Published on November 30th, 2019 | by Noah Chen0
The Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta
40 Years Building A World that Works for Everyone
Photo: Reverend Alexander and others get caught up in joyful music. (Photo: Courtesy SLCA)
by Noah Chen
America in 2019 seems to be as divided as it’s ever been, and the divide seems not only political but spiritual as well. Sure enough, Gallup reports a sharp decline in church attendance over the last several years as many people choose a nebulous “spirituality” over organized religion or decide not to pursue religion or spirituality at all.
Reverend David Alexander, the spiritual director of the Spiritual Living Center in Atlanta (SLCA), reports that despite these growing trends, the numbers in his congregation have been slowly growing and diversifying since SLCA first opened. That was 40 years ago.
“We like to say here that on Sundays, the lobby looks like the U.N.,” says Alexander, referencing the center’s diverse group of participants of all religious, economical, sexual and cultural backgrounds.
The diversity keeps Alexander invested in his work, which he describes simply as “being a part of something that’s about bringing people together and empowering them to live their best lives.”
Alexander is relatively new in his role as spiritual director, having stepped into it in July. He will be only the fourth spiritual director the center has had over the past forty years, and he looks to carry its legacy of love and kindness into the years to come.
Tom Woodward has been a member of the center since 1989, back when it was the Church of Religious Science. Woodward says the name was not the only thing that changed. Today, more than ever, participants are encouraged to “walk the talk.”
“In the beginning, the byline was a teaching and healing ministry and it was more about healing yourself,” Woodward says.
For their 40th anniversary, Alexander has started a Forty Acts of Kindness initiative, in which members of his congregation are to enact—what else?—40 acts of kindness throughout the new year. “If we have one or two hundred people doing that, that’s a lot of acts of kindness,” he says.
A board member of the organization, Woodward says that the center voted on homelessness and hunger relief organizations that it will help support throughout the new year. The organizations, including the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness and Second Helpings Atlanta, a food rescue group, will be supported by the center with volunteers and donations.
In 2018, the center moved to a new location at 3107 Clairmont Rd., Suite A, in Atlanta.
“We used to meet in the High Museum,” says Karen Ratts, who has been going to SLCA since 2007. Once they moved into their new digs, the center was able to provide classes during the week, including Shut Up & Write, the Educated Eating Club, A Course in Miracles, and Gays, Lesbians and Everyone Else (GLEE) meetings.
While SLCA works to improve Atlanta’s communities, it also has a profound effect on many of its members, including Ratts. She had been raised in a Christian church but gravitated to the center because the teachings are not “out there.”
The message isn’t that there’s “some deity out there judging me,” says Ratts, but rather that everyone has a connection to divinity. Because of that connection, Ratts feels she’s “way more connected to others and more inclusive in my thinking because, if we’re all divine beings having our own unique creative expressions, then I’ve got to honor all others as well as my own expression.”
Though his work at SLCA is just beginning, Alexander’s effect on the organization is already being felt. Pleased with the increasing level of diversity, he sees it as a hallmark of the center’s success.
“I’m big on articulating our vision in a way that makes a difference,” says Alexander. “I want to know what that looks like. What does that feel like in Brookhaven and Chamblee and Atlanta? What does that look like for families and people of color and the LGBT spectrum? And what does that look like for people who are marginalized or oppressed in any way?
“We’re looking forward to creating a vision that expands and reaches a new audience, people who are looking for a new voice, a new source of inspiration about a world in which we live, and the commitment to creating a world that works for everyone.”
For more information, visit SLC-Atlanta.org.