The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture is an ethics-centered community. We hold that ethical living is life’s central concern. We understand that personal growth and social action are part of the ethical life, and that deeper ethical development comes through interacting with others in community.We welcome you to explore our community, and if you would like to become part of the community by joining as a member, you’ll find inside more information and an application.If you have questions about the Society, its principles and values, or about membership, feel free to contact our Clergy Leader or our Outreach Coordinator.
We look forward to getting to know you and personally welcoming you our society. We are an intentionally inclusive community that welcomes people of all races, religious backgrounds, ages, cultural origins, and sexual orientations. We are a freethinking, humanist community, focusing on human responsibility for human problems, using reason and compassion.
It is the women, men, youth, and children of who make this place alive and vibrant. Your involvement is invited, we would love to have the opportunity to welcome you to. We are a completely voluntary organization.The energy and resources of this community are what members, past and present, have contributed and continue to contribute.
We suggest that you spend some time with us before joining, visiting at a few Sunday platform meetings and staying around to talk with others. Take part in some activities: events, classes, social justice and fun activities.Come to the occasional welcome session that we hold after a Sunday platform meeting for informal questions and answers about the Society. Visit with one or more of our committees or action groups to see how the community is organized.
Ethical Societies are microcosm in which we learn and practice the skills of bringing out the unique human worth of ourselves and others. You’ll become part of a diverse group of unique and like-hearted people, clarify your personal philosophy of life, support others and accept support during all the stages of life, and celebrate what it means to be alive. You’ll also help this community grow and extend into the future for others to find.
Benefits of membership
Members experience a culture that helps us to live and expand our ethical values. You’ll meet and socialize with a diverse group of unique like-hearted people, clarify your personal ideas, and support others and accept a diverse group of unique like-hearted people, clarify your personal ideas, and support others and accept support through life’s challenges and joys. You’ll also be part of the democratic decision-making of the Society, from electing board members, participating in committees, voting at member meetings, amending by-laws and the constitution. You’ll receive information about the Society’s activities and those of our national federation, the The American Ethical Union.
Who can join?
Membership is open to anyone who is at least 15 years of age and willing to become an active, contributing member of our community. The nature and extent of participation depends upon individual needs and interests.
How does the Society sustain itself?
We are a self-sustaining organization, supported by time, energy, creativity and financial pledges and contributions of our members, friends and by income-generating activities held in our building.We also contribute towards the American Ethical Union to promote the growth of Ethical Culture and to provide networking, skill-building, knowledge-sharing and other support for Societies such as ours.
Responsibilities of membership
– Members participate actively in the life of the Society. We hope that every member will attend platforms as their lives permit, and attend some of the other social and educational events that are part of Society life.
– Democratic decision-making: we hope that members participate as often as they are able in our semi-annual Member Meetings, and in occasional member forums for information and input. At Member Meetings we vote on Board members, our annual budget, major proposals, and any changes to our by-laws or constitution.
– Committees, board, task forces, specific volunteer tasks: while we have staff at BSEC for some functions, we cannot sustain our Society without volunteers. Start small, with something time-limited, and consider contributing your time and energy some years in helping the Society self-govern.
– A financial contribution, with an annual pledge to help us balance our budget.
– Members contribute to our culture of civility and cooperation and thus adopt and observe the BSEC Code of
Conduct (see below).
What does it cost to join?
All members make an annual financial within their means to support the Society’s costs including programming and outreach. Contributions are generally tax deductible.
Member pledges and other gifts support the programs, facilities, and staff of the Society. You choose the amount that you pledge. We ask that members consider a generous pledge within your means. For a thriving Society, Most would be giving within the range of 1% to 4% of net income. We do not exclude anyone from membership on the basis of pledge amount.
You can elect to contribute in one annual lump sum or to pay it in quarterly, monthly, or weekly installments. The Society will send you statements for tax purposes. If your circumstances change, you can notify the office of a decrease or increase in your pledge.
