Howdy y’all! It’s Ross Llewallyn, outgoing president of Sunday Assembly Atlanta with one more yearly blog post highlighting events and progress from the past year while looking forward to the future of secular community.
Sharing about 2021 activities can’t go without mentioning the pandemic, of course, as we continually adjusted to the next normal. Any timelines for returning to our pre-pandemic activities were guesses, but we did get back together many times through the year to foster that invaluable reconnection between community members. I believe in-person events were some of the strongest in welcoming new folks, as well.
First let’s remember our 12 assemblies and big gatherings this year! Each month we created an inspiring, reflective, and interactive online experience revolving around different themes and spotlighting different members of our community. Below is our playlist of all our assemblies.
I was particularly proud of our response to the Capitol attack on January 6th and to the spa shootings in our city. We also welcomed our originally-planned speaker for March 2020 a year later to finally share the history of women in space exploration! So much effort goes into programming these gatherings that at their best encourage an entire community to come together, consider new ideas, and emerge changed.
In December, we recognized the winter solstice with a walk at Freedom Park as the sun went down. I wrote a script encouraging those gathered to leave something behind in the darkness. Multiple people shared how meaningful it was to just be around one another again.
Some of our members joined the beautifully-produced multi-Assembly HumanLight celebration event, as well. I lit the candle for Reason.
The band put together at least 8 songs I can find, which means a lot to me because of how this group stays together, continues to get creative and work hard, and then brings an essential, unique, and uplifting energy to our assemblies. The SAA band, changing through the years, just can’t be replaced.
Small groups continued throughout the year, coming in and out as community needs and capacity changed. Meditation, anti-racist action group, secular parenting, and book club provided spaces for conversation, curiosity, and motivation. I loved seeing the arts and crafts from earlier this year that kids in our community made (with expert guidance!).
I’m grateful for Paulina, who introduced lovely graphic design to some of our events, as well. The book drive resulted in 220+ books donated!
Halfway through the year, we started in-person small group events again. Coffee talk had its biggest event ever in the summer, which was very exciting! We also held a chill walking event at Westside Park and got back to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
I was featured alongside others talking about SAA and challenges in organizing on the Religion News Service. Check that out!
I’m proud that we finalized and published our own code of conduct, which is notably a single page so folks will actually read it. There’s no fluff, just what you need to know on how to behave and how to find help if you need it.
“When Are We Back To In-Person Assemblies?”
Great question. I have been asking our old venue, First Existentialist Congregation, often. Omicron delayed a potential return in January, and now we’re in a monthly waiting game. Our in-person guidelines are evolving based on new understanding, as well. Expect vaccination and masks required at least when attending our assemblies.
Every Sunday Assembly I know (and other communities, churches…) has experienced declining attendance while being virtual. It’s a serious challenge to balance public health with community wellbeing, which of course are also connected themselves. You’re Zoomed out, and so am I. Volunteer organizer energy is low everywhere. Once we’re able, it’s crucial we see each other again in-person to reconnect and revitalize ourselves.
We welcomed and said goodbye to several board members in 2021. Brandon, Paulina, and Adam joined the board at the top of the year, and Andy said goodbye (though he’s remained a valuable presence in organizational discussions). Dianne stepped down from her board position in July and looks to be finding meaningful connections with singing groups and the Unitarian Universalist groups near her, so we wish her the best!
Brandon and Adam also stepped down at the top of 2022 after their 1-year terms. Brandon will keep producing the monthly newsletter, a valuable public update on our activities, and neither he nor Adam will be strangers to the community! Especially with kids during this time of physical disconnection, I appreciate a refocus on family or self.
A guiding principle with our all-volunteer organization has been consent, not coercion. If we don’t have the capacity to keep up a small group event series or have all the pieces of an assembly, then we don’t do those things. We communicate the need to our membership, and we have seen this community respond many times over in our 8-year history.
Marla, a former board member, once recalled me years ago questioning what I had to offer to the community. Since then, I’ve learned an immense amount, both in practical skills, leadership, and planning, but also in humility, acceptance, and awe. While doing so I believe I’ve contributed a lot to the success and sustainability of SAA.
I also believe you, dear reader, contain a flourishing potential. If you’d like to find out what that might be with us, I’d welcome it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join an upcoming Assembly Planning Meeting. If you haven’t joined our community, get on our Meetup and Facebook groups!
Lastly, I, Ross, after 4.5 years, am no longer the president of Sunday Assembly Atlanta! Anna has accepted the mantle, and we’re grateful for her doing so. I’ll be stepping back from monthly assembly planning and moving my focus to Sunday Assembly in America and personal projects. I’m still on the board, doing coffee talks, and loving this community.
Bold goals were met.
- 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)
For 2022 goals, I’ll keep it simple: get back to in-person assemblies, and invite those who’ve drifted away to reconnect with us and find warmth and kindness in our spaces.
Thank you for you consideration of and care for our community by reading! We’ll see you at an event soon, I hope.