Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Needed: Good Volunteers

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m currently at the Wiccan church in which I am a 1st degree. The Archpriest  needs help with office work, and working on the dining hall, a large-scale construction our church attendees have needed for years. So with a happy heart and a cooler full of food, my sweetheart and I made the two-hour journey to church with no promise of ritual, simply for the sake of helping out (so that’s why the post has no pictures or links–spotty internet will do that! I’ll likely fix it when I get home).

I was thinking about a recent post I made about our clergy needing money, and I think I failed to mention that they also need help. Just regular help around the office, in the kitchen, answering mail, mowing the lawn. What our Pagan groups are in desperate need of is good volunteers.

Their are many advantages to volunteering:

  • Promote an organization or community you love. The great part is that the organization of community will love you back. There is nothing so satisfying as looking around some place you care about and be able to say “I did that. I made this place better.”
  • Volunteering is a tangible gift you can give that doesn’t involve money. So if you are feeling broke, you can give in a different way.
  • Volunteering allows you to not only do what you excel at, but to try your hand at things you would like to improve. For example, I excel at organizing information and answering questions, but suck at yardwork. I think I suck because I haven’t done much of it living in apartments and rentals the last few years. Yet I can volunteer to do yardwork, and know that someone is going to appreciate my effort, and won’t yell at me for taking all day.
  • It can be a fun, social activity. You want to be on the ‘in-crowd’? Spend time making friends at work parties and doing simple chores.
  • Volunteering is really really appreciated. Sure, it’s not out there for everyone to see, but someone will sincerely be grateful for your work. If nothing else, you’ve crossed something off their to-do list, or completed something they didn’t even know needed done. It is a humble gift. If nothing else, the Gods will see your good work.
  • Studies show that it feels good to volunteer, and can bring a sense of community, happiness, and calmness. Studies even show that it feels good to see someone else volunteer. So just being around do-gooders can up our feel-good hormones. Really, volunteering is in your own best interest. Remember the rule of Three applies here too!

The best way to volunteer is to call up the folks in charge and recommend your skills to them. Call ahead, unless the rules are “just show up”. If you have an idea for a project, propose it. Consider if there are any materials or information that you need. Folks who are caretakers will have the big picture in mind, so if they can’t use your services, or don’t readily agree to your project, it is likely there is some barrier that you don’t know about, so please don’t take it personally. Ask them what they need doing, and consider if can do the job. If you do certain work professionally, suggest yourself to the Powers that Be at your local organization. Who knows, you might have a skill that the group desperately needs. I know on our church building, we desperately need plumbers, electritions, framers, clean-up and landscape crew. Most groups could certainly use the skills of a good web designer. What do you have to offer?


What it Means to be a Church

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize the word “chuch” in a Pagan context gives folks an almost knee-jerk nauseated reaction. The vast majority of Pagan and Wiccan practitioners are converts from monotheistic religions, mainly Christian denominations (I think I’ll leave the discussion of conversion for another day). When we trade in the previous religion for the Old Religion, we naturally expect to leave certain ideas behind, and are eager to embrace and try out the ideas that are new to us. Some people have experienced a kind of spiritual abuse from their former institution, and will require some healing as they make their spiritual escape.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! It is one thing to reject an idea because it doesn’t work for you, and another to shut down and never give the idea a chance.  The first time I heard of the ATC, a Wiccan church, I too had a knee-jerk reaction. As a newbie know-it-all, I’d never read about Wicca having churches, and wasn’t about to investigate a horrible institution like the ones my friends and I “escaped” from. I met a priest there, who I hit it off with, and we’ve had a wonderful friendship that began almost ten years ago. He told me about his experiences with the church, and what the church was about. I invited myself along to the next ritual, and the rest is history. I’m really glad I gave the idea of a church a chance.

The Parthenon was a Pagan church. Should we tear it down because Pagans don't go to church?

Typically, Wiccans practice in small covens, as solitary practitioners, or at public festivals and rituals. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For many finding a coven is difficult, and finding one that you want to learn from and dedicate yourself to is even harder. As a solitary practitioner, you have the mobility to learn and practice whatever you please, yet you don’t get the opportunity to bounce ideas around and ones practice can get stale. Public festivals are big and fun, but they are also rather expensive, and the price of admission doesn’t guarantee the quality of the ritual experience, or that you’ll agree with the ideas presented, or that you can learn with 1,000 other people present. Networking is obviously a big concern for Pagans as demonstrated by the large amount of networking sites for different areas. I know whenever I go to a new place, I want to know what groups are there and what activities are going on!

A Wiccan or Pagan church is a place to do that networking. It provides a different kind of group experience. Psychologists generally define two types of group cohesion: intimacy and integrity.

Intimacy is more like what you would experience in a coven setting–the group bonds emotionally, and creates group-mind through a common feeling of belonging and friendship. Decisions are made democratically or, most often, through consensus. Groups that follow Dianic Wiccan and Fairy paths tend to prefer this kind of arrangement. It seems to me a very feminine form of leadership and group cohesion.

