Members of NOVES visited a representative from Senator Kaine today. Iris Woodard and Eugenia Burkes had a very productive talk with Urooj Mughal, Kaine's Regional Director. We explained who NOVES is, and how we are a Secular Humanist Organization that believes in the worth and dignity of every single human being. We talked about how this approach leads us to a strong position on preserving voter rights, in as many ways as possible.
We asked how citizens can help Senator Kaine ensure that America is led back to a position of compassion and ethics. She suggested that we become activists in as many ways as possible. Canvas voters, demonstrate with issues, and make donations to the candidates who represent our values.
Remember that Virginia votes every year, and 2019 is a particularly important election. All the local representatives, from state government to school board to Commonwealth Attorney are on the slate this fall. You can vote either by absentee if you meet one of the 20 qualifications, or in person on Nov 5.
Please tell us how you are living your ethical values each day.
Brad, Randy, Vanessa and kids, and I met this morning at Green Hedges School before platform for meditation. We found comfortable seating, turned off the fluorescent lights, and let the natural light come in as we prepared for a 25 min guided meditation. “Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness” was one of the mantras we were instructed to extend to someone we love, someone we like, someone neutral, and to all living beings. Sooner than I expected, our meditation was over and I found myself (lol) calmer and better equipped for the day.
We plan to continue the meditations every Sunday before platform from 10:15- 10:45 am Classroom #9. We invite all members, guests, and friends to join!
From Iris Woodard on behalf of the Ethical Action Committee.
The Virginia General Assembly begins its annual meetings this week. Last Saturday, I attended a session at the Fairfax County Government Center. All the representatives from Fairfax County listened to citizen presentations about issues of interest. There was lots of the usual topics, such as teacher pay, minimum wages, gun control, funding for ESL and special needs classes. Representatives from ARC made impassioned pleas for increased funding for Priority 1 Housing Waivers. One young lady has been on the waiting list for 13 years. Other issues included Immigrant rights, stop Fairfax County Jails from reporting arrests to ICE, free community college for all state residents and many more.
You can access the full list of bills pending at this site: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604
The group OneVirginia2021 presented a plan for a judicial panel to draw voting lines to correct the current gerrymandered map.
Read about this initiative here: https://www.onevirginia2021.org/
The group VARatifyERA is advocating that Virginia should be the 38th state to ratify an amendment to the US Constitution mandating equal rights under the law. Read about this initiative here: https://varatifyera.org/
As Mechelle Hankerson reports today, an apparent major early issue will be tax conformity and a larger debate about tax policy. Battle lines between Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has a suite of budget increases that count in part on collecting more tax revenue as a result of federal tax reform, and Republicans in the General Assembly, who are pushing tax changes to allow Virginians to keep much of that money, appear to be drawn.
These and many other issues are very important to our daily life. It is imperative that each of us take the time to express our opinion about these and many other issues. I will be bringing the postcards to Platform meetings each week. It is up to each of you to identify your representative and communicate to them how you feel about issues = either by phone or in writing.
I ENCOURAGE YOU TO COMMUNICATE ABOUT ONE ISSUE EACH WEEK FOR THE 10 WEEKS OF THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION. No citizen can afford to be silent.
I now wish to address all members of our Society, whether they are here or not. This address is also appearing on our website as we speak. I have been authorized to deliver this on behalf of the majority of the Board whom I represent today along with the membership who voted us to act as your duly appointed representatives.
Whatever the outcome of this vote which begins when I finish, I would ask you to remember this. All of you support NoVES in one way or the other. Many of you also volunteer your precious hours for NoVES. Your Board too is comprised of unpaid members who are enormously dedicated to seeing our Society grow as well as remain and flourish as a place for young and old to support each other in ethical thought and action. We have spent hours over the last year to come to this point where we offer a budget and vision for the next and coming years.
We know that not everyone here agrees with this budget and the vision which goes along with it. We know that some of you say we need more time to discuss a vision, maybe another year, maybe more. Some even say we do not need a new vision, as we already have one.
