Northern Virginia Ethical Society

"Act so as to bring out the best in others, and thereby in yourself"
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New Members' Handbook

Welcome to the Northern Virginia Ethical Society.  This booklet is designed as a guide to acquaint new members about the Society.


The Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES) is a congregation of members who are joined together by a common commitment to improving human relations and a desire for a more meaningful and humane life, for themselves and for others. The Society is a religious and educational fellowship based on the premise that ethical concerns are the central religious issues.  Our activities are oriented to relationships, education and service.


Ethical Culture societies call the person who provides pastoral services for the community the Leader.  Jone Johnson Lewis serves as the NoVES Leader. She gives one or two Sunday morning Platforms each month.  She performs marriages and conducts other ceremonies, provides pastoral counseling, offers educational programs, leads discussion groups, and conducts other pastoral services as are customarily performed by ministers of religion. 

The Ethical Society is a cooperative community, supported by the volunteer effort and financial contributions of members.  Members contribute as generously as they are able to support the Society.  Members also contribute their time and effort as they are able to volunteer on committees and projects of the Society.  Members participate in the important policy and financial decisions of the Society through an Annual Membership Meeting and through special membership meetings.


We have no standard dues, but rather we distribute guidelines for membership pledges and leave it to the individual to determine what he or she ought to contribute. Most members are very generous, giving between 2 and 5% of their income.  Since we are self-funded, what members contribute determines the level and quality of our programs and services. The Ethical Society also encourages members to financially support other organizations which express their values.   A total of 10% giving to both the Ethical Society and other organizations is encouraged by the Leaders of Ethical Societies as a responsible ethical practice.  A pledge form is included in this booklet, which can be hand delivered to the Treasurer or sent by mail to Northern Virginia Ethical Society, P.O. Box 984, Vienna, VA 22183. 


NoVES meets at Green Hedges School, 225 Nutley St., NW, Vienna, VA, from September through June.  Platforms are held on Sundays and generally begin at 11:00 AM and end at 12:15 PM, after which there is time for coffee and conversation. until 1:00 PM.  Children attend the beginning of our Sunday platforms, listen to a children’s story, and then leave for Sunday school, which meets concurrently with our platform. 


Members are expected to take turns assisting with set-up , which generally requires arriving a bit early  once per month based on your last name to help prepare the room for platform. On your designated day, a member is also encouraged to bring food or drink for sharing.  For families with multiple last names, the one that’s earliest in the alphabet is suggested for the purpose of selecting a Sunday.  The Society also offers training to members who would like to chair a platform. 

General information:

Sunday School  Melissa Sinclair 
    Director, Religious Education


President   Mary Ellen Stanton


Our Sunday school is devoted to teaching children how to make ethical choices, with a thoughtful, age-specific curriculum and a friendly, supportive environment.  Sunday school also provides opportunities for children to understand and respect each other and other religious beliefs, and helps children feel empowered to put their beliefs into action to improve society.   The Society employs Melissa Sinclair as its Director of Religious Education.  However, parents play a crucial role in providing support and direction that ensures that the Sunday school meets the needs of their children.  Many of our members whose children are grown or who do not have children also find participation in the Sunday school extremely rewarding. 


The Caring Committee is formally charged with assisting members in time of need by request.  Our Leader, Jone Johnson Lewis, is available to provide pastoral counseling.  The Society also maintains a member support fund that can provide financial help.   Our Membership Committee also looks out for the welfare of members.  Finally, our members provide support to each other, which is why we encourage you to share both troubles and joys.  


In addition to the Sunday Platform, the Society offers educational classes through the Adult Growth and Learning Committee that are advertised in the Newsletter and weekly bulletin.  The Society hosts many social events throughout the year, including a Winter Festival, Stone Soup Festival, Darwin Day, and Spring Festival.   A woman’s group announces its meetings well in advance at Platform and in the Bulletin.  A men's group also announces monthly meetings where support and camaraderie are available.  We also provide Society-wide get-togethers for a July 4th picnic, Labor Day picnic, Halloween Party, and Holiday open house.  The Society encourages and the Board of Directors will support the formation of new groups that offer educational and social opportunities.  For example, we recently authorized a book discussion group that meets regularly. 


The Northern Virginia Ethical Society is a member of the American Ethical Union (AEU).  The AEU is physically headquartered in New York City.  The AEU is a voluntary association of ethical societies that are located throughout the country.  The AEU provides lay leadership training, supports the development of new ethical Leaders, encourages the growth of existing and new ethical societies, assists societies in Sunday school development, and runs national programs for teens.  It is governed by an elected Board of Directors and an annual Assembly representing the member societies.   Currently, twenty-five societies belong to the AEU and several more are in formation.  The AEU is also affiliated with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, which includes groups from around the globe. 


In recalling the founding of the Ethical Culture Movement, Felix Adler wrote the following historical note.

