Building Community with and among Other Communities

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!

Also, the ESB Strategic Planning Process is on-going – we’ve dedicated several meetings to discussing the planning process with our consultant Mary Schaefer, we’ve surveyed members, and the Board will meet this month to identify a few clear objectives, setting the stage for us to move forward. As we consider future directions, we must focus on key priority areas to support the Society’s growth in the context of working with other humanist groups. This may be more challenging than it seems. Our membership has diminished in recent years, and in order to recruit new members, we need to be sure that our mission is clear and attractive to potential members.

The word “community” has recurred throughout the ESB strategic planning process. This word seems to mean specific things to many ESB members. But does it have the same meaning for all? In years past, members were very connected to one another through the fact that they lived in the same area, and they had children who attended an ESB children’s program. Over many years, ESB members engaged in social activities in the homes of members and friends. In the past few years, even these activities with long traditions in the group have been more difficult to plan. Some members have moved away, others have passed away, and even more are experiencing health issues that curtail their ability to be active.

Is this same vision of “community” that we can offer today as we embark on greater collaborations with other groups, especially with groups that represent different generations? Society has changed drastically over the last few decades – communication methods and styles have been revolutionized through technology. How do we frame our “community” in this new reality? Can we be more flexible? Are ESB’s practices and activities set in stone, or can we demonstrate greater flexibility in order to encourage collaboration with other groups or people? If so, how will we find common ground? Are our missions in sync, or do we need to discuss what we each hope to accomplish in this new setting where we are at least rubbing elbows, if not yet sharing activities? If we need to explore these questions, in what format can we do so? Our strategic planning is designed to focus on ESB, but as we move forward, we will need to build broader communication strategies. Change is hard, but we must carefully consider future directions to expand our possibilities. Having the Hub in which to convene may be a sound solution, but we likely will need to change our thinking as well as our location to survive among the communities it will draw.