interesting to me to see how the different Societies make use of videoconferencing for their Sunday platforms.
A few weeks ago I visited the Ethical Society of St. Louis, our largest Society. The host was James Croft, one of the Society’s Leaders, and he brought his youthful exuberance to his role as host: there was a colorful slideshow, music you can dance to, and many warm greetings to participants as they joined the Zoom session. The lively and convivial mood continued throughout the morning and was enhanced by prerecorded music videos by local musicians, use of Breakout Rooms for small group chats, and a lively open (and unmuted) gathering before the meeting ended.
Sunday, I had the privilege to speak to two different Ethical Societies on the same day! First was the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, which meets in the morning. Hosted by “Food Rebel” Vandra Thorburn, the meeting did have a rebellious quality about it. Zoom may not be friendly to multiple sound sources playing at once but that was no deterrent for Society members who joined in, unmuted, for a number a statements read in unison. And a good number of personal statements by participants urged social justice activism.
Meanwhile, back at the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester, participants were experimenting with using Zoom’s Breakout Rooms for small group discussions they call “Community Circles.” Rather than have a presenter, the program entailed assigning participants groups. Each group had a facilitator and a technical support assistant who shared materials on the theme of “Resilience.”
As they meet in the afternoon, I was able to visit the Susquehanna Valley Ethical Society that same day. The host, Pattie Arduini, eased the way with a well-organized program accompanied by gorgeous Powerpoint slides. A retired schoolteacher, Pattie’s skill in planning and instruction were put to good use and the she and her co-host, Joe, helped participants work their various devices so they could see, hear, and share with the group.
The gatherings were small, medium, and large and differed in style and format but all of these sessions had something central and essential in common. Each drew the participants into community and into a shared experience of ethical humanism. Each brought to life the core ideals of unique worth and mutual appreciation, of compassion and understanding, of support and encouragement. That is something I truly love about visiting Ethical Societies – every time I visit one, whether in-person or virtually, I am inspired the spark of humanity that glows in each gathering and by the coming together of like-hearted people to build, and rebuild, an ethical community.
It is a privilege to be invited to visit our Ethical Societies – and it’s a privilege you can share! More and more Societies are welcoming visits to their Platform meetings via Zoom so you can enjoy the experience yourself! Check the Connections Calendar on the AEU’s website for upcoming Platform meetings and other events that are open to the public.
Another way you can join the larger Ethical community is by participating with the AEU’s #GivingTuesdayNow campaign! You won’t be the first (as of this writing we’ve collected $2000 for the campaign) but you can make an important difference in the lives of the people who will be the recipients of the funds we raise as we are sending 100% of what is received to the three funds we have chosen: Coronavirus Care Fund, No Kid Hungry, and National Revolving Bail Fund.
May the 4th be with you! Wishing you well as you navigate the week ahead!