Opening Words from Sun. August 28 by Ellen Wright

I didn’t choose the Ethical Society… Not in the beginning. I was born into a family that was already attending at Sheldon Memorial. My first real memories are of attending Sunday school in this building. It’s a building so familiar to me now, I have a memory triggered around every corner. I remember tea with milk in the foyer served by ladies from large urns into cups with saucers. I would stare up into the lights of the auditorium and pretend I was looking at a space capsule. (go ahead take a look). I dropped dimes into a little Sheldon Memorial replica during Sunday school assembly. And I stared into a sea of legs as I leaned against my father, waiting for him to stop talking at the coffee hour. The Ethical Woods were for egg hunts and sneaking a smoke. I learned to drive in this parking lot. I came of age here and went to Youth Group.

And then I stopped coming.

It was natural, as I was going off to college.

Suddenly I was learning what a rare place it was I had attended. My friends all had a church near campus to attend. I did not. Nobody had heard of the Ethical Society. Nobody knew what an Ethical Humanist was. I was told my parents would burn in hell for failing to raise me as a Christian. I was involved in heated debates defending a belief system, or rather, a way of thinking I had never really taken that seriously in the first place. I found myself spouting phrases, “Act so as to bring out the best in others, thereby bringing out the best in yourself” and “Deed before Creed”. It all made complete sense to me, but my new schoolmates were baffled. Eventually I didn’t talk about it anymore or attend Ethical even when I was home. Sundays were for sleeping in.

Over time, in my studies and growing awareness of the world, I developed the idea that organized religion was not for me. It seemed all attempts by groups to coalesce around a set of values, or beliefs resulted in too much exclusion, too much anger, fear, and even violence. I saw only the potential for corruption as a set of good ideas are twisted and filtered into a way to oppress and control. I wasn’t particularly spiritual and didn’t see much need. I got my community from my career. I was happy to work very hard, play almost as hard and catch up on my sleep on Sunday.

When my daughter came along, my mom asked if she could start bringing Kaitlin. Actually I think she just wanted to show off her granddaughter. Kaitlin loved her grandparents and she loved Sunday school. Soon I would bring her myself because she wanted to be here. I didn’t hang around though. I still didn’t want to be here.

Something changed when one day I was listening to Mary Murphy Overmann helping a group of children learn to sing “If I Had a Hammer”; a song straight out of my of Sunday School days in the 60’s. Some were struggling with the tune, and I couldn’t stop myself from helping them get it right. Mary introduced herself and before I knew it I was being asked to help in the kitchen for a First Sunday Lunch and then to be on the Ethical Education Committee. My lack of membership and sporadic attendance didn’t seem to matter at all. I did my share of classroom time. I found out I actually liked preparing the lesson and sharing it with the kids. I discovered Parent Talk and found people who shared similar challenges raising little Ethical Humanists.

I started to feel at home.

A part of a community.

I had chosen to be here.

I began to know whole families and they knew mine. Family life was everywhere. Marriages, births, naming ceremonies, coming of age and youth group.

Eventually my parents passed away and Kaitlin went off to college. I took a break. Being here was hard. I didn’t feel I belonged any more without my family.

But it was just a break, and when I did return, I realized I was a part of this community without my daughter and parents.

And I had a new way to contribute. We needed a Youth Group Adviser and I had a lot of time on my hands, unlike many parents of teens. Now why would I want to take on a bunch of teens every Sunday morning? What I came to find is these teens are highly annoying, frequently late, and don’t really listen very well. But they are also thoughtful, passionate, compassionate, full of life, laughter and music.

I needed some of that in my life.

So as we begin to gear up for my 4th year as Youth Group Adviser, I’m watching another class of Seniors go off to college, I am hoping that their time at Ethical gave them the sense of belonging and connection that I found I always had. It’s been a great place to grow up and an even better one to raise a child. Someday I may be standing up here telling you how it was to grow old here.

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.