How do I join?
If you’ve visited on a few Sundays, and feel like you know the Society’s values, direction, and community well enough, then complete an application form online or give it to the Outreach Coordinator or to the Clergy Leader, or mail it to the Society’s Administrative Director.
Feel free to make an appointment to talk with our Clergy Leader if you have any questions about the Society, or attend one of our periodic Orientation or Living Ethical Culture workshops.
The Board of Trustees formally votes on each application at its monthly board meeting, after which you will receive a welcome letter from the Society. We’ll formally welcome you at the next Member Meeting, and informally at a Sunday platform meeting soon after you’ve joined. You’ll receive a member packet within a month after the board’s formal acceptance of your application.
Ethics for Children graduates are automatically accepted for membership, provided they complete a written application.
We’d love to have a photo and a brief description of you and your interests for sending to our current members, to introduce you to them. Send this to our Outreach Coordinator.
The Brooklyn Society of Ethical Culture is governed by its members, through semi-annual Member Meetings.
The members elect a Board of Trustees to make decisions between Member Meetings, and to make proposals to Member Meetings. The officers of the board are: President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Pledge Secretary.
Programs of the Society fall under three Committees:
This committee is responsible for programs for children and youth, including our Ethics for Children Sunday programs, Coming of Age programming for older children, the Youth of Ethical Societies activities where we join with other Ethical Societies, and child care during major events.
This committee organizes, plans, and oversees educational programs and actions to promote a more ethical, more humane world. Issues of special interest include racial justice, human rights, world peace, climate justice.
This committee oversees and authorizes programs of adult learning and living, including fun and community-building activities.
Members of these committees may be members or non-members of the Society; the chair of each committee is a member of the Society.
These committees exist to help in the administration of key programs of the Society:
Provides support for outreach and welcoming to new people, engaging and connecting members and friends of the Society, and caring for members.
Plans and oversees Sunday platform meetings including colloquy programs, and also oversees other Sunday scheduling on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Building and Grounds Committee
Recommends to staff and the board major and minor improvements to and maintenance of our physical home and garden area.
Finance and Fund Development
Oversee our financial health and well-being.
Works with staff / Society relationships, evaluates staff performance.
We also have temporary committees (Leader Search, for instance) and Task Forces with limited scope of responsibility and a time limit to their existence.
BSEC Caring Communication Guidelines
Cultivating ethical relationships is at the core of Ethical Culture. The practices articulated below can bolster our efforts to live and act in harmony with our beliefs. They can help us enjoy caring and compassionate interactions with one another, individually and as a community.
Members and staff members of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture choose:
- to ascribe good intentions to others regardless of their perspective;
- to listen with respect and refrain from engaging in blaming language;
- to speak for myself and from my own experience;
- to hold to any meeting agreements that the group makes;
- to use descriptive, not judgmental or inflammatory language;
- to place principles before personalities; to criticize issues but not people;
- to refrain from using the Internet or e-mail to address interpersonal or intergroup conflicts and instead to address concerns in face-to-face;
- to handle differences collaboratively and, if necessary, to seek mediation and/or counseling; and
- to respect confidentiality when it is requested and agreed upon.
In 1876 Felix Adler founded the Ethical Culture Movement which proclaimed a vision of humanity united in common concern for ethical values. Our Ethical Societies are fellowships of people who seek a clarification of the values of life and a faith to live by. We cherish freedom of the mind and freedom of conscience. We assert the autonomy of ethics while we tolerate a plurality of philosophies.
Meetings of the Brooklyn Society began in 1905, formally organized with Leslie Sprague as leader in 1906, and incorporated on March 30, 1907. Ralph Jonas, a prominent Brooklyn attorney who had attended the New York Society, was a leader among the lay members that started the new group and was also a founder of Long Island University and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. In 1922, Leader Henry Neumann and his wife Julie founded Brooklyn Ethical Culture School.
