Tomorrow (September 18th) the Spiritual Naturalist Society will celebrate it’s third anniversary! I thought it would be fitting that today’s article give everyone an overview of what we’ve accomplished, what’s going on, and where we plan to go in the future.
As you may know, the Society is about more than a website, or a forum, or publishing articles. We are a non-profit community organization. The mission of the Spiritual Naturalist Society is to “spread awareness of Spiritual Naturalism as a philosophy, encourage the further development of Spiritual Naturalist thought and practice, and educate others on the traditional wisdom and contemplative practices that inspire Spiritual Naturalism. In addition, the Society exists to help bring Spiritual Naturalists together for mutual learning, growth, encouragement, and fellowship”.
To that end, I’ll give an update on each of the major areas of activity that support this mission…
This includes our public articles and print media, and potentially other channels in the future. Our public articles are totally free and could constitute a monthly magazine all on their own. They are produced by our wonderful volunteer staff writers and guest-writers. We have maintained a weekly schedule of articles that focus on Spiritual Naturalist thought, perspectives, and applicable practices for naturalists. Very few other organizations provide these kinds of materials, and we look at it as a major part of our mission. Each year, we bundle the best of these into an annual anthology book, which is available in print or eBook format through our website, Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobles online, and more.
The most exciting recent development in education is our first online course: SNS 101, Introduction to Spiritual Naturalism, which launched just weeks ago. This course provides students with the elements and tool to begin building their own practice and explore Spiritual Naturalism further. In addition to our course, we have our educational archives for Supporting Members. Even when SNS first launched, these already held hundreds of thousands of words, equivalent to a meaty 400-page book. Since then, we have continued to add new materials to the archives. These works tend to be a little more in depth than the public articles, and go into a number of specific traditions. They come from scholars, professors, and authors – some written especially for the archives, and some donated pieces by their respective authors.
> Community Development:
SNS has worked to help develop SN community in several ways and on many different levels over these three years. First, within our Supporting Membership, we have provided a special forum where members can discuss deeper issues of naturalistic spirituality, or simply socialize and get to know one another. For Regular Members and the public, we have created and host many other forums, such as those in our Spiritual Naturalist Friends group on Facebook, and through the comments sections of our public articles. We have also hosted online live chats of various kinds, through which new friendships have been formed and much has been shared. But we also work to help support, facilitate, and build face-to-face offline communities – both within SNS and with existing independent groups. We have reached out to partner-organizations, sharing announcements and supporting one another. This year we created a special section of our website called the “Local Groups Center”. There we list local groups and have some resources and printouts local groups can use to get into contemplative subjects and practices. We have also created communication hubs (email lists) for all the major areas we see clusters of members appearing, so they can make contact with Spiritual Naturalists in their area more easily.
This quarter has seen our sharpest growth in membership and social media followers. Our website attracts tens of thousands of people, and we have a reach potential of tens of thousands on Facebook. Our Facebook page followers recently surpassed 7,000 and we have several hundred subscribers and several other categories of community members through many sources. Over the past three years we have placed a few print ads and sent out press releases, but most of our outreach happens online, through Facebook and other social media. Our publishing and other mission-based activities also play an outreach role. One of the most recent and exciting of these is our new podcast, Spiritual Naturalism Today, for which we will record the first episode this Friday (and will be available sometime after that).
> Arts & Music:
We have been adding many new artists, poets, and musicians to our Supporting Member archives. These are artists who we have reached out to, and have donated these pieces to be housed there, and who support what we are doing. Their work has also graced the cover of our books and some articles. In addition, many of our members have donated their own inspirational pieces, particularly poetry, which have been enjoyed and appreciated by all of us. We have more plans in the future for expanding and including our Arts & Music department into other areas, as you can read below.
We have worked hard to coordinate functions between staff members so that we process all activities of the organization efficiently. Every cent is tracked in our financial records, and all communications from the outside and between staff has ways of being handled. We also have a process for responding to member and reader inquiries, and processing their memberships. We have also established procedures for responding to those who are interested in volunteering, developing them into the roles most satisfying and suited to their time and interests. This year, we also formed the SNS Council, dispersing leadership decisions to a voting body, which is just one step in our continued plans to further democratize our organization as the number of people available makes practical.
