What Makes a Successful Humanist Community? April 6, 2009

What Makes a Successful Humanist Community?

Dale McGowan recently visited the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture and discovered ten things that make a Humanist community successful.

He goes into some depth on each item, but here is the short version of his list:

10. A great space.
9. Music.
8. Food.
7. A call to action.
6. Ritual. (Uh oh, I lost half the audience.)
5. Emotion.
4. Symbolism.
3. Diversity.
2. Multiple generations.
1. A warm welcome.

Some of those really require Dale’s full explanations, so check them out.

Oddly enough, it sounds exactly like what churches try to emphasize as they try to grow.

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  • David D.G.

    I read the detailed explanations, and frankly I still think that the “Ritual” aspect still needs more justification than he gave regarding why ritual should be considered important. Some additional examples would help, if he has them (songs? hi-signs? recitations?), especially if he would also explain what the community gets out of them. I’m just not seeing much from his description of a guy setting off chimes every so often during his speech.

    Mind you, I’m not saying that I disagree with this fellow. I’m just saying that I’m not following his reasoning on this point, and I suspect it’s mostly because he’s given me too little to go on for it. The rest comes across well enough, though, and it does sound like a vibrant group of people.

    ~David D.G.

  • Maybe he should have used “team building exercises” instead of “ritual”. It’s still a good list though.

  • Sounds like a UU church ;-).

    In Ottawa, we have both a UU congregation and a Humanist Association. While there are a few people who are members of both, for the most part it seems to me that the HAO gets the folks who find the UUs too “religious”, ie. can do without the ritual, music, emotion, etc.

  • Jared

    Well its seems to me that the group that I belong has been doing it right, at least according to this list. I can’t say we do much in the way of rituals, unless you count the fact that several of us drink a couple shots of Jaggermiester when we get together for movie night.

  • Hemant Mehta quotes Dale McGowan:

    “6. Ritual. (Uh oh, I lost half the audience.)”

    Keep in mind that “ritual” can be very subtle — one good example of “secular non-religious ritual” would be the opening sequence of events on the “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” show (description copied from Wikipedia):

    “At the beginning of each episode, Fred Rogers enters his television studio house, singing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’. He hangs his coat in a closet, puts on a cardigan zipper sweater, and removes his dress shoes to put on sneakers. One of Rogers’ sweaters now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution, a testament to the cultural influence of his simple daily ritual.”

    “Ritual” doesn’t have to be laden with “supernatural” meaning — it may simply be a way of marking the entry into a more reflective frame of mind (e.g. Ethical Culture Society service or Unitarian Universalist service).

    For some developmental stages in life (e.g. preschool and kindergarten), recurring ritual to establish what is going to happen next is very important. This may be less essential but still important for other developmental stages.

  • Tom


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