Integrity is what you are likely to experience if you come to the ATC–the group bonds over a common purpose. Who “belongs” is based on rank, with higher ranking members expected to contribute more time and energy to the group. Hierarchy is valued, and decisions are made by members of sufficient rank with the group’s best interest in mind. Gardnerian and Alexandrian derived traditions, as well as those with Masonic roots, arrange themselves this way. This group cohesion style suggests masculine virtues.

Academically, I don’t see how one could be better than the other, although individuals may place greater value on one style at certain parts of their life. Both are perfectly valid ways to run a community, and both have their downsides too: intimacy could violate confidentiality for a group member or never achieve anything because of personal problems, and integrity might be run by power-hungry dictators.

At the church I go to, both are present, but integrity is the most obvious to visitors. Rank is given to those who have demonstrated hard work and dedication, and who choose to become a part of the tradition. Intimacy comes only through time, and is based in personal relationships, which no amount of rank can force to blossom.

Why a Wiccan Church is Valuable

  • Rituals are open to anyone. No one has to vouch for you. You can show up as a complete stranger and be perfectly welcome.
  • You do not have to believe the same thing to attend ritual. Many who come faithfully practice other religions and are educating themselves about Wicca.
  • There is no commitment, unless you want to. Even tithing (another dirty word!) is of your own free will, although we do bless it for Threefold return, so tithing is in your best interest.
  • The church supports the community through programs, festivals, education, and counseling.
  • The church can be a political force, representing lots of people for a single cause, such as getting the Military to provide headstones for fallen Pagan soldiers.
  • The church is a place to meet like-minded people, network, and form intimate bonds. Many tradition members work with covens that are not affiliated with the church.
  • Donations are tax-deductible. If you’re going to give your money to a charity, give it to one that supports your people!
  • The church provides clergy, often ordained, who can offer spiritual counsel and perform ritual services for the community–in no way are they attempting to force dogma, but rather help individuals who ask.

A Pagan church isn’t about belief or dogma, it is about praxis (that is, what one does). We gather at church to support the same causes, to worship the Gods, to participate in self-changing magic, and to learn from each other. The church is a tool for those who are sincerely growing into better human beings, and offers a kind of community unique in the world of religion in general and Paganism in particular.

Pft! I had WAY more badges than this lady did!

While coven work is focused personal growth, a church is focused on service to the community, an element I believe is crucial to personal growth and often overlooked. Working on projects with others and holding positions of responsibility gives you a chance to grow into it in a safe place, where people will support you and encourage you to succeed. The rank system is a way of easily identifying those with certain skills, which is important in a big organization, and is a tangible visual for personal growth. If you want to know what it is like to display your personal growth, ask a Girl Scout to show you her badge sash–it is the same general principal.

I occasionally will hear snippy comments about the validity of churches in Paganism and Wicca, but I honestly recognize it as that newbie know-it-all knee-jerk–very different from constructive criticism, which has actually interacted with the ideas. As a new religious movement, we are in the process of creating our religion, so the discussion of what is and isn’t Paganism is not a closed subject, but one that is evolving as we explore different ideas.

Here are a few Pagan churches:

Cherry Hill Seminary

January 10, 2010 3 comments

School is one of my biggest passions. I love it! Maybe it is because I’m dedicated to Athena, but I’ve been in school almost continuously since I was five. Education is important to me, but it also took me awhile to figure out what I was put on this earth for. I’m big on training and professionalism, which doesn’t bode well in Paganism, honestly. I dreamed of working in academia as someone who studied Paganism as a legitimate spiritual community and a source of knowledge. I wanted to professionalize our clergy so the community would have some real resources at their disposal, and could keep up with other religions. In particular, I wanted to see Pagan Chaplains in the military.

This all started about five years ago, when I began my graduate program in teaching. I was already dissatisfied with the program and wanted to do something else in my life besides be a glorified babysitter and secretary. I looked to being a military chaplain, which requires, typically, a Masters in Divinity, ordination, and “ecclesiastical approval” from a church body. Already there were a lot of challenges to that laundry list of requirements, the hardest being the MDiv degree.

Imagine spending 70-90 semester hours in a religion that is not yours! I spent 3 credits in a fundamentalist Christian MDiv program before I figured out I wasn’t going to fit in, be comfortable, or graduate with a good GPA. I desperately wanted one of our own.

The seminary I work with, Woolston-Steen, doesn’t have an interest in getting accredited by the people the military would require (which seems fair, it’s their school!). But it means that their advanced degrees don’t mean anything outside of the religious community. Now that would be fine if we had more infrastructure like Pagan hospitals and churches where you could be sure to recoup your education investment and have a career. But we don’t. We live in the mainstream culture.

Recently, Cherry Hill Seminary, an online theological school for Pagans run out of South Carolina has decided to live in the mainstream culture. They are seeking accreditation through the Association of Theological Schools, which would mean that a degree from there would be considered legitimate in “the real world”. Accreditation is a long process, and should take 2-3 years if they keep at it, and it seems like they are well underway. And if the ATS doesn’t like the concessions they’ve made, then they’ll have to face M. Macha Nightmare! Good luck to them! She’s fierce! And she’s the head of the board of directors.

