By Susan Lesh
This month, Joe Chuman, Bob Gordon and I presented a platform about our national organization, the American Ethical Union, or AEU. The AEU provides many behind-the-scenes supports that you may not be aware of. Joe explained that the Ethical Culture movement is a “congregational movement, in that primary and official authority is vested in the local congre-gations. As such, the AEU is our federated organization that joins the Societies together and should not be understood as our ‘parent’ body, which implies hierarchy.”
Bob, our AEU representative and a member of the AEU Board of Directors, explained that every Society can have one representative to the AEU Board. He talked about some of the history of the AEU, which was founded in 1889 from the existing Societies’ desire to promote the mission of Ethical Culture; New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis were the existing Societies at the time.
One of the national committees the AEU manages is Ethical Education. Members of our Youth Group described the annual national gathering at the Youth of Ethical Societies (YES) Conference, which rotates among the St. Louis, Washington and New York Societies. Each local Society needs to raise funds to transport the youth to the conference. Members Beth and Perry Stein have been a tremendous help in this effort by inviting the Youth Group to participate in the monthly Ethical Brew coffeehouse evenings and then keep the proceeds of the cafe table. This year they raised enough money to completely fund all eight members of the Youth Group and the chaperone for the trip to St. Louis. While the conference is youth-led, an AEU coordinator holds conference calls with the leaders during the year to facilitate the planning and execution of the conference; this year’s topic was prison reform.
The AEU also trains and certifies leaders, officiants, and chaplains. Joe explained that there are currently five leaders-in-training who are going through modules of instruction. They are situated all around the country and participate via online training. After completion of the modules, they will intern at a Society and then become available for a position as leader.
The AEU Board has engaged Momentum CG, a public relations firm, to greatly raise Ethical Culture’s visibility locally, regionally and nationally. This benefits all of the Societies. Recently, our Ethical Brew program was highlighted for several months and Beth and Perry received interviews in NorthJersey.com and other media, which raises our profile.
The AEU coordinates and runs our annual national gatherings, called Assemblies. This is an opportunity to get together with Ethical Culture humanists from around the country. It is wonderful to talk to so many people who have a similar take on the world and are working to make it a better place. This year’s Assembly is in June in Tampa and I’m looking forward to thinking and talking about the theme: “Reclaiming Democracy for All.” All members are invited and I hope you will think about attending an Assembly someday.
Susan Lesh is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.