[NBA Project] Results
Result of the Needs Based Assessment
This questionnaire has taken on a life of its own. People posted the link on other lists and used Facebook and other social websites. I have received over a dozen responses from clergy, mental health practitioners and Pagan practitioners. Based on the excitement, I had expected more responses. Some commented that the length and openness of the assessment may have put some people off.
Because the survey was written as a qualitative assessment, and I don’t have enough to give a true sample size, these written results will necessarily be qualitative in content.
Of the survey’s I received, almost half were from California alone, particularly the Burkely area. This is most likely because it got on a local list there, and the Pagan community is very politically active and well-educated. About four survey takers were from the Midwest, one from the South, and only one from my home area of the Pacific Northwest. Of all the lists I sent the survey out to, I only received a response from one person I actually know in real life.
The main concerns listed by survey-takers are job and money related. As predicted, most of our community is affected by the economic depression like the rest of the nation. In particular, our community is stressed about affordable healthcare, getting enough food to eat, and the burden of student loans. For some, these concerns are compounded by their religious affiliation—more than one survey indicated that they could not use the local food bank because they had been harassed by the mainstream religious group running the program. Although no one knew of specifically Pagan programs that could help with this problem, most folks had no hesitation about using government programs like unemployment, food stamps, and Free clinics.
The next most often listed item was a desire for Pagan related services for problems such as alcoholism, birth and death, and dying rites, and general psychological and emotional support. While no one knew of any specifically Pagan programs for this class of issues (unless they are directly involved in one), they did indicate that Pagan clergy might take some responsibility for this, or at least disseminating information on local resources. Yet no one was comfortable going to a mainstream program unless they knew it was Pagan friendly. Many in our community volunteer these kinds of services, but find their resources stressed.
Pagan clergy seem to, in general (that is, in all but one survey), be greatly desired in the community. There is a distrust that clergy are not adequately trained, and that they shouldn’t get involved in things they have not had experience and training for. The survey takers expressed desire to move towards more formalized organizations like churches and 501 c. 3 non-profits. Several surveys indicated an exasperation at the perceived “reinvention of the wheel”—that is, organizations come and go, and maybe if they banded together, they could get more accomplished.
Mental health practitioners and Pagan practitioners both agree that there needs to be more “out” counselors and opportunities for Pagans to receive mental health. Because Pagans have a unique woldview and religious orientation that differs greatly from mainstream ideas of mental health, they are often labeled as pathogenic under a disease model. Pagans will resist complete openness with a counselor if they are not sure that their worldview–which includes magical thinking, fantasy, play, sexual exploration, ecstasy, alternative lifestyles, and mind altering religious experiences perceived as very real–would not be accepted or understood as a positive aspect of a client’s life. Besides having “out” counselors who are accepting, Pagans also need emotional support through hard times, which they believe they can get from well-trained clergy and counselors.
Several people focused on big ideas such as environmentalism, capitalistic greed and large corporations taking over. They suggested that solving these social problems will alleviate a lot of the depression and hopelessness that our community feels, yet they also could suggest no solutions or ways of addressing this problem.
Perhaps the most surprising result found in the survey, is the overwhelming desire to help themselves and help each other. They seem to loathe the separateness we have, yet want to maintain their autonomy and independence. Yet when it comes to social services, they feel a real need for them, but few know how to begin, what is already out there, and how to best serve the community. All but one survey taker said they would help by donating time or money to a Pagan cause, and the vast majority of those who took the survey are already helping the community in some way. In general, even while people identified problems, they were optimistic about the future, and were keen to take personal responsibility for their local community and their own problems.
Plan of Action based on the Needs Based Assessment
I have received a few offers of help from folks who wanted to do more than just fill out the survey. One is offering to publish the results of this project if I can make it sound academic enough. Another is brainstorming with me some things we can do to connect people and Pagan-friendly helping programs. We think a website specifically for this focus, or a section of a website that a lot of Pagans already use, would be most beneficial. It seems clear that we need to connect and get out useful information on more mundane topics, not just magical topics.
While I recognize that I cannot personally address all the needs identified in this survey, I am doing my best, and plan to focus my career in service to this community. When I get my license, I will be an “out” mental health practitioner, and work to do academic study and writing about our community for others who may be working with them. I am also writing a book for Pagan clergy on service to the community, and will use these survey results as information to help clergy focus their service and get training without “reinventing the wheel”.
It was my intention to get people who filled out the survey to think about what they could do to help each other. I would not be surprised if programs and organizations started popping up locally. One on the survey said she will re-open a local food bank, with the help of the ACLU to avoid religious persecution. My sincerest hope is that people will be inspired to bring their thoughts into action, and respond to their community without trying to control or judge it. Even getting people back into the mainstream programs as volunteers would be a step in the right direction.