Looking Forward to In-Person Community

Ross Llewallyn

Hey y’all! It’s Ross Llewallyn. Every year that I’ve been president of Sunday Assembly Atlanta, I’ve made a post outlining goals for that year. 2020’s theme of “growth” didn’t happen in the way we planned at all, but it’s still an opportunity for reflection.

2020 – Growth?

I am proud of how SAA responded to a global pandemic. We paid close attention to public health guidelines and decided to cancel our March assembly the day before the event. I am so appreciative of our focused and thoughtful group that trusted the science, observed our peer groups’ reactions, and made the right call for our safety. Online events are not the same, but they keep more than just our community safe when done that way.

When we emerged in April with a virtual assembly, and as online small groups began to pick up, I saw our community sticking together against great challenge. The band (and many other assemblies!) stitched together fun music with great performances and detailed editing. We danced alone, together, to a post-assembly playlist to get something out of us, and to feel something in us.

Our assembly themes brought the needed conversation at the right time, from Science to Black Lives Matter, from Wellness to Voting. I’m so proud of the voices we highlighted and the subjects we focused on, including before the pandemic with Adoption and Domestic Violence.

Small groups changed, of course, in 2020. Our Help Often volunteering moved to supporting Food4Life grocery delivery with appropriate precautions. Our meditation groups were reinvigorated by the need for clarity and calm, and the virtual form actually enabled some folks to attend for the first time. Feminist book club and anti-racism group also grew out of the pandemic isolation and protests against police brutality, respectively.

I’m especially excited by the growth of our parenting events with families joining us more! Our specific effort to welcome children to our assemblies with free childcare truly signaled an openness to parents with young kids, even as the pandemic halted that effort after just one assembly. The fact that we now have a Discord server and Facebook group dedicated to SAA parents speaks volumes.

Two board members have left after their terms completed: Marla left at the end of her term in mid-2020, and Andy as well at the start of 2021. Both gave so much over many years to create meaningful events big and small, whether it was facilitating self-exploration, reading Life Happens, managing potluck, or just being that friendly face by the door for folks coming in late. Personally, they were strong advocates for making sure that -I- didn’t burn out trying to create the perfect assembly performance, which I appreciate.

The board of trustees was excited to welcome Dianne and Jessale in mid-2020, both wonderful band members and assembly contributors for years, and Brandon, Paulina, and Adam at the start of 2021! Brandon’s been managing our newsletter (and previously the paper bulletin), and Paulina and Adam contribute through parenting events and Life Happens. We are so excited to welcome these fantastic folks to lead our organization into the future!

2020 Goal Reflection

So how did we end up doing on our goals for 2020, after all?

Core Goals

  • Promote and provide quality assembly childcare for 9 months, tracking use and satisfaction
    • Nope! But we got it started and know how to return to it when appropriate.
  • Complete and have leadership sign the code of conduct, which will include accessibility considerations
    • I’m sad to say this still wasn’t completed while our priorities were elsewhere.
  • For each assembly, encourage SAA Heroes (committed volunteers list) to help plan with specific asks
    • Several community members participated in assembly sections that were new for them, but we did not give it this dedicated structure.

Stretch Goals

  • Maintain a new (or renewed) social, support, or discussion small group
    • Feminist book club and anti-racism group fit appropriately here, though a return of a support group specifically would be quite impactful, I think.
  • Consistently advertise assemblies or other events and track effectiveness
    • We used Facebook ads nearly every assembly. It generated more RSVPs, but I’m not confident it increased our attendance.
  • Attend a local conference or festival to meet more of our community
    • Nope! But I continued to build with Sunday Assembly America. Anna and I were in a panel discussion for online DragonCon about secular community during a pandemic.
  • Restore our supplies of swag materials (stickers, magnets, shirts, tokens)
    • No. This wasn’t a priority.
  • Encourage our community to vote thoughtfully
    • Yes.
  • Provide a secular humanist presence (invocation, for example) at a local government function
    • No, once the pandemic hit, this wasn’t our focus.

2021 – Return

We’re well into this year, but now’s a great time to share our goals for the community as we emerge from isolation. Our theme for 2021 is Return. We’re coming back together, seeing one another after so long, and restoring our efforts to build meaningful connections in ways that Zoom just can’t do.

Core Goals

  • Return to in-person events gradually and in accordance with public health guidelines
  • Maintain online participation for small group events
  • Train at least one new person for every role in putting on an assembly
  • Finalize code of conduct

Stretch Goals

  • Maintain online participation for assemblies
  • Create space for processing emotional toll of pandemic via a support group or similar
  • Advertise in local, neighborhood outlets
  • Restore our supplies of swag materials (stickers, magnets, shirts, tokens)

In-Person Guidelines

Check out our new document outlining how we’re going to have in-person events for the near future! Everyone who attends or hosts and in-person event must read and understand this. SAA remains committed and vigilant for the health of our community and beyond.

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