I hesitated to start this blog post with the almost banal truism that NoVES is immersed in a social environment of change as never before. Yet there is no doubt all of us face unparalleled times. At national and local levels, we see leadership and elites being questioned as never before, wisely and unwisely. Rules and norms are being flouted at a rate which would probably stun the author of the phrase "defining deviancy down" Senator Pat Moynihan, the great politician-intellectual, who warned us about such dangers. On a positive note, women, youth, and minorities are finding voice in politics and leadership at an unprecedented rate.
As an Ethical Society, NoVES cannot look inward and ignore such changes. However, this does not necessarily mean we need to change in every way with the environment around us. There is no doubt we should resist the trend of lowering the bar on our ethical, moral, and legal standards. NoVES should instead model standards of conduct and governance which foster engagement and transparency to the maximum extent sought by our norms and permissible by our rules.
Nor should we remain complacent as to who we are becoming as a Society. As we seek to grow as a Society, we should seek, expect and welcome more millennials, women, and minorities to join our ranks and for them to assume positions of leadership in our community, including our various committees and the Board. We are blessed to find ourselves in a geographic situation where we share one of the most dynamic, diverse, and thoughtful loci of socio-economic change in the country, arguably even in the world. This should be a huge reservoir to draw upon as we seek not only growth in line with our values, but also greater collaboration and networking with others who are also committed to seeing more equitable, broad-based, and sustainable prosperity in our global society.
Finally, reasoned argumentation should always have a place of pride in our discourse. At NoVES, we have attempted in a modest way to respond to change by developing a new 2018-20 Vision which we have engaged at the Board, shared with our committees, and also with our Society. This is a living document which broadly frames key directions which we seek to pursue as we move forward in coming years towards becoming an even more vibrant focal point of humanist thought and action. As NoVES President, who has been proud to be part of these efforts, I hope more and more of our members will engage further in the Society and take advantage of numerous opportunities through which we can all contribute to our activities both within and outside our Society and which place us in line with the values we seek.
I know that some ask, and quite legitimately, details of how each and every aspect of our change will unfold. We should indeed plan and discuss such questions as much as we can. At the same time, change can only come about if we invite it as a mindset, but without abandoning our key values of treating all with dignity and respect.
Change is especially not easy when it seeks to change traditional ways of behaving and in conducting the affairs of any institution. Yet, compelling change cannot be avoided in turbulent times. If we stand on our principles, I think NoVES too can be guided by the wise words of Reverend Martin Luther King: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
If it is not already obvious, it bears reminding how blessed NoVES is to be centrally located in the growing and diverse metropolitan area of Washington, DC. Not only are we adjacent to the seat of our country’s federal government, but the progressive and cosmopolitan milieu of our community affords multiple opportunities to benefit from synergies with many other individuals and groups.
This realization was concretized for me recently when Cherie, the boys, and I joined several other NoVES families and members at the ‘March for Our Lives’ event alongside groups of secular youth and other Ethical Societies. It was a remarkable demonstration of NoVES’s connection in time and in space with the larger world beyond our congregation.
Clearly this will not be our only such opportunity for such engagements. The rest of 2018 promises to be one where we continue to join diverse voices to translate our Ethical Culture concerns and values into action. Marches & rallies are just one such way to interact. Since earlier this year, we have been utilizing a multiplicity of web and social media channels to track, support, comment upon, and originate civic action through cyberspace to complement what we have been actively doing in meeting with elected officials and through rallies and campaigns.
We are also seeking to enrich our outreach with other Meetup groups having similar interests. Moving forward, some of our adult enrichment and other activities have the prospect of becoming leveraged with the energy and co-branding with fellow humanist, secular, and other groups. Additional opportunities could include community service projects with these same groups in our area.
I look forward to this aspect of our 2018-2020 Vision being turned into the reality of a closer and richer set of relationships with other groups across a range of activities. We are looking forward to various committees taking the lead in defining such new programs as we seek out and find ways to adapt and stretch our budget resources and to provide our membership with additional opportunities for interacting with fellow members as well as with individuals with like-minded interests outside of NoVES.
