The Minnesota Atheists Center
by August Berkshire
Minnesota Atheists is the state’s oldest, largest, and most active freethought organization. We promote not only our own activities but, through our Atheist Weekly E-mail (AWE), those of many other groups. We supply atheist speakers to other freethought groups, especially at colleges. At our recent Day of Reason celebration at the Minnesota State Capitol, we invited representatives from most of the other freethought groups in Minnesota to share the stage with us – and many of them did.
Thus Minnesota Atheists is turning into an umbrella organization with resources that can be shared by other groups for the common good of our movement. Another resource we would like to add is a public building situated in a highly visible location. It could be used for meetings and socializing and would house our research and lending libraries. We might even be able to offer office space to other freethought groups.
A building with our name on it would give us “pride of place” and increase our stature and visibility in the larger community. A building would also give us a base from which we could reach out and contribute back to the community. We could offer homework help to students, fundraisers for charities, collect and distribute food for the hungry, and perhaps even provide a soup kitchen from time to time.
Our Minnesota Atheists Building Fund was begun in 1996 with about $3,000 in profits that we had realized from hosting an Atheist Alliance International convention that spring. Over the years the fund grew slowly until, in February 2004, a newsletter cover article by MNA member Matthew Richardson generated new enthusiasm for the idea of our own building. This led to the formation, in 2006, of “The 300 Club,” which was a play on the religious “700 Club” and which began at the time the movie 300 was in theaters.
The goal of “The 300 Club” was to find 300 members to each pledge to give us $1,000 over four years – an average of about $5.00 a week per person. While the club is short of the 300 members we had hoped for, we have still raised a significant amount of money and our Building Fund now stands at about $125,000. It is with deepest appreciation and gratitude that we thank everyone who has contributed to this fund over the years, and who continue to do so.
We have also discussed the possibility of raising funds by borrowing from members interest-free for a period of five to ten years. These loans would be secured by the building and the interest that members would have normally earned on such loans would be tax-deductible as a donation.
We had originally hoped to find a building that would be centrally located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, would have an auditorium to seat 100-150 people, would have room for offices and libraries, and would have plenty of off-street parking. This is still our ultimate goal. Such a building would probably cost $300,000-$500,000.
However, last year’s board of director’s made a keen observation and decision. With the Building Fund generating only 1% in bank interest, and with the real estate market being in a slump, our board realized that investing our money in a decent building of any size would probably give us just as good a return on our money as leaving it in the bank.
Consequently, it was decided to seek a smaller, more affordable building for now: one that could accommodate up to 25 people, plus a lending library, plus a reception desk. We would be able to use this for many meetings (board meetings, book clubs, movie nights, etc.), but not our main monthly meeting.
For a number of years, our Building Committee has been diligently searching for an appropriate building. Ideally, the building would be centrally located, near public transportation, and would already be commercially zoned for assembly. Ironically, a church that is going out of business would suit us just fine!
Minnesota Atheists Building Committee members who have been working on this project for several years include Ron Julien (current chair), Bob Schmitz, Tom Riddering, Matthew Richardson, Steve Petersen, Shirley Moll, George Kane, Jack Caravela, and August Berkshire. They are joined by new committee members Brian Knoblock and Rick Calissi.
If you would like to help in any way, please contact Ron at (612) 789-4071 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or contact any other MNA building committee or board member. You can still sign up for the 300 Club or donate whatever you can. Every little bit helps. Together, we can build a great future for Minnesota Atheists and the freethought community!