"Spirituality, Secularism and Our Community" - Discussion at the Annual Meeting

More than seventy people packed into Boston Workmen’s Circle for last week’s annual meeting, which featured a vibrant conversation about “Spirituality, Secularism and our Community.”

Reactions to this topic ranged from, “the word spirituality gives me a pain in my kishkes” to “I’m an atheist but I crave a sense of connectedness with the world around me” to “I don’t actually identify as secular, and I want the BWC to be open to all types of spirituality.”

The conversation opened with light-hearted remarks from Mitchell Silver about his experience on his high school's “Spirit Squad,” rallying for his school's sports teams. We then broke into small groups to discuss these questions:

  • What does the word or concept of spirituality mean to you?
  • In what ways are you looking for spirituality in your own life (or not)?
  • In what ways are you looking to Boston Workmen's Circle to meet your needs for spirituality?

What did we learn? First off, we learned that it’s hard to have even a small group discussion about spirituality in 15 minutes! One facilitator remarked that she couldn’t bring herself to cut people off and move the conversation forward when they were talking about some of their deepest held beliefs about life, and their connection to the people and world around them.

Five themes emerged in the discussion:

  • Music - Music helps people feel connected.  Chorus members in particular spoke about how singing together helps them feel connected to others, especially in the absence of pressure to perform.  Recently, small groups of chorus members have sung at the bedsides of people who are sick and dying, and they described these moments as spiritual.
  • Nature – Many people spoke about feeling spiritual in nature, where their heads are quieter and they can feel a sense of their own smallness in the world. It’s less clear what this theme could mean programmatically for Boston Workmen’s Circle, however (group hikes?).
  • Life cycle support  - Community members feel connected when they care for each other both at joyous moments and in times of mourning. We strive to be a “caring community,” but could benefit from having more rituals and practices that help us to support each other.
  • Jewish traditions – Many people talked about feeling connected and “spiritual” through Jewish traditions like holidays and rituals. We want to look at traditions and update them in a way that is right for our community.  In particular, many spoke about wanting community shabes dinners to happen on a more regular basis, and for us to experiment with an expanded shabes ritual that leaves space for individuals to introduce a poem, song, or meditation that is meaningful to them.
  • Small group activities – Many people spoke about the need for activities that are welcoming to newcomers and allow for more one-on-one or small group connection.  This could be a smaller shabes dinner or affinity groups like a men’s group.

We are also pleased to welcome new board members Clayton Cheever, Laura Derman and Melissa Robbins, who were voted into office at the annual meeting.  Congratulations to them on entering this new phase of leadership in the organization!