All of this necessarily requires a greater commitment as well as a more efficient organization and utilization of our membership volunteer capacity. The board is united in its commitment to our Vision and the administrative efforts required to achieve it and I am confident the increased synergies with other individuals and organizations will yield an overall increase in our membership volunteer capacity. I continue to encourage our membership to actively engage the collective efforts of our Society, to seek out that which energizes you, and to work to create a community that helps us grow as individuals, challenges us to question, encourages us to accept others, educates us on a wide variety of topics, propels us to social action, and supports each of us in creating the kind of world we want for ourselves and our children.
With our 2018-2019 pledge campaign now in full swing, I want to reiterate and expand upon what I stated in my testimony before the membership at our most recent Sunday platform. For many it is difficult or uncomfortable to speak of money matters and, to some degree, I fall squarely in that camp. With that said, I also recognize the importance of pledging to the continued vitality of NoVES. Without the generous contributions of the NoVES membership, we simply would not exist as an organization.
Our current year projections indicate approximately 90% of our Income will have come from member pledges. What does that income provide? Sixty-Seven percent (67%) goes to compensate our staff (the Leader and DEE); Sixteen percent (16%) pays the rental of our meeting space at Green Hedges; Ten percent (10%) is associated with our American Ethical Union (AEU) apportionment. The remaining seven percent (7%) covers our insurance, website, & PO Box costs as well as Platform, Festivals, Sunday School, & Administrative expenses.
Our Vision anticipates increased budget emphasis for the Sunday School program and in our Adult Enrichment, Civic Action, and Membership Outreach efforts. The Vision also anticipates an additional paid staff to help maximize the efficiency of our volunteer capacity by reducing the amount of more mundane administrative efforts being required of our volunteers.
For Cherie and I, NoVES is the place that reflects our values in word and in deed. It also teaches those values to our children. It supports social justice and humanitarian causes important to us and provides opportunities for friendship, growth, leadership, and connection. NoVES and Ethical Culture helps us to strive to be better people by encouraging us to be more than we might be on our own. Pledging to NoVES is an investment in my family and in yours: in our character development, in our capacity to grow, in our relationships with others, and in our collective ability to make a difference.
Please reflect on what NoVES means to you, the vision of how you wish NoVES to evolve, and pledge early and generously to help make that vision a reality.
Over the past several months, the board and a number of NoVES members has been developing a ‘Vision’ of what NoVES can become in the next 3 to 5 years. Part of the Vision is a commitment to growth in membership; part of it is a recognition of our unique position geographically, demographically, and a political climate wherein we should be on the forefront with our values and activism. Another part of the vision is a recognition that a growth in NoVES necessarily moves us from a smaller, familial model of society to a larger, congregational model. A substantial step in this model change is to organize our administrative efforts to more efficiently support it. The Vision includes administrative steps, several of which have already been implemented, to allow the board to function more efficiently and further empower our committees and individual membership. The Vision also includes identification of areas for increased engagement with membership, visitors, and other organizations.
In substance, the above articulation appears altogether promising and judicious. Yet we must recognize change can often bring about a sense of uncertainty. Uncertainty may come from having grown accustomed to things as they are or a belief that something of value may be lost. Understandably, some of us may have concerns about being able to efficiently adapt to change, whether it is, for example, working with new technology or with new partners with civic action. Whether you feel uncertainty or not, a simple reminder may be helpful. Our Vision is really just a recognition that as special as NoVES already is for each of us, it can be all of that and more for an even greater number of fellow members.
I firmly believe ethical humanism is more than just a commitment to values; it is a commitment to action. This Vision represents a call for collective action on the part of NoVES to be even more than we already are. To borrow the words of Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “A Vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to be something more.”
The real challenge ahead is to translate our Vision into a set of executable plans supported by appropriate volunteer and financial resources. As the old adage in the construction industry aptly states, ‘It is not enough to simply plan the work, one must also work the plan.’ In the coming weeks, we hope to work with our various committees to fine tune the core targets we seek to achieve in the next budget year and the associated resources required. Only then can what we have now as a broad Vision be turned into a workable plan of action.
