Who Are We?

The Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture is a humanistic community located in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City.  Our members and friends come from the Bronx, Yonkers and other neighborhoods. We welcome you —  come visit, join our activities, and consider membership!

We hold Sunday meetings at our meeting house.  These  are open to the public, including members, friends, and visitors.  Called Platform Meetings, these explore ideas and practices we hope might inspire more ethical living.

In addition to our Sunday meetings, we are passionate about social justice work and opportunities for community and learning.  Our professional Ethical Leader provides individual guidance and coaching on request, on such issues as our relationships or ethical and life choices.

In some ways we function like a traditional religious congregation, but with a different focus from that of major organized religions. We focus on the here and now, what we can do in this life. We know people are not perfect, and always have room for learning and growing.  We are dedicated to creating a more ethical world where every person’s worth and individuality might flourish.  Compassion and reason guide our actions. We deeply value our connection to each other and welcome new people into that circle of connection.

We are one of 22+ local Ethical communities around the country, tied together by our national organization, the American Ethical Union. The American Ethical Union is a member of Humanists International.

A Little History

The Ethical Culture movement (including 22+ societies and fellowships) began in 1876 with Felix Adler as its founder and first Leader. The original idea behind the Ethical Movement was to create and sustain congregations of diverse individuals, focused not on traditional religious ideas that no longer worked for many people, but on this life and how we act in it.

The Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture was founded in 1948. Dr. Matthew Ies Spetter was our founding Leader. Eighteen years later, in 1966, the current meeting house was constructed, and it was enlarged in 1995.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click the question to see an answer.

What is the appropriate attire? How should I dress?
We encourage people to come as you are. Most dress casually. Wear whatever makes you comfortable and that you consider appropriate for a public gathering, as we are a non-judgmental group.
Do you have a specific text from which you draw your beliefs, or a founder whom you revere?
We do not have any text, or any particular set of beliefs or dogma that is mandatory for our members to follow. We sometimes refer to or quote our founder, Felix Adler, but we do not revere him or study his writings the way one studies the Bible for “the truth.” We believe that people are fallible, Felix Adler included. Some of Adler’s ideas and beliefs in founding the first Ethical Society are still upheld today, while other ideas of his are completely outdated or do not match our modern humanist world view.
In Ethical Culture, do you believe in God?
As an organization, we are nontheistic, which means that our discussions and activities do not include God or the supernatural. Our members are welcome to explore the existence of God outside of the Ethical Society, and they may believe in the supernatural. Our focus as an Ethical Society, however, is on the here and now and our personal connections to one another.
Is Ethical Culture an atheist group?
Our organization is nontheistic, by which we mean that God and the supernatural aren’t part of our community discussions and activities. That means that many atheists and agnostics, or others who don’t have any belief in gods, are comfortable in our community.  We also have members who would describe themselves as deists, theists, naturalistic theists or “spiritual but not religious” – people who want to put ethics first in this shared community.  
Can I belong to another religious or humanist organization as well as the Ethical Society?
Our members are free to belong to a church, synagogue, or other religious organization while also affiliating themselves with us.  And some members belong to other humanist organizations while also belonging to the Ethical Society.
How is the Ethical Society distinct from Sunday Assembly?
Sunday Assembly is a relatively new movement of godless congregations. Each chapter has a program once per month and the programs in each chapter follow the same format. These programs include music, a short message on positive living, and community reflection. Our Ethical Society is different because we meet once per week and our Sunday programs have many different formats depending on the presenter, the topic, and the needs of the community. We also offer more community building programs during the week and we do social justice projects together in order to reflect the value of “deed above creed.”
How is the Ethical Society distinct from a Unitarian Universalist Church?
Both have a diversity of beliefs among members, and a focus more on this world, but there are some differences. The focus of an Ethical Society is more tightly on how we live our lives and we are less likely to explore matters of belief, including attitudes towards theism, as a community.  Similarly, we tend not to celebrate traditional religious holidays, but instead, have seasonal festivals that honor the underlying values in many religious celebrations. Our Sunday meetings look a bit less like a Protestant worship service, with no prayers, though we do have a central talk, share joys and concerns, sing a few simple songs together, hear some excellent music and include a few rituals to set the time off as special.
I am not a 'joiner.' Is the Ethical Society right for me?
Many of our members and friends would say that they aren’t “joiners.” They don’t like being a card carrying member of any congregation or organization. What’s unique about us is that we do not force our members to do anything or believe anything in particular. If you like visiting us from time to time but do not want to become a member, that is fine with us.
How do I check you out?
 You are welcome to visit our Sunday morning programs or any other events that interest you on our calendar! If you have any questions before your visit, feel free to contact our Leader or a staff member (above). You can also visit us on Facebook or Meetup.

Staff

Grace Cobbinah, Office Manager

Jone Johnson Lewis, Leader

Elizabeth Collier, Director of Community Outreach

Society Leadership

Board / Governance

Key Ideals

We don’t have any required beliefs.  These are some ideals that we promote:

  • Every person has worth. 
  • Every person is unique.  
  • Understanding and accepting differences is as important as finding connection and solidarity beyond our differences. 
  • Relationships are central to the ethical life.  
  • Reason, compassion, and responsibility are keys to the ethical life.  
  • Ethics is a life-long, multigenerational learning experience. We all have room to grow and change.

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