“Hi, is this Janet? This is David Bland calling for the Nominating Committee of Ethical Culture. Would you consider accepting a nomination for president?”
“What?” I was incredulous. The truth is that three years ago, my attendance at Ethical had been spotty, at best, and knowledge about the inner workings of the Society, nonexistent. Nevertheless, after a little thought, I said, “Yes,” opting for a steep learning curve with no agenda other than Don’t Screw Up a Good Thing.
Looking back, I see that I didn’t have to search too hard for an agenda; it found me. At my first all-day Board retreat, we tackled ways to attract more young members. Subsequently, we made some changes, but the results were not wildly successful. The following year brought another Board retreat. This time we focused on race awareness. At a time when young black victims were often in the news, we felt a sense of urgency, and workshops on “Being White and its Hidden Assumption” were started. At the last retreat, we decided to tweak the platform to embed presiders’ interview questions at the end of presentations and provide small coffee tables for conversation groups afterwards.
Invasions and gaps
However, attempts at being proactive were not enough to meet the needs of the Society. The Board and I had to be reactive, as well, to invading raccoons, new property taxes, vacant volunteer positions, a gap in snow removal, and a myriad of surprises. Perhaps the most challenging time of my presidency was the five-month period when Joe was deep in mourning. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Board for its support, to the American Ethical Union for its advice, and the membership for its patience, respect, generosity and compassion during that time.
During these past three years, nine of our dear members have passed away, yet there has also been growth. Newly created during this time are: Job Club, Conversemos, Contemplative Humanism, Do Tell! and Senior Conversations. Ethical Brew’s singer-songwriter series has mushroomed in popularity and the Film Series has drawn more and more viewers. Socrates Cafe continues to be healthy. Our Sunday School and Youth Group are vibrant and flourishing. From the Halloween party to the Uganda Dinner, from the Commitment Dinner to the Skills Auction, from Festivals to the Installation Dinner, we are blessed with devoted planners, goodwill, creativity and the hard work of our members. Now that I have a front seat to all these moving parts, I often find myself awe-struck. So many of you have done so much for so long, and several new members have stepped up to make wonderful contributions.
On the social-action front, we are allied with the Brady Chapter and Gays Against Guns to fight gun violence. We continue with the Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition to support asylum seekers and the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains. We are new partners with Greenfaith and 350NJ to protect the environment. Recently, resistance to our political climate has brought a flurry of member (and non-member) activities into our building to help immigrants and to fight new injustices. We continue to write letters, host panels, join marches and lead rallies to make our voices heard.
Another part of our growth has seen our online footprint expand. It now includes Meetups and Eventbrite in addition to Facebook and Twitter. We have a fully online Focus newsletter and, most recently, video footage of Joe’s talks to be posted on ethicalfocus.org. We can accept donations via a “Donate” button on our website and we now own a credit/debit card reader to process credit card payments, expanding our giving options.
A big team effort
Arguably the centerpiece of our Society is our weekly platform. In itself, the platform represents a significant effort every Sunday to cobble together a presenter of interest, ushers, a greeter, music, coffee makers, written programs, lunch with the leader cooks, and an audio-video engineer. The coffee makers anticipate finding a freezer already stocked with cakes and coffee. Members are met with fresh plantings at the entrance to the building. We now invite members’ Joys and Concerns and announce birthdays monthly. Then, there’s disseminating the information to members. Few members know about the thank-you letters that go out to guest musicians and presenters. It’s astonishing how much we take for granted when we walk into the building on Sunday morning, be it for platform or for Sunday School. This weekly event is clearly more than the sum of its parts, but so is everything else I’ve cited so far. The Society is the fabric of all of your efforts. I’m not going very far, and I hope you aren’t, either.
As I step down from the presidency, I know there are still tasks undone, and members whose leadership and contributions haven’t been sufficiently acknowledged. I ask for your forgiveness for the many oversights I must have unwittingly committed. I entreat you instead, dear members, to take joy in three years of collaboration, mutual respect, new relationships and my gratitude for your trust. Hopefully, we leave to the next Board a Good Thing Not Screwed Up and ripe for new beginnings.