The Vision ‘matrix’ in its current stage can be found here. It includes broadly defined areas of ‘Membership’, ‘Society Governance’, & ‘Resources’ along with associated goals, strategies, tactics, and execution elements.
The board looks forward to each of you joining us as we take the next steps to turning this Vision into concrete time and resource bound actions in the near future.
I continued to be excited about the change occurring within NoVES. This past month has seen a marked change in the energy in and around our Sunday School program brought about by the hire of a Director of Ethical Education (DEE). This well spring of energy has not come just from our new DEE, Kimberly Nyilasi, though Kimberly does bring much zest and dynamism to the position, but I see it also in the activism and vitality of the member parents. The Navigator programs, service projects, Sunday School activism, and opportunities for community among Sunday School families is being warmly embraced by all and the list of ideas, classes, and events being considered and/or planned for the near future is ever growing.
Our Adult Enrichment activities continue to scale up with a variety of content currently being offered and planned on a growing basis including Penny University, Book Group, Open Mic events, Film Screenings, and small group discussion events. Civic Action also continues to expand with the recent addition of a Twitter Account ‘@NovesEthicsActs’; our commitment to the March 24th, March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. in coalition with the Secular Student Alliance; the continued efforts of NoVES membership relative to Immigration reform; and planned engagements with the Secular Coalition for America on voting and other political initiatives. Individuals who have and continue to contribute their efforts and energies to organize these Adult Enrichment & Civic Action events include our Leader-Randy Best, Eugenia Burkes, Mike Plampin, Jaime Argandona, Andrew Orlans, Govind Nair, Penny Anderson, Dave Robie, and Iris Woodard (I apologize if I left anyone out).
The NoVES website, Facebook page, Meetup page, & new Civic Action Twitter Account continue to grow in their utility and influence with new content being added daily across each platform. Many of our membership have noted this welcome uptick in Social Media/Web-based content and see it as a vital component of a growing commitment towards greater engagement with other organizations and the broader community. Individuals who contribute their efforts and energies to maintain our Social Media presence include Marcella Simon, Jeremy Weiss, Govind Nair, Jaime Argandona, Kimberly Nyilasi, and Brad May (again I apologize if I left anyone out).
As always, I encourage each member to engage and participate in all that NoVES has to offer by suggesting ideas for content and/or by volunteering your time to continue to help make NoVES a growing and vibrant community.
In closing, I must also mention the Sunday Platform Bulletin. Our new Sunday Bulletin editor, Bonni Van Blarcom, has provided a fresh perspective and look by adding content to the bulletin and organizing it to be packed with even more useful and pertinent information.
One of the unfortunate downsides to the passage of time is the inevitable ‘passing of the torch’ that occurs across a host of contexts in our lives. One of those ‘passing of the torch’ moments takes place this month for NoVES with the release of the final issue of our newsletter with Andy Stanton as editor.
Andy has served off and on as NoVES’s newsletter editor since first taking on the role in 1997 and it is altogether fair and accurate to say he has been singularly responsible for producing/editing more editions of our newsletter than any other person. In addition to his editing efforts, Andy has contributed countless newsletter articles as a board member, committee member, and as President. Though he now resides in St. Louis, I am hopeful we will have the opportunity to continue to experience Andy’s newsletter article contributions.
On behalf of the board and the whole of the NoVES community, I thank Andy for his many hours of service in the preparation of NoVES’s newsletter over the years. It represents a significant and noteworthy contribution to the vitality, continuity, and endurance of NoVES.
In recognition and appreciation, the following is an excerpt from an article penned by Andy as our President in November 2015. It was and is an article that has stuck with me as a reminder that Ethical Culture is not just a set of ideas, but a call to action.
“Ethical action has long been an important component of Ethical Culture. Our guiding principle, “deed not creed” is a reflection of this. In 1877 the New York Society, under the leadership of Ethical Culture founder, Felix Adler, started the District Nursing Department, which organized a team of nurses who visited the home bound sick in poor districts. A year later, in 1878, the Society established a Free Kindergarten for working people's children. The kindergarten provided basic necessities for the children when needed, such as clothing and hot meals. It evolved over time into the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, which is still in existence today. In 1897 John Lovejoy Elliott, one of Adler's associates in the New York Society, began The Hudson Guild, a settlement house in New York's impoverished Chelsea district, which provided a variety of programs and services, including after-school care, professional counseling and community arts programs. The Hudson Guild is still ongoing and provides valuable services to the poor. Many other projects and programs have been run by Ethical Culture societies throughout the country and have provided help to people in need. Ethical Culture has also been involved in non-economic reforms as well as international reform movements.
