Opening Words from Sun. August 15 by Nick Cowan

Hi, I’m Nick and have been a member of the St Louis Ethical Society since 2005. If you don’t recognize me from The Before Times it’s because I was rarely at Platform or Forum. My time was spent in the mural covered walls of the Coming Of Age classroom.

Super thrilled to do opening words this morning. It’s not every day you get asked to be Linda Locke’s opening act!

I had the pleasure and honor of advising the COA class for a number of years, which concluded with my two kids graduating into the youth group.

Part of the reason I signed on was to explore an idea of community: an idea that I’d never really pondered before coming here.

If I had ‘church’ as a kid it was Sunday Dinner with Grandma Margaret and Grandpa Kenny. I never went to church on my own, didn’t do sports. I did cub scouts, but just to see my friends. So, most of my time was with family. It hadn’t occurred to me that family and community could be different things. For me, they were largely the same.

The other part was that as a teenager, really my whole life, I had someone that listened to my questions and casual curiosities. When I wasn’t playing DND or reading album liner notes, I was reading history, religion, etc.

I was at my friend Jeff’s one day, about 11 years old, and he asked his parents why they have to go to church. He was told to “stop asking questions like that”.

I remember asking Mom why we didn’t go to church and she asked if I wanted to and why and didn’t push when I said I was just curious. I was getting honest answers and insight from Mom and Dad. They may not have been ready for or able to answer. They were making it up as they went along, as most parents do I suppose. My family is big and I always had someone to talk to. As open as my folks still are, there’s value in conversating with someone not in your house.

Really quick, I don’t want to perpetrate like we had a lot of deep insightful ideas about the nature of god and the universe and morality. It’s probably more like the scene in the movie Stand By Me when the kids are sitting around the fire talking about some hard stuff and then a long deep analysis of who would win if Mighty Mouse fought Superman.

When I started coming to ES, I heard about this “Coming of Age” thing at a fundraising dinner and felt it was time to ditch my slacker ways and get involved.

The first year, I was out of my element and leaned on Ellen Wright and Mary Murphy-Overman for guidance, which they gave beautifully.

It was in that first year I saw the 8th graders getting to dig into the questions I as an adult relish and had myself as an 8th grader. The openness, the feeling of safety, their humor. And they actually listened to each other and us as adults! It was amazing! The other teachers and I always pushed and played devil’s advocate to get them to think, fight, defend, advocate.

That was just the FIRST year! But it became a norm year after year after year. My feeling of community came from the kids, there families, and the society members we got to work with to make things happen.

I hope the parents and members that I got to teach with brought that to Coming Of Age.

If you want a perspective on the world you can’t get as an adult then go out of your way to talk to one of the kids in COA or the Youth Group. Ask honest questions – you’ll probably get an honest answer. There are a few greater things to me than that.

Last thought. One of the goals of Coming Of Age is to learn why and what you believe. Let me encourage you to do that. When was the last time you took a look at what YOU believe and allowed yourself to wonder “why?”

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.