by Amy Monsky, Secular Humanist Families of Charleston
My group, the Secular Humanist Families of Charleston (SHFC), started in much the same way other groups did. It was the outcome of a search for community. As an atheist, I didn’t want to be alone. I had recently moved to South Carolina and was surprised by how oppressive the religious culture sometimes felt. Fortunately, I found a strong and well-established local atheist group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry (SHL). The support I found there was amazing, but there weren’t many young families, and I longed to find other atheists in the same life stage as my own. As it turns out, I was far from alone.
Inspired by the success of Amie Parsons’ one-day Camp Quest in Texas, I banded together two other parents whom I met via SHL’s online discussion board and, with SHL’s support, decided to host our first-ever Family Picnic in May, 2009. Although our turn-out was fairly small, it was clear there was an interest in activities that weren’t just family-friendly, but family-oriented.
Not long after the picnic, I joined the Board of SHL with the goal of organizing monthly activities for families. One of the first orders of business was to determine who was out there and what people wanted. I put together a survey to address those questions. The overwhelming response and enthusiasm once again confirmed that there was indeed a need for secular family support.
The summer of 2009 passed in a whirlwind of meeting new friends and discovering old ones. It was with great pleasure and on more than one occasion that I “met” other moms whom I knew from other parenting circles but didn’t know were non-religious. I was both elated to learn that there were so many of us out there and a little sad that none of us had felt comfortable enough to share our worldview in a general setting before. Countless emails were passed among this eager young group as we tried to find a way to connect, and when we did meet up, it was sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise due to the release of the pent-up excitement we all shared, basking in our new-found freedom to be ourselves.
August 13, 2009 was a happy day as our fledgling group became official. We were now the proud owners of a yahoo! group and thus was born the Secular Humanist Families of Charleston. We quickly gained critical mass and, thanks to a tremendous amount of teamwork, we have been able to sustain our momentum for the nearly 18 months since our beginning.
We stay busy with regularly scheduled playdates, Moms Nights Out, and weekend activities ranging from a casual get-together at a park to a more structured educational program or guided tour. We also have occasional volunteer opportunities, Dads Poker Nights, seasonal celebrations like our annual fall corn maze and December cookie exchange and contest, and fun socials like a beer tasting dinner and our newest venture, a Supper Club where each participant brings a dish for a special menu. This month our Supper Club will feature cuisine from Morocco!
The family group benefits from its affiliation with the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. SHL offers monthly activities like a book discussion group and meetings with interesting speakers. In fact, the speaker for our March meeting is Dale McGowan. While he’s here in Charleston, Dale will present his Parenting Beyond Belief seminar, an event that has already aroused the interest of parents across the state.
SHFC now has over 60 members, and one of the things I like most is our diversity. Our families range from working to stay-at-home parents, from public schoolers to homeschoolers, from families with heterosexual parents to gay and lesbian families, from attachment parenting styles to more main stream parenting, from vegetarians to meat-lovers, and so on.
I am constantly learning from the wealth of experiences and resources that others share, and I strive to be a better person because of it. We all do. The members in this group are some of the best people I have ever known, and I am proud to call them my friends.