Perhaps a hundred people assembled one evening, May 15, 1876, at the time when the country was celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its political independence. The people who gathered had summoned me from Cornell University where I was at that time a very young professor of religious history and literature, in order to present to them the sketch of a religious society imbued with the spirit of religion without its dogmas. After the address, the first Society for Ethical Culture was established in New York. 

Adler went on to write:

We have found a new bond of fellowship, a new common ground upon which agnostics and theists and good men and women of all shades of belief and opinion can stand together; it is the common pursuit of righteousness, the supreme desire to see righteousness flourish on earth.
Algernon D. Black, a member of the Board of Leaders of the New York Society for Ethical Cultures, further explained the essence of Ethical Culture in the following words:

Here is a faith in man's capacity to solve his problems, a faith in which every man is called upon to take responsibility. To strive that the world of men may be better is a command from within. In this consecration, each of us can find the power within himself to meet any personal crisis, to make his life decisions, to join together with others in a fellowship which offers meaning and direction and faith.

Ethical Culture is a religious movement committed to a passionate pursuit of righteousness.  In this pursuit, Ethical Culture members choose to make ethical concerns paramount by striving to elicit the best in ourselves and others.  Whether you consider Ethical Culture as your religion is a matter of personal choice. 


NoVES is governed by a Board of Directors elected by the membership.  The Board meets monthly, keeps minutes of its meetings, which are available to members upon request, approves policy for the Society, and recommends an annual budget for approval by the membership.


Committees are a great way to meet other members and contribute to the Society.   Just ask the Committee contact, any Board member, or the Leader about joining a committee.


The Society provides its members with a membership list that includes contact information.  The list is considered confidential and should not be provided to non-members. 

Committee Descriptions
Welcoming New Members - Key Person(s) to Contact

Please consider signing up to try out a committee. 

Membership Committee
Seeks to build and sustain community by paying attention to the interests and welfare of members and visitors, including sponsoring social and cultural events and festivals.  Provides greeters at Sunday Platforms. Outreach to new and existing members, organizing and conducting parties, organizing and conducting festivals.  Mary Ellen Stanton

Caring Committee
Responds to members (or families of members) who are experiencing a difficult  situation and would like additional support.  Ellen Dinerman

Sunday School Committee
Provides growth and learning opportunities for children by  supporting the Sunday  School and DRE.  Also, helps DRE prepare curriculum and consider activities.  Jim Perdue/Jennifer Rossmere

Adult Growth and Learning Committee
Provides growth and learning opportunities for adult members.  For example, organizes and conducts classes, workshops, and theatre outings.  Jeffrey Crocker/Iris Woodard

Platform Speakers Committee
Selects and recruits speakers for Platform presentations.  Considers what topics
might be interesting to members and visitors.  Hank Gassner.

Note:  Marianne Moerman recruits members who would like to chair a Sunday    platform.  We are delighted when new members volunteer to chair a is fun and we provide a script.

Ethical Action Committee
Engages the Society by offering opportunities to educate ourselves about social welfare issues and to engage in social welfare activities.  Helene Shore/Marv Friedlander

Audio-Visual and Sound Team
Operates the Society's sound and audio-visual equipment.   We teach you how to  operate our sound equipment.  Howie Kallem

Finance and Budget Committee
Handles Society finances effectively.  Typically, this committee meets twice yearly to review the budget midyear and establish a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.  Andy Stanton/Curtis Haymore  

Publicity Committee
Engages in advertising initiatives.  Typically, this committee meets periodically to  review our internet presence.  Marv Friedlander/Susan Teaford/Andy Stanton

NoVES officiants perform weddings and other life ceremonies.  We provide   training and AEU certification, if approved.  We  also  are happy to permit members who are      considering becoming  an officiant to accompany our officiants.  Our officiants tell us that it is a joy to assist a couples with their ceremony.    Mary Ellen Stanton

Provides an opportunity to sing.  Delightful.  Performs for the  Society once per      month and generally rehearses twice monthly.  Doris Justis

NoVES also has various teams that perform discrete activities for the Society, such handling our auction, staffing Sunday morning activities, maintaining the NoVES web site, or preparing the newsletter.   If you would like to be involved in one of these discrete activities, just ask our President. 


Mary Ellen Stanton         President

Michele Garrison           Secretary

Jeffrey Crocker              Vice-president

Hank Gassner                Vice-president

Ashby Boaz                    Treasurer

Andy Stanton                 Assistant Treasurer

Marian Arcelay               Director

Jaime Argandona           Director

Chelsea Fellerman         Director

Kelly Huyghebaert          Director

Members vote for Directors at the annual membership meeting, which occurs at the end of our program year in June.  We like having a variety of directors who can represent different views. 


Officiants are authorized to perform weddings and conduct funeral services, naming ceremonies, and commitment celebrations.  Officiants are: Phyllis Anne Duncan, Ellen Dinerman, Steve Goldstein, and Mary Ellen Stanton (coordinator).  This is a rewarding opportunity to provide an important service to our members and the wider community.