From @HarvardHumanist Archives: 2014 in Review

From @HarvardHumanist Archives: 2014 in Review May 19, 2015

NOTE: we will occasionally re-post posts from the old, now archived Humanist Community at Harvard blog, which was live from 2011-2014 and has now been replaced by the new website. Enjoy!


It’s been a year like no other for the Humanist Community at Harvard (HCH). First of all, we became…The Humanist Hub! (No, really: we filed legal paperwork allowing ourselves to “do business as” The Humanist Hub.) This new name emphasizes that while we continue to serve Harvard students as for 40 years, we are not and have never been funded by Harvard, and almost all of our events and programs are now open to everyone, with no Harvard affiliation whatsoever required! We’ll still occasionally refer to ourselves as HCH, though, and we will always love mentoring and providing special community opportunities for humanist, atheist and agnostic Harvard students.

We ended 2013 with our huge Dec. 8, 2013 grand openingcomplete with an historic Proclamation in our honor, by Governor Deval Patrick, of “Humanist Community Day” across Massachusetts. But once that was over, we had tons of work to do– literally. We had to install walls and lights, build a stage, finish furnishing and decorating 3200 square feet, and so much more. And we did it! …Everything but the kitchen sink. (We actually do still need to install a kitchen sink. $1800 donation to put your name on it, anyone? We’ll serve you a meal off the first set of dishes washed properly here.) Doors opened wide once again on Feb. 2 with a Sunday program featuring Humanist/feminist heroine Judith Norsigian, and we’ve since met every week, with nearly 200 public programs that drew many thousands of attendees. Some highlights:

  • The Humanist Learning Lab (our secular Sunday school): finished Pilot Year 2 and began Pilot Year 3. Dozens of kids participated. We hired an amazing new teacher and perfected our curricular framework. Most recently, we’ve begun to receive donations that will help us prepare detailed lesson plans and instructions for use by groups nationwide. 
  • If you want to help us spread expert-crafted education for humanist/secular kids and families to a local community near you, please donate now!
  • All-Community Programs every Sunday at 1:30pm: featuring inspiring speakers, discussions, brunches, films, music, poetry, and service projects; we are continually honing our format based on your feedback, most recently to add free healthy & tasty snacks and re-emphasize meaningful socializing, every Sunday.
  • Increased our “VIA” community service/social justice programming: Our Values in Action Programs this year included: packing more than 20,000 meals for food-insecure in Boston, for now nearly 150,000 since 2011; a thriving VIA speaker series engaging with timely issues such as inner-city violence, Muslim-Atheist cooperation, and homelessness; well-attended workshops on race and diversity in the humanist community as organized by our 2013-14 Harvard Divinity School intern Sonia David; Sonia’s successful programs will be continued in 2015 by her successor Christopher Raiche, who comes to us as the president of the Harvard Buddhist Community. With many students and members feeling passionately about the recent events in Ferguson, MO and nationwide; we have plans (and financial pledges!) in hand to get more involved locally in addressing the “root causes” of social injustice, in 2015. Contact to get involved.
  • Supported the continued growth of Humanist student life at Harvard: With the Humanist Hub as a constant resource, 2014 was one of the most active years yet for Harvard Humanist students, who met here weekly throughout the year. Highlights included an “atheist coming out week” that continued what has become a tradition of drawing majorattention on campus and online; student group. Congressman Barney Frank was a worthy choice to join Sir Salman Rushdie, Joss Whedon, Eddie Izzard and others as our eighth annual (time flies!) awardee for Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism. Our annual early fall debate with conservative evangelical student group “Harvard College Faith in Action” (HCFA) was jam packed again, but this time we hosted over 100 students from both groups at an after-party at the Hub, which led to a movie night here for the two groups later in the fall. Students took crucial leadership roles in our VIA and Learning Lab programs, and A Humanist Year was one of several projects on which our students worked to help explore what humanist community should look like in practice.
  • Added and grew our adult-ed/weeknight options: new young professionals game nights; an every-Monday Humanist Hub discussion group; book groups; our Mindfulness Group continued to meet weekly for ~5th year; screenings of Cosmos and other Humanist-relevant TV shows; expert-taught weekly Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses, and more, all now appearing regularly at the Hub!

As Emma Kowal, president of the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics (HCHAA) put it:

“For the undergraduate humanist community, the Hub is a total game-changer. At our first social event I probably had a dozen people come up to me to tell me how much they loved our space. I think it’s incredibly validating for the humanist presence on campus – I could tell the board was proud to host a joint event there and show it off. I think it legitimizes us to visitors as well; it allows us to sort of hold our own amidst the religious communities, which of course gather in these magnificent churches, since we’re now anchored in such a beautiful, spacious and conveniently-located place for undergraduates. We’re so unbelievably lucky to have a space like this for HCHAA events, and I can’t wait to make it feel like home this year.”


  • A Beautiful March Memorial Service for our founder Tom Ferrick
  • Hired Vanessa Zoltan as Tom Ferrick Memorial Assistant Humanist Chaplain
  • Held the first ever baby naming ceremony at the Hub, for our youngest member, Leo
  • The whole community came together around Greg’s wedding in June… not to mention, to join the millions of Americans who watched his hit new reality TV show about weddings, which debuted in July (and which will be back for Season Two in the spring).


