President’s Column: Memberships and Meetups
By August Berkshire
Thank you, thank you, thank you! We received such a large increase in members and other financial supporters last month that, had any of us prayed for it, it would have caused us to rethink the power of prayer. Instead, as Dan Barker would say, we tried not praying – and it worked!
The increase in members and donors can, I think, be attributed to a number of factors. We had a joint mailing with Atheist Alliance International (AAI) soliciting for members for both groups. Member Shirley Moll has been very busy sending out renewal reminders to lapsed members. Steve Petersen has been tirelessly adding the hundreds of new names we acquired from the May Day celebration and the six Gay Pride festivals where we had booths this past summer. Mike Haubrich has spearheaded the revival of our radio show, which has increased our visibility and the pride our members have in MNA. Also, there is hope that the national economy is turning around.
And finally, our Minnesota Atheists Meetups continue to fulfill the first goal of our group: to provide a community for atheists. For those who don’t know, Meetups are on-line communities centered around a given interest or topic, which seek to connect like-minded people in a specific geographic area (usually a metropolitan area). Leaders of Meetup groups then post events on-line (such as a gathering at a restaurant) and invite other Meetup members to attend them.
Five to six years ago, there were fledgling attempts to start and maintain an atheist Meetup in the Twin Cities. None of them lasted too long until the one started by Scott Muir on July 5, 2006. It was a true Meetup in that it was not associated with any group but was just atheists getting together, usually for a social meal. A day after Scott started his Meetup, we tried something different: I started the Minnesota Atheists Meetup as a way to better promote specifically Minnesota Atheists events. After a couple years, Scott’s Meetup ceased operating, making ours the oldest continuously operating atheist Meetup in the state.
For the first year or two, we tended not to list more than about two events per month. This changed when Bjorn Watland took over the Meetup and also became MNA president. Under his leadership, we saw an explosion of Meetup events – not all of them MNA specific – but all serving the purpose of providing opportunities for atheists to get together and have a good time. Of particular note are the blood drives set up by Jack Caravela and Crystal Dervetski.
I have to admit I wondered if all this activity would confuse our members – but I needn’t have worried. Once a person’s mind is emptied of supernatural thought, it apparently leaves plenty of room to fill it with useful and fun things.
After Bjorn left the MNA presidency, Jack Caravela took over as the main Meetup scheduler. His emphasis on Newbie Nights (for people new to MNA) and family events are two areas that are very valuable to MNA.
Others, such as Eric Jayne, Patricia M., Rhonda, Valerie, Brian Knoblock, and George Kane, have also stepped forward to set up and lead MNA Meetups. Gatherings include: book clubs; adopt-a-highway cleanups; blasphemers brunches; debaptism ceremonies; freethinking females lunches and dinners; hiking and biking; and outings to Twins games, Canterbury Park, the Roller Derby, and comedy clubs.
We now have over 770 Meetup members and have listed more than 335 events. To sign up for the Meetup, go to: www.meetup.com/minnesota-atheists . You don’t have to be a member of Minnesota Atheists to sign up for our Meetups. However, your membership is much appreciated and will help us to continue providing a community for atheists.