To all those of you who hold these contrary views to this budget, we who propose this budget say this; we respect your views; we are glad you voice them. We want you and others to be engaged as deeply as possible in the affairs of our Society. We bear no grudge or ill will to anyone.
We do not take our work lightly. To the contrary, those who submit to you this budget gave up many hours of our precious time over many months, away from our family, professional, and personal lives, to prepare and deliver this budget proposal and vision. We can assure you it was done in good faith. Like everything else, we know it is less than perfect, but we can confidently say that your Board has worked no less hard at this than any Board in the past. Nor do we expect that any future Board can look back and say we presented this budget lightly and with little consideration of the consequences. In fact, we believe this budget will open the path to an even more vigorous and dynamic society. And we are prepared to execute it for results we believe in, if it is approved.
NoVES is and will always be a place with different views and also views which sometimes are in conflict. We have many issues where feelings differ. They include the role and commitments we expect of a leader, the type of membership we wish to attract and retain, whether and how fast we should grow, and where we should invest our precious volunteer time and our limited funds across many different interests. We must periodically check our beliefs as a Board against what all of our members say, each of who comes to NoVES at some point in their lives, stays for whatever time, and at some point departs. We are a society which will always grow in different ways.
I would also urge everyone to try to view the recent difficult conversations we have had both within the Board and within NoVES in a positive light. NoVES like every Ethical Society will always face open-ended questions about our nature as a humanist organization, the roles and expectation we have of any Leader, and the budget priorities we pursue. We need to continue to listen to and tolerate diverse views. Which is why I have also reached out to the AEU to help NoVES in a continuing conversation once an incoming Board is in place. I believe with the mediation of the AEU that NoVES can continue an open, respectful conversation which simply cannot end with this membership meeting because these are issues which will remain with us, whatever the outcome of today’s meeting. I hope the incoming Board and all our members will welcome such an effort to encourage open and respectful thinking about important questions we all wrestle with, and not just at the Board. This mediation can only work if a wide diversity of views are represented. It can only be done if members step forward to do that. And it cannot be led by the Board, by a Leader, or any select group of members all adhering to the same views. That would defeat its purpose.
And so, it is once again time to test the beliefs of your Board against the will of our membership. This is why we are here today. We must allow all members to have duly noticed opportunity to exercise their views through vote, whether or not they actually choose to do so. And we can never limit that future choice to only those who do come here today to vote, even if it seems inconvenient to some to hold a new membership meeting if our budget is not passed. Members must have the opportunity to vote for the budget they want and for the Board they believe will execute it with heart and mind. If we do otherwise, we compromise a sacred principle of due representation which governs not only us, but so many other institutions which are built on the vision that everyone has the right to voice and vote.
Therefore, if you as a membership majority choose not to vote in favor of this proposed budget, we must also give you the opportunity to have a new Board which can propose an alternative which can then be duly noticed to all members. If such is the case, those of us on your current Board who have supported this proposed budget, will yield our place once we have completed any transitional matters.
Our resignation from the Board would not be based on any desire to disrupt or subvert. It is instead a good faith desire to ensure there can be continuity as well as change. The continuity will come from the current majority remaining for a very short while (perhaps 48 to 72 hours) to allow for a smooth transition. The change will come from the newly constituted and/or elected Board to pursue and notice a new budget to the membership and to then execute it, if approved.
Our majority remains committed to executing our proposed budget and vision, should it be agreed by our membership. We have every confidence we have the opportunity to do so and to make NoVES an even more dynamic place. However, we will only do so if a decided majority of the membership also shares this vision by endorsing our budget.
We say all this not to be divisive, but to be inclusive. We want each and every member of our society, whether they are here or not, whether they come to platforms or not, whether they support this Board or not, each and all of them must receive due notice about exactly what their Board proposes to do with their contributions. And they must have the opportunity to vote for their Board whom they believe can not only propose, but also carry the budget through execution. Only by doing all of this can not only the By-Laws of this Society be faithfully executed, but the will of our membership be conducted without fear of a majority vote or favor to simply minority interests. Anything less will subvert what we are as a society; legally, operationally, and also ethically.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak and for serving on your Board. We now commend this vote to you.
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.”
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