In Conversation with Angie Johnson – Executive Director, Salt Lake City Oasis

 

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Angie Johnson took some time to discuss some of the Oasis Network activities. In particular, the work is seen in the Oasis Network branch in Salt Lake City. A previous interview was done with Helen Austen portrays the activities of the Kansas City Oasis. One of the main drivers of the Oasis Network initiative remains Minister Gretta Vosper from the West Hill United Church of the United Church of Canada. The first sect, or one of the first sects, in Canada to permit women as ministers – to allow ordination of women as ministers within the United Church of Canada. Here Angie and I talk about Salt Lake City Oasis.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, what was the original inspiration for Oasis in general?

Angie Johnson: I probably speak more to Salt Lake than to Oasis in general. But I will say I think the impetus was the idea that religion has the corner on the market for community, whereas a lot of things about community don’t require religious belief or dogma.

So, Oasis was started with an eye towards humanism. The idea that the actual person is more important than whatever they may tend to believe. So, it is secular in the sense that there is no religion in it.

But it’s also open to those who do have religious beliefs because we would put people above whatever their beliefs are.

Jacobsen: As the executive director for Salt Lake Oasis, what kinds of things does everyone do while there?

Johnson: Our weekly event is a gathering, which is like Ted Talks meets a house band. We have live music every time. The music part is important, but we have a lot of people who are big on singing as a group.

Maybe, because they are post religion, they love music. It’s sort of an uplifting thing, so we have live music every week. We have a keynote presenter on a topic of interest to the community. So, we’ve had something new every Sunday for around a year now.

Last week, we had the Dark Sky initiative, but we’ve had talks on everything from stem cells to evolution to spirituality without religion to meditation to intimacy in relationships. We’ve had sex therapists.

We’ve had talks on grief and loss. We’ve had talks on philosophy. Anything that you can almost imagine. We’ve had speakers on those topics. So, they do a 20-minute presentation followed by a Q&A with the audience.

If people want to push back, ask questions, or if anyone is skeptical, then they can have their voice be heard. Then we also have a coffee and chat break in the middle of that.

Also, we have a community moment where somebody from our community takes 5 minutes to talk about themselves, or something that they enjoy, are interested in, or a topic on their mind.

That is the format for the weekly gathering. It’s open to anybody that wants to come. We’ve started out with a few people, but we’re up to where we regularly have 50 people there every time without any problems.

Then we focus on education and humanitarian works. So, we have a monthly project called the Burrito Project, where we roll burritos and deliver them to homeless people in Salt Lake City.

That’s kind of our standing humanitarian effort. Every month, we try to have a speaker that pertains to humanitarian work. We’ve had room to read, to promote literacy for girls in third world countries.

Sometimes, we have our donations that week, half the donations go towards the cause. Then every once in awhile, we’ll do a particular cause, as with Hurricane Harvey release fund for our friends that are in Houston Oasis.

We raised over a few thousand dollars to send to them for hurricane relief. I would say the main focus is community, education, and humanitarian work. We’re trying to bring people together, so that they can form friendships and have the community that they often don’t get because they don’t go to church.

Jacobsen: When you do notice someone who is new to the community, how do you make them most feel welcome? How do you bring them into Oasis?

Johnson: I think coming to the Sunday gatherings. We have a board of directors. We have a person who is designated to greet people and look for anyone new and then to introduce them.

Sometimes, people come to Oasis thinking, “Oh, I’ll try this once. I’ll have instant friends,” but they don’t realize you have to put time and effort into making friends. You have to stick with it and show up for a little while.

We also recently instituted something called community groups. Because we are coming from all over the valley here, we have these community groups that meet on a weeknight. They run for 6 or 7 weeks.

They’ll be at someone’s home. We try to strategically place them further away. So, for example, in south Jordan, where I live, it’s about 20 minutes to get to downtown Salt Lake, where we have our Sunday gathering.

So, I recently hosted a community group at my house in order for people who live down here at the south end of the valley can be able to come over watch a school of life video, discuss and eat snacks & drink wine and chat.

Those sorts of less formal events tend to cement friendships more than the Sunday gatherings. But Salt Lake Oasis has started sponsoring a navigators scout group this year for secular scouting, too.

We have some events, where kids start to know each other more through scouting. That’s a new program. We started barely meeting last month. So, those are some ways that we try to provide that community experience for people.

Jacobsen: What are some ways people can become involved, e.g. volunteering time and skills, donations, and so on?

Johnson: We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit. All of our expenses are paid through people donating. So, we pass the basket at our gatherings and then we have sustaining contributors to go online and donate a monthly amount.

Basically, our goal is to get enough sustaining contributors to pay for our venue and business liability. Now, we have a part-time child care person for Sunday gatherings, so during the keynote we have childcare.

We have 1 paid person and 1 volunteer person from the community who, gets a background check and, helps each week. So one way to help is volunteering for the child care. We have jobs. We have committees.

We have the childcare committee. We have our snacks and coffee committee. We have a committee for helping find musicians. So, there are lots of volunteer things for people. We have a social committee that plans little events in the community.

We recently had a paint night. Sometimes, we have a classic skating party for the kids. We do a lot of hikes. This year for the first time we did a Salt Lake Oasis family campout, where we got a big group site up in the mountain.

We had an actual overnight campout for anyone who wanted to come. Actually, we had our Sunday gathering up there and had a professor come and talk to us about the positive effects of nature on the brain.

So, that was really fun. We try and incorporate some of the social events with the humanitarian work and the gatherings to have a complete package. Of course, not everyone goes to everything, but we try to find people where they’re at and find what they’re interested in doing.

Once a month, after our Sunday gathering, we have feast Sunday, where we go out to lunch together. So, that’s more opportunities for talking and getting to know everybody.

Jacobsen: Thank you very much for your time, Angie.

Image Credit: Angie Johnson.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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