I need to preface this by saying that I am writing this one week after the election. I say this because my thoughts on the election have changed on a daily basis since then, and I don’t expect them to resolve completely for quite some time.
I could tell you why I think Trump was elected, but there are still millions of ballots yet to be counted, mostly provisional, so comparable numbers for 2008 and 2012 are still not available. Did more people vote for Trump or did fewer people vote for Hillary? We just don’t know yet. There are some reports that relatively more voters opted to leave their choice for president blank.
This year we have a lot of changes to announce. The first is certainly our new space and meeting time (or is it our old space and meeting time?}. We are moving back to the Longy School of Music at 33 Garden Street in Cambridge, and back to our old starting time of 10:30 AM every Sunday morning. We first moved to the Longy School twenty years ago and met there for many years before we started our nomadic quest for new meeting space. We are all hoping for some stability now, and plan on staying put this time.
Yes, the elevator is finally fixed. Let’s get that out of the way because I’m sure it was the first question on the minds of many of you. We’ve met in five different locations over the course of the past year, and it is obviously a huge relief to look forward to meeting in this great space for the upcoming year and, we hope, for at least a few more years until we outgrow it.
On Monday, May 19th, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor held the Boston Forum on Working Families, one of several regional meetings prior to a Summit on Working Families to be held in Washington DC in September. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first keynote speaker, followed by two other impressive women leaders, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.
This year provided many new opportunities for the growth and development of the Ethical Society of Boston. Physically moving our Sunday lecture/discussion events back to Cambridge, engaging in a strategic planning effort, and building new annual events brought the promise of positive energy. The changes we’ve made in 2014 can help to revitalize and rebuild our society, but greater efforts are required to make the Ethical Society truly vibrant and a more prominent force for a humanist vision in the Boston area. We all realize that our group is struggling to maintain viability – shrinking membership and financial contributions hamper our growth; the aging of our membership and the fact that younger people are not engaging with us is problematic. Expanding publicity of our organization and activities, and connecting and collaborating more meaningfully with other groups will be needed for future growth. However, we still have a strong base from which to build such efforts.
As President of the Ethical Society of Boston, I was honored to be invited to attend The Inaugural Symposium of the Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. Initiative on Religious Freedom and Its Implications moderated by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. with Sheikh Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Reverend J. Brent Walker, and Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl on Thursday, May 1, 2014. The event was sponsored by the Harvard University Center for American Political Studies, the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, and The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. This discussion presented leading religious figures in an important dialogue about the role of religious freedom in the country, guided by questions posed by moderator Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.. Engaging leaders of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian faiths on the national day of prayer (as dedicated by President Obama) to ponder the need for religious freedom to safeguard human rights provided an important forum in a world often characterized by incivility and outright violence toward those with divergent points of view. In fact, the reference to President Clinton’s signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act emphasized the constant need to review and reaffirm a commitment to the centrality of religious freedom in American society. All presenters identified the benefit of community as central to their religious beliefs, and that community is essential to engaging in united action to address the ills of society from illiteracy to homelessness to violence to global warming.
On Sunday, April 13, 2014, at the Humanist Hub in Cambridge, Dr. James O’Connell accepted the 2014 Humanist of the Year Award from the Ethical Society of Boston. Dr. O’Connell was recognized for his life-long dedication to providing healthcare to homeless people in Boston.
The Board of Trustees of the Ethical Society of Boston is engaging with members to expand the reach of the Society through a concentrated strategic planning effort, and it is critical for all of us to reflect on what we believe our community should have as a focus. While we’ve recognized for many years that our ranks have not grown and our current membership is not able to maintain a consistent level of activities, we have not really concentrated on what changes we must undertake.
A long-standing commitment of Ethical Societies has been “Deed, Not Creed”. In discussions spurred by our long-range planning effort, members have expressed a need to revisit how the Ethical Society of Boston exemplifies this principle. Our current practice seems to be limited to supporting or engaging in advocacy campaigns on social issues which we as an organization embrace. While such action is important and will continue (on single payer health care, death with dignity, opposing Supreme Court decisions on campaign funding), some members have suggested that more locally-based grassroots efforts direct action efforts be part of how we live the “deed, not creed” philosophy. Indeed, such action does bring a strong spirit of communal energy to members toward our causes, and often brings a stronger connection with other non-ESB members who are similarly engaged.
As reported in recent columns, the Ethical Society of Boston is making changes. We’ve settled into new space at the Humanist Hub in Harvard Square. Fortunately, the response to the move back to Cambridge has been overwhelmingly positive. The location has lured more friends and former members back to our programs, and helped us to bring in new people for whom Belmont was too far or inconvenient. This change was several years in the making, and thanks to Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein’s constant plugging away at the goal of establishing a Humanist Hub in Cambridge, and our members’ support of ESB joining the Hub, it has happened!