> First Spiritual Naturalist Retreat:
One of our most major future plans is for our first-ever face-to-face get-together for people from all over. We were originally thinking of this as a national convention, but will now be thinking of more of a retreat format. This Spiritual Naturalist Retreat would be in a natural setting and include many kinds of activities, from social, to lecture/discourses, to meditation and ritual events, inspired by many different traditions. We will be developing details, and reaching out to partner-organizations in the hopes of their involvement too. We will keep you updated as more details on the makeup and timing of this event develop!
> More Local Group Support:
We also plan to create more robust support for local groups. This includes a list we are building of existing independent local groups across the U.S. (eventually to branch out further), which we will then reach out to in the hopes of helping people in their area find them. As we build more of these relationships, we will continue to help communications between local SN’s who want to form new groups and offer advice and support to that end. We also plan to put together a more complete package of guidelines and resource materials into physical packets we can mail out to new and existing groups, with all kinds of helpful information and materials.
> More Arts-related Projects:
We are also hoping to support more in the Spiritual Naturalist arts. We would like to produce a calendar that features art and poetry from our associate artists and members. We may also create a coffee table art book showcasing Spiritual Naturalist artworks. Arts and music will feature prominently in our rituals and other events at the retreat as well (see above).
> Expand outreach and advertising:
We would like to increase our press release frequency and distribution, hopefully landing more interviews and coverage. This may include more print and radio advertising in major markets as well, as resources allow. In getting out the word about SNS, we are also helping to spread awareness of Spiritual Naturalism and bring like-minded people together in community – our very mission.
> Wider Publishing:
So far, our self-published anthology books have been designed mainly for the benefit of our members and existing readers. But we would like to move from self-publishing our anthology book, to going through a major publisher. This would add to the benefit of the books as an outreach tool as well. We will need help in doing this. Other types of books are also possible.
> Additional Services:
We hope to produce more educational videos on Spiritual Naturalist philosophy and traditional contemplative practices helpful to naturalists. We will be making continued improvements to our website and online tools, and we hope to develop even more online courses!
What is Needed
To make these plans a reality takes something which is in limited supply: elbow grease! None of the wonderful things I’ve reported on here would have been possible without the inspired dedication of our volunteer staff and other helpers. For our future plans, we’re going to need your participation. Any amount of time, in any type of area can be useful to us, and would be appreciated and almost all of it can be done in your own timing. Here are some biggies we especially need for the plans outlined above:
> Help in I.T.
We have a wonderful IT Director who would love to have some additional help. Those who are good with web design, especially WordPress, should let us know they’d like to donate some time.
> Local Groups Facilitator
Most of our big plans of being a benefit to local groups will require we have someone focused on that. If you’d like to help get together support materials and communicate with local group leaders, please let us know.
We are looking for an Editor who will mainly: (1) Send out reminders to authors when their articles are due, (2) Look over their articles for any mistakes or formatting standards before publishing, and (3) Keep a look out for promising writers and reach out to those who may want to join our writing team.
> Help in art department
Our Arts Director could also use some help. As mentioned, we’d like to expand our support and involvement in Spiritual Naturalist art, and would love your help. You don’t need to be an artist, but certainly could be. If you love the arts and want to help the Spiritual Naturalist movement, let us know.
> Help in member services
We are always looking for volunteers who can help host and moderate interesting discussions for members, respond to member inquiries, and make their experience with SNS fulfilling. If you are a people-person with a passion for naturalistic spirituality, please contact us.
Sometimes, given my responsibilities as executive director, it is possible to get lost in the administrative aspects necessary to any responsible non-profit organization. But I’m constantly reminded by the eloquence of our writers, the talent of our artists, the fellowship of our members, and the dedication of our volunteers, what inspired me to do what I’m doing.
What we are doing here is about the good we can do in the lives of people who are looking for greater happiness and fulfillment in life. It’s not even just about the Spiritual Naturalist Society as a ‘brand’. Flags, names, and logos come and go; this is why we put out free articles, offer free memberships, help partner-organizations in their missions, and work to help even local groups that aren’t chapters. I have read testimonies about what meeting fellow Spiritual and Religious Naturalists has done, and how the lives of our members and readers have been affected by the practices we promote (you can read some of their inspiring words here). This is what keeps me going and gives me hopes for the possibilities of Spiritual Naturalism in the world.
I am so happy to see the good we’ve accomplished in the first three short years in SNS. This is all possible only because of our Supporting Members, Staff, Boards, and volunteers. Getting to know so many good people has been such a pleasure. If you are not a member, I invite you to join our community! If you are not a volunteer, I invite you to lend a hand! I think you’ll find it as fulfilling as I have.
With love and thanks,
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.