We believe all individuals have inherent worth and dignity, the potential to grow and change, a responsibility to strive for ethical growth, and a responsibility to create a better world.As an Ethical Community we are all part of something that transcends the individual experience and are enriched through our relationships with others. As such, we have responsibilities to each other, to the Society, and to the community.
We affirm and promote the following principles which are integral to our Ethical Movement:
Every person has inherent worth; each person is unique.
We affirm the dignity and worth of all human beings, however different their abilities or backgrounds. Worth is independent of the idea of value. Value is dependent upon the contribution a person makes to society while worth exists independent of productivity. From the idea of universal human worth follows the right of every person to food, shelter, clothing, health, safety, education, work, play, respect, and affection. Every person is unique and different, and the development of each person is related to nurturing his/her distinct qualities and talents.
It is our responsibility to improve the quality of life for ourselves and others.
We connect personal and social ethics by recognizing the principle of reciprocity in human relations. We affirm that any action which brings out the distinctive worth in others brings out the distinctive worth in one’s self; also, any action which demeans others demeans one’s self.
Ethics are derived from human experience.
Many religions locate the source of ethics in god-given commandments. We find its source in the human condition. What is right or wrong, good or bad is so because it fosters the development of what is best in life. Human intelligence and feelings are the sources and human experience is the sanction of ethics. We grow ethically by increasing our capacity for bringing out the best in others and ourselves. This process begins in the family and extends into friendships and local community and reaches out in relationship to the global human community.
Life is sacred, interrelated, and interdependent.
Life is a great, mysterious gift, and is more than just the materialistic fact of existence. We affirm our respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part. It is our commitment to the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, justice, and loving-kindness for all.
“Always act so as to elicit the best in others, and thereby yourself.”
This phrase is as close to a commandment as you will find in Ethical Culture. Merely doing unto others as we would have them do to us ignores the unique situation of every human being. What we would have done unto ourselves is probably the wrong thing to do unto someone else. By acting so as to elicit the best, we allow others the freedom to make their own ethical choices.
We are never isolated from human society, and the effects of our actions always has an impact.
Our impact on the lives of others, and theirs on us in return. may be great or small, positive or negative. In helping to lift others to a higher level of moral awareness, we also lift ourselves.
See also our Caring Communication Guidelines.
Jone Johnson Lewis, Clergy Leader
Jone Johnson Lewis is a clergyperson, coach, writer and teacher. In her work as an interim Clergy Leader with the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, she speaks on the platform one or two times a month on topics related to our lifelong ethical journey, building a more humane world and other topics important to our community. She also provides pastoral counseling on request of members, organizational consultation to the Society and its board and committees, performs life passage ceremonies for members without fee, and speaks on ethical issues in the wider community.
Jone is currently also the Leader at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, also a part-time position, and has served as the Leader of the Northern Virginia Ethical Culture Society (NoVES), the Leader of the Chicago Ethical Humanist Society and minister of the Berrien (Michigan) Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Jone’s B.A. in Management is from Mundelein College’s Women in Business program, and her M.Div. is from Meadville/Lombard Theological School, where she had a special interest in studying humanism, social reform, the Transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller etc.) and the history of women in the world’s religions. She has done extensive research into the career and life of Anna Garlin Spencer, an early Ethical Culture Leader.
More of Jone’s experience includes writing on women’s history, teaching on the topic of women in liberal religious history as an adjunct faculty member at Meadville/Lombard Theological School. She has been a participant in the women’s movement and other social justice movements since the late 1960s. Jone has also served as a faculty member of the Humanist Institute (twice) and as a training instructor and executive in the private sector. (Her first career was as a computer programmer, then trainer.) As a coach, she works with today’s women and men wanting to make a difference in the world. She also created and maintains the WisdomQuotes.com website.
She also has interests in human relationships, history, science (especially neuroscience and environmental issues), progressive politics, leadership, Nonviolent Communication, philosophy, website design and content, and music.