Interview with Randy Best – Leader (Minister), Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES)

by | March 11, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Randy Best is the Leader (Minister) of the Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES). Here we talk about his life, work, and views.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?

Randy Best:  I grew up in a humanist/atheist family in St. Louis.  My parents were from the midwest with non-ethnic (not Irish, Italian, German, etc.), white middle class.  My father moved to St. Louis to become a Social Worker after being blacklisted from executive corporate work for political activities in the early 1950’s. 

My mother was a school librarian, originally from rural Nebraska.  I have an older sister.  My parents were active in the Congress for Racial Equality, a civil rights organization that was open to those on the far political left.  I grew up attending the Ethical Society of St. Louis, a humanist congregation.

Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?

Best:  I have a BA from Grinnell College and a MA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  Much later in life I attended the Humanist Institute and studied to become certified as an Ethical Culture Leader.  I am an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction.

Jacobsen: Leader/Humanist Minister for the Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES) is an important community role. It is different than simply an association. I observe the need to build trust, maintain camaraderie and a sense of community solidarity. How do you do it?

Best:  I work to promote ethical relationships in our humanist congregation.  I give inspirational talks on diverse topics, teach humanist-related courses, and lead discussion groups.  One of our Ethical Society sayings is Act to bring out the best in others and thereby bring out the best in yourself.  I try to promote this attitude in our congregation.

Jacobsen: What are some of the unexpected difficulties of the position? What are some of the unexpected benefits of the position?

Best: My position is part-time.  This necessarily limits my engagement with the congregation.  I am not always around.  The benefit is to become more deeply involved in my humanist beliefs and personal ethical development.

Jacobsen: What are the demographics of the Northern Virginia Ethical Society? How does this influence in-community social activities?

Best: We are a largely white congregation divided mostly between parents with children and older adults.  We attend meetings and celebrations and some of the parents have become friends outside of the congregation.  Some of our older members are long-term friends too.

Jacobsen: What is a service like for the Northern Virginia Ethical Society?  How long does each service or presentation take to prepare for the Northern Virginia community?

Best: We open with live music, followed by opening words, more music, a statement statement about who we are and a chance to greet each other.  This is followed by a children’s story, and another musical piece, after which the children leave for Sunday school. 

At this point the speaker is introduced and they give their address.  Music follows.  Then there is a time for the audience to share reflections/resonances about the presentation (questions are not asked to the speaker).  Then come announcements. 

After announcements the formal meeting is ended and members stay for refreshments and conversation.  I speak once a month.  If I am talking about Ethical Humanism (a subject that I know lots about) it may take me a few days to prepare. 

Speaking on other topics may take longer with research, etc., maybe a week or two.  Mot of our invited speakers are giving an address that they have given before.  They are often directors of organizations, etc.  Our speaker committee works hard to identify and schedule high quality outside speakers.

Jacobsen: If you could gather some other organizations together for some activist activities, what would you want to work on with them?

Best: Climate Change, Racial Justice, White privilege, Women’s Reproductive Rights, Civility in Political Discourse, Prison Reform.

Jacobsen: What are your fears and hopes for humanism and secularism in American as we move into 2019 more?

Best: I think that American Democracy is more vulnerable than I imagined before the 2016 election.  If American politics continues to turn to the right, it will bode ill for humanism and secularism.  None-the-less, humanism and secularism are on the rise and may continue to do so if politics succeed in turning to the left.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved through the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?

Best:  Since the Northern Virginia Ethical Society is a humanist congregation, the primary mode of engagement is personal, by attending our activities and becoming a member.  At this time we do not fund raise outside of our group.  We do welcome contributions through our webpage

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?

Best:  I encourage you to visit an Ethical Society to learn more directly what we do and who we are.  You can find our congregations listed at

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Randy.

Best:  You are most welcome.  Please feel free to follow up with additional questions if you wish.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

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