Throughout the Northern Virginia Ethical Society's existence (we began in 1983), we have recognized the importance of ethical action and have engaged in many such activities. For instance, when my daughter was in the teen program she helped out at a D.C. shelter once a month. We have given gifts to needy families through a Secret Santa program. We have engaged in letter-writing campaigns to members of Congress on various issues. For the past several years the Society has donated a portion of our collection to worthwhile causes, leading other Ethical Societies to follow our example. I am pleased to see us renewing our emphasis on ethical action and I hope all of us will get involved in ethical action activities over the coming months.”
I was delighted to announce today at our Winter Festival the hire of a NoVES Director of Ethical Education (DEE). Effective February 1, 2018, our new DEE will by NoVES member Kimberly Nyilasi. In my humble opinion, Kimberly's energy, enthusiasm, and creativity make her an ideal DEE and I am excited about the prospects of our Sunday School program moving forward.
Kimberly has been active on a number of NoVES groups/committees and is a current member of the Board of Directors. Kimberly will continue on with several of those groups/committees (e.g. Navigators, Children's Story, & Sunday School Committee) as they are integral to the DEE position. In order to be able to place greater focus on her new staff position and our NoVES children's ethical education, she will be stepping down as a member of the Board of Directors and will no longer be on the Festivals Committee, the Leader Advisory Committee, or the Platform Set-up Team.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, I thank Kimberly for her service to NoVES on the board and elsewhere and fully recognize our loss in these areas is more than worth the incredible gain NoVES and our children have achieved with her hire as our DEE.
By now many of you have become aware of this new website which has been in operation at www.noves.org since Tuesday, December 19, 2017. As indicated in the email announcement prior to its launch, it offers all the functionality members have come to expect from our previous site while adding a variety of more intuitive and collaborative functions such as access to individual member pledge data (both total pledged and total paid to date amounts); a more user friendly membership directory (with direct email function); a directory of the NoVES Board of Directors and Staff; a directory of NoVES Committees with their descriptions and contact information; access to blogs maintained by NoVES’s Leader and President; enhanced integration with content from our NoVES Facebook page; a 'NoVES in the News' page; and a host of other functions to enhance communication between our membership and with visitors.
The board encourages each member to further explore this exciting new collaborative communication tool and to begin to actively utilize it to enhance your interactions with fellow society members. It is a 'work in progress' with additional content anticipated to be added. If you identify any typos or errors or have any suggestions for added content, please advise the communications committee at email@example.com.
This new website is an initial step towards a broader effort (e.g. a Vision) to increase NoVES’s influence as a whole. An additional step towards this ‘Vision’ has already been established by the board in its meeting of October 2017 wherein the following motion was approved, "The Board resolves to systematically pursue as a strategic goal the increase by June 30, 2020 of the total membership in NoVES to 150 members. Accordingly, the board will actively encourage the NoVES Membership Committee in particular, as well as all Committees, and also all NoVES members, to continue to propose and act on initiatives which contribute to identifying, recruiting, inducting, and retaining existing and new members to achieve this membership target. The Board will regularly review progress towards achieving this goal and consider any additional support which may contribute to achieving this goal."
The board is actively working to further articulate the ‘Vision’ and I have spoken with several NoVES members to date about it as well as shared a draft outline document of what it might entail (e.g. the ‘NoVES Vision 2020’). The primary intent of this document is to succinctly outline a Vision of what NoVES collectively seeks to achieve in terms of greater influence between now and July 2020 and moving forward. It goes without saying, greater influence should not, would not, and cannot come at the cost of sacrificing NoVES's or Ethical Culture's core humanist values.
I encourage any member interested in contributing thoughts and ideas or learning more about the ‘NoVES Vision 2020’ to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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