By Curt Collier
A happy and healthy New Year to you all! I hope you had a chance to spend the winter holidays with family and friends and you were able to spend some time in joyous activity. Laughter and merriment are as important to us as food and sleep. There is enough research to back up that statement, and I hope your 2024 calendar is filled with opportunities for fun and adventure.
The Ethical Society of Bergen County grew in many ways in 2023, and here’s hoping that 2024 is no different. But it’s more than hope that I draw upon. Our Communications chair has just reported that the average “open rate” for our weekly Focus newsletter is 63.8% for members and 53.1% for non-members, well above the standard for congregations (20.5%-30.6%) and for nonprofits/charities (28.9%). This is no doubt because of the Communications team’s skill in creating enticing, attractive formats, but also because of the relevance of the content and importance of the Ethical Society in the lives of so many.
We show up
Our administrative director dutifully records each week the combined Sunday service attendance for our 9:45 am Family & Friends Circle and our 11 am Gathering. Removing summer and holiday Sundays, we have an average attendance rate of between 66 (without the speaker series) and 72 (with the speaker series) each week. Most of these attendees are members, so that’s a weekly attendance rate of 46-50% of the membership. This weekly membership attendance rate is higher than at Jewish synagogues (19%), mainline Protestant churches (33%), and even Catholic churches (39%), according to the Pew Research Center.
As we have no religious obligation to attend weekly services, our numbers could be chalked up simply to the interest in our Sunday morning topics. However, I believe a better explanation is the strength and vivacity of our community. This is because of all your hard work, and I wanted to take a moment at the top of the year to thank our membership for their dedication to this community. YOU are the reason we exist and thrive and make so many feel welcome and included! You are the reason we carry out so many ethical action projects and services to the broader community. Your commitment to see your children raised as ethical individuals keeps us moving forward. Thanks to you all for being the kind of community that feels like home.
Full steam ahead in the new year
The year 2024 is already shaping up to be another tremendous one. We kick off the season with two opportunities to address the growing mental health challenges facing the US population. In January, and in collaboration with the Bergen County Mental Health Department and Central Unitarian Church, we are hosting an eight-hour workshop on Youth Mental Health First Aid. This certificate class helps you distinguish between the usual teen angst and emerging mental health issues. That will be followed in February with a training in how to use a rescue Naloxone spray in the case of overdose. There was a time when we encouraged all Americans to learn CPR. Knowing what to do in the case of fentanyl or opioid overdose, instances of which are rapidly increasing, is unfortunately now just as necessary.
In March we will feature SpringFest, and Festivals Chair Susan Lesh and her team are pulling together an amazing art program for the entire community. If you’re a fan of the arts, I’m sure Susan would like your participation. In April we’re hosting a gathering of scientists and science lovers in a fundraiser to support our ESTEAM curriculum. We teach the “Ethics of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math” as part of our Sunday school curriculum, and we’re hoping to receive donations to continue to support ESTEAM’s curriculum development. To experience ESTEAM, join us on the first and third Sundays of each month.
Plenty of work, play, and reflection on the calendar
In May we host our annual Skills Auction. This is where Society members host other members (and friends) in a large number of private events and activities, from cooking meals to hosting outings, trips, game nights, and so on. These events fill the social calendars of many throughout the entire summer and into the fall! Start thinking now if you’d like to host an event, and reach out to Ed Gross, Skills Auction Committee chair, if you’d like to help plan the event or to offer an item or event.
In June we all head back to Stony Point Conference Center for our annual community weekend. The weekend is filled with fun and games, group dining, hiking, campfires, and lots of schmoozing with friends. Summer is no time to slow down and we highlight lots of informal activities led by members, as well as Skills Auction parties and events.
In between all of this are dozens of ethical-action projects and volunteer opportunities organized by Lisa Schwartz and her Social Action Committee, stimulating speakers thanks to Elaine Fondiller and her Gathering Committee, meditation offerings by Deb Sgro, Silvia Acosta and Diane Kozarski, career development workshops led by Anne Wallman, Spanish language conversations with Javier Valencia and Silvia Acosta, and much more. The Society is also host to many events and activities for the LGBTQ community and their friends in collaboration with three other nonprofits, including a monthly meeting for seniors, hiking and outdoor activities, and one of the only secular AA groups in the Northeast.
Whew! Just typing this wore me out, but it’s the kind of fun and activities that make you feel alive, engaged, and connected to others who share your values and your commitment to the ethical life. I am excited about this new year, and I hope you are, too.
Curt Collier is leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.