Year in Review – A Promising, But Still Challenging, Future

Submitted by Andrea Perrault

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.

First and foremost, our move in January back to Harvard Square was critically important.  As we share space with the Humanists at Harvard in the Humanist Hub, we’ve had the opportunity to expand programming and interpersonal connections among other humanist groups.  The Hub’s central location in the Square can be a boon to stronger attendance, as it allows greater accessibility with subway and bus lines so near.  Also, our programs are promoted to the wider Humanist community by the marketing of our events on the Humanist Hub website; we correspondingly announce Humanist Hub events on our website. But we’ve not seen strong intermingling of our groups at each other’s events. The fact that each group is still just getting settled is one reasonable case of this, and some of us from each group have discussed having regular joint meetings for coordinated planning.

So far, we’ve built connections with the Humanists at Harvard by sharing information, coordinating some programming and ethical action events, and by promoting the work of our joint members.  Each group collaborated to support changes in the timing of our events to support effective coordination. Zach Cole coordinates the Hub’s Values in Action activities and we are engaging our members in their ethical action efforts – food insecurity and homelessness are issues on which we’ve shared interest and activities. Margo Woods led a School for Ethics course on “Myths America Lives By”, engaging equal numbers of Hub and Ethical Society members, and she also works with the parents of the Children’s Program operated by the Hub. Our Sunday lecture/discussion events featured joint members James Croft and Katrina Scott. These are all important and promising practices. We must expand our joint efforts as we move forward.The Board of Trustees engaged in a strategic planning process, and utilized the support of consultant Mary Schaeffer, who has expertise working with non-profit and religious groups. Mary facilitated a discussion among members at our Thanksgiving Breakfast meeting, and she surveyed the membership through an on-line tool.  The Board engaged in two dedicated sessions to evaluate our mission, goals, and objectives. The Board is now poised to move forward on the information gathered to act to support the Society’s growth and development.

The Ethical Society added a new annual event to our calendar, the Roseland Memorial Lecture that also is supported by the Roseland family. In memory of Ed and Ruth Roseland who contributed so much to the Ethical Society of Boston over decades, the lecture delivered on May 11th by Dr. Julian Agyeman of Tufts University on the topic of Sustainable Communities demonstrates our dedication to preserving the memory of those who made the Ethical Society of Boston a home for area humanists for over 60 years.

While the directions we are taking are promising for sustaining the Ethical Society of Boston’s significance among Boston’s humanist community, there are clear challenges to fulfilling our goals. Waning membership, the inability of members to actively participate, and the need to revitalize our committee structures (especially membership and publicity committees) truly hamper our efforts. We need renewed vigor and new ideas to make us strong again. Please consider how you as a member or friend can become more active and promote our good work, and JOIN IN!