For the past year, I’ve been quietly planning an annual national conference for the Future of Ethical Societies (FES), the young Ethical Humanist affiliate of the American Ethical Union (AEU). The location rotates every year, and this year it’s in St. Louis. The theme of the conference this year: dialogue

If you’re not familiar with any of these acronyms or organizations, don’t you worry. This awesome event is open to people of all backgrounds ages 18-35, not just those who are members of FES or connected to Ethical Humanism.

The real benefit of these annual conferences is that it’s an opportunity to connect with other young people in a stimulating and meaningful way. And who can’t benefit from that?

But let me back up for a moment and explain what this whole FES thing is about…

What is FES?

The Future of Ethical Societies is a community of 18-35-year-olds across the country that connect online and through local gatherings, but primarily through national conferences. It’s an organization founded as an affiliate of the AEU in 2004 with the intent of creating and maintaining connections with and through the Ethical Culture Movement.

If you need an intro or refresher on what Ethical Culture and Humanism is, I’d refer you this way.

Some FES members, like me, grew up going to an Ethical Society and spent our high school years bonding with other young Ethical Humanists across the country. This was through a similar group of young people called YES (Youth of Ethical Societies) for teenagers. In many ways, FES is an extension of YES.

But there are also a number of participants who don’t have an affiliation with an Ethical Society or didn’t when they first began participating in FES.

As a very clearly impartial third party, I’d have to say that FES is a really cool group of unique young adults. And that’s why we make it a point to organize every year on Memorial Day Weekend despite limited time and the great distance between us.

The Conference

As we are a group that’s spread out across the US, we don’t frequently have the opportunity to meet in person. The FES Conference is our one annual meet-up. The cool thing is that there’s always returning people, but there’s also always new people. Every year is different.

The Conference is always held on Memorial Day Weekend and this will be the 15th FES Conference.

The organizers (who are democratically nominated and selected each year) pick a theme for these conferences every year. I had a vision for the theme of the FES 2018 Conference while I was sitting in a meeting at the FES 2017 Conference. And that’s why I, as this year’s Conference Planner, advocated for this theme:

“Bridging the Divide with Dialogue”

Why this Theme?

It’s no secret this country is currently facing a massive social and political schism. Between the Trump administration and movements in support of progress, we’re in the midst of some tense times. As these two groups continue to polarize, it becomes increasingly more difficult to engage in dialogue.

You know, dialogue. The exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue— especially a political or religious issue —all with the intention of reaching amicable ends.

It’s hard these days to have these conversations. Unless you’re just totally disengaged from politics and the reality we live in, I’m willing to bet you’ve had a difficult conversation, debate, relating to politics or religion in the past year and a half.

In today’s political climate, there’s no room for connection. When Americans disagree now, very rarely is there a happy ending where everyone becomes friends again. People are willingly separating themselves by choking off communication in the name of their values. That can be a dangerous path.

That’s why at this year’s FES Conference, we’ll be workshopping our ability to dialogue with those who we disagree with. Dialogue is crucial to bridging that schism between Americans because when your intention in conversation is, ultimately, to connect, you find a way to reckon with your disagreements.

If you understand the value in dialogue and want to improve on your own ability to dialogue, this conference will be a great opportunity for you.

What to Expect at the FES Conference

May 25th to May 28th are the conference dates. Here’s what we’ll be up to:

  • Dialogue Workshop Led by Wally Siewart— A 2-hour workshop in the Hanke Room at the St. Louis Ethical Society
  • Sunday Platform Led by Conference Attendees— A “Platform” is the Sunday morning community meeting. Conference attendees who would like to participate in Platform are welcome to speak to the Ethical Society community.
  • Service Project with International Institute— At each conference, we do a group service project. This year we will do service work that benefits immigrants to St. Louis.
  • Get to Know Ethical Humanists Both Locally and from Around the Country— FES may not be a huge group, but we do cover a lot of distance nationally. When we get together, we have a lot of fun. The St. Louis Ethical Society has the largest membership in the country so there’s a lot of Humanist community to know.
  • Stay in Hazlet Cottages on Carlyle Lake— Just an hour from the city, these cottages overlook a lake just east of St. Louis in Illinois. This is where the group is staying but you also have the option to make your own arrangements.

Check out the full schedule here.

The Deets

This conference is open to all people aged 18-35. You need not be a FES member to attend, nor have any connection to an Ethical Society.

There are registration options for those who do not want to stay in Hazlet Cottages or have their own transportation. You can register and get more information here! The event is also on Facebook.

FES offers grants to people who need help with the cost of getting to St. Louis if you’re not local.

If you’re interested in coming to the conference or have questions, you can reach out to me directly.

FES XV is gonna be the shit.

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