If we listed every major achievement of 2014 by Hub members we’d be here all year. So we’ll stick to this impressive list of achievements in humanist leadership, by our community members: 

  • Our longtime graduate student leader James Croft hired as Leader in Training, Ethical Society of St. Louis…and almost immediately got thrown into the fray as a Humanist public leader in Ferguson. James and Greg Epstein are still working on their forthcoming book, The Godless Congregation, for Simon & Schuster.
  • In a long and carefully planned transition, we sent our Assistant Humanist Chaplain Chris Stedman off to direct the new Yale Humanist Community; under Chris’s leadership, the YHC is doing big things already.
  • Our other former Assistant Humanist Chaplain, John Figdor, continued good work at the Stanford organization he launched in 2012 after another long-planned transition from HCH. In 2014 John released a book, Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart, that made national headlines.
  • Our longtime member and summer 2014 Values in Action Intern Walker Bristol graduated from Tufts University, began studying at Harvard Divinity School, and was appointed as Tufts’ first-ever “Humanist in Residence” after years of his and other students clamoring for such an appointment.
  • The family of the late Marina Keegan (Yale University class of 2012), whom Greg Epstein advised for-credit on a senior research trip to study Humanism in India, saw Marina’s posthumously published book rise to the top ten of the New York Times Bestseller list; Opposite of Loneliness, which includes some of Marina’s writing from India, was named Goodreads #1 book of the year in nonfiction.
  • We elected Diana Limbach Lempel our new board president; Diana is our first woman, and first millennial president. A Harvard college graduate and current doctoral candidate at Harvard, Diana first got involved with HCH after Greg performed her 2011 wedding.
  • After days of conversation this summer about the importance of Humanist community building on campus and beyond, we advised our friend Bart Campolo to be touch with the University of Southern California; in an announcement that made major waves in US Christianity and beyond, Campolo became the Humanist Chaplain at USC this fall. Campolo will tell his story at the Hub in March.
  • Rick Heller, the longtime leader of our Humanist Mindfulness Group, signed a contract to publish a book in 2015, about the group and how people can launch similar groups anywhere, for publisher New World Library, which publishes the work of Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell, among others.
  • Dr. Joe Gerstein, our longtime treasurer and founder of SMART Recovery, the world’s second leading addiction recovery method, saw the SMART organization receive a White House proclamation and a huge celebration in honor of its 20th anniversary.


  • We lit up Harvard Square with a bright blue Humanist Hub, passed by thousands daily
  • We hosted sold-out events with hundreds of attendees for speakers like Steven Pinker, Robert Pinsky, Rebecca Goldstein, Julia Sweeney, and Sam Harris
  • ; some 2015 highlights include author Piper Kerman (Orange is the New Black); media critic Anita Sarkeesian; and interfaith activist Karenna Gore.
  • We formed the Humanist Hub’s House Band; look for an album of original songs in 2015.
  • Established a “Community Ambassadors” program for some of our top volunteer leaders
  • Launched pilot year one of our formal Humanist Hub membership
  • Gained over 100 members in less than a month! With many, many more to come in 2015, and more perks and special opportunities for our members, too.


  • We were filmed by CNN for five days for their upcoming documentary on atheism in America
  • We were covered this year by the Boston Globe, TIME Magazine, CNN, Salon, Boston Magazine, Scout Cambridge, Think Progress, the Washington Post, and many more.
  • We were featured prominently in sociologist Phil Zuckerman’s new book Living the Secular Life, that was reviewed in the New York Times and elsewhere.

Highlights of Greg’s Speaking:

Each year Greg Epstein travels to select cities and campuses around the world to speak on Humanism. Greg has spoken and participated in panels everywhere from the White House to US Congress to the Aspen Institute, and in 2014, he

  • Gave the closing benediction at Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s Interfaith Inaugural
  • Spoke for the entire student body and taught four classes at Fenway HS– a predominantly black/minority public school in Boston. A majority of Fenway students called themselves nonreligious. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had the time and resources to reach out to students there more often?
  • Represented Humanism and the nonreligious at the Religions for the Earth conference, a gathering of 200 the world’s leading religious and spiritual leaders, organized by Karenna Gore and featuring Vice President Al Gore and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. We have big follow-up plans for 2015, including Ms. Gore’s visit to the Hub for Harvard Alumni weekend, May 31. Read Greg’s remarks at the September conference.
  • Comforted hundreds of families at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. See his remarks on Grief, Winter, and Kindling Lights.
  • Visited Harvard student groups such as the Radcliffe Forum, and the Open Hillel Conference.
  • Spoke at the World Humanist Congress, Oxford, UK. The WHC featured two international panels on Humanist Community Building!
  • And, of course, gave monthly talks at the Hub starting in June. Read about January’s talk and RSVP here!

It’s even been a big finish, with solstice & NYE parties, holiday discussions, interviews with three local publications about humanist holidays, a sign up on the Cambridge Common, and a big announcement of the busiest and best lineup of speakers we’ve ever put together.

…And all of this was thanks to you, our hundreds of donors and supporters!

We receive no financial support whatsoever from Harvard University: every single thing we do, every staff salary we pay (Even Greg’s!), and every dollar we pay to rent and renovate our beautiful, sun-filled 3200 square foot space in the heart of Harvard Square, is because of tax deductible donations from people like you.

In January we’ll begin to finalize our 2015 budget, and we hope to maintain or increase our programs for the 35.6%* of current Harvard undergraduate students who are atheist or agnostic; to grow our Humanist Learning Lab for local kids and parents; to offer more VIA service opportunities, and to expand the reach of our extremely popular weekly Sunday programs, through advertising and video production.

So please consider making a generous donation today!

-Greg, Sarah, Jade (full time staff) and Vanessa, Christopher, Rebecca, Tom (part time) and everyone at the Humanist Hub and HCH!

*According to a major recent survey of the class of 2018

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