Accreditation by the ATS means

  • You can get a job in an academic institute of higher learning
  • You can work as a hospital chaplain
  • You can work as a military chaplain
  • …or a prison chaplain
  • You can put it on a professional resume or CV
  • You can start your own church (well, you could have done that before, but this makes it easier to get grants and stuff like that)
  • Who knows! Only the future graduates can show us what it means. I plan on opening a counseling practice catered to Pagans and doing academic research and book writing. A professional Pagan degree would help with all of that.

A few short years ago, the idea of a professional pagan ministry was unthinkable. Our elders have been working hard to serve the community, but often unnoticed beyond those that are close to them. As practitioners, we don’t always have people to turn to in times of crisis, and even those we turn to may not have the training to really help us. Yada yada, I’ve talked about this before.  But this is the exact goal of Cherry Hill–not to train more Witches (though there are some very good and very interesting schools out there) but to professionalize those who want to dedicate more of themselves to the service of others.

The faculty they have teaching are typically professionals with advanced MA or Doctorate degrees in their fields. They have spent their careers balancing the needs of Pagans with the demands of their professions. Judy Harrow is a professional counselor (and I absolutely admire her career), Brenden Meyers is a Ph.D and the author of A Pagan Testament (one of my new favorite books for research), and Michael York who is a professor of religion (you may remember his book). They have teachers who are Druids, Dianics, Solitary Practitioners, and Pagans from all walks of life. They have professors with backgrounds as diverse as law, education, pastoral counseling, comparative religion…just the stuff we need for a first generation of professional pagan clergy.

M. Macha Nightmare at the Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Last year, at the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, I had the pleasure of reading two of my papers (which I don’t think I’ve posted here yet!). The best part of the conference was meeting Nightmare and her students from Cherry Hill. Two or three had papers to present, and I was incredibly pleased at the quality of the scholarship. It was a diverse group of topics and very well researched. (You can read my summary of the conference here and here). Now, with the addition of promised accreditation, and a track record of actually doing what they say they are going to do, I think I’ll put some of my money where my mouth is, and get that MDiv that I wanted all those years ago. The sky is the limit!

Resources for Leaders

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment
Dear Witchful Thinking-

I was wondering if you had any advice or resources for pagan leaders (clergy, student group leaders etc.).  I’m particularly interested in problem solving, conflict resolution, and just being a good, kind, effective leader and supporter of people who come to me looking for insight.  Are there any books out there specifically for pagan clergy/leaders? And do you have any general advice or wisdom you’d like all pagan leaders to know?
Fearless Leader.
Dear Fearless,
The good news is that Pagans are people, so any resources about group dynamics, leadership strategies, and interpersonal relationships will serve you in your leadership position. I’ve listed a few at the end of this article, and they are all available for purchase in the Witchful Thinking Store. But there are some particularities about working in the Pagan community that leaders should be aware of…
The thing you have to know about leaders in any kind of Pagan group, is that they immediately become clergy to the people that follow them. Because we do not have a way of identifying our clergy (post to come!) anyone with any authority is seen as being of value to the group members. In a way, this is good, because being a group leader allows the group to see what kind of person you are–in other words, you get to know each other. And people will come to you because they know you can help them, not just because of your status in a group.
But group members may not know what is appropriate to bring up with the group leader. They may bring up conflicts or share experiences that the leader doesn’t know how to deal with.  Recognizing your limits, and having some good resources in which to redirect group members is important. You aren’t going to be able to solve all their problems (and no one needs that burden!) so know when to say no.
  • Learn when to say “No, however…”. There will be situations beyond your means to deal with. Simply saying no can put them off from trusting you in the future. While keeping your bounadries is important, having a way to redirect the group member, and supporting them through the process can do more for the person than simply having all the answers.
  • Keep a list of resources. I have one with phone numbers for crisis lines, suicide reporting, domestic violence, Child Protective Services, and other emergency contacts. I keep it on me when I know I might be in a situation  where someone may need advice beyond my abilities. Because these programs vary by region, you will need to come up with your own list. Or consider collecting lists of lists. I have pamphlets of emergency services for my county.
  • Fill your toolbox with communication strategies. Having multiple possible ways to solve a problem will give you more confidence, and help you in strange situations or differing personalities. You can learn strategies by reading, watching other leaders and if you…
  • Join an online community to learn more about being a good leader. I found this one with a simple Google search. This one has a lot of strategies as well.
  • Find out what kind of leader you are. There is no need to try and be something you are not. We talked in the last post about leadership styles. But not all groups require your style of leadership at that time.
  • Know your group rules and stick with them! Follow established procedures and precedent. It keeps you from appearing arbitrary and gives you some authority. Examine the rules carefully before choosing to vote on a change or act differently.
  • Know when to step down. It could be a feeling that it’s time to move on, a recognition that the group needs more than you can give, or a pre-arranged time of leadership change. Knowing the group lifecycle can help you identify when a change in leadership is necessary.
  • Be available for mentoring. After your time as the leader is up, being around the group and available for mentoring others can keep the group alive. Just because you are not the leader doesn’t mean you don’t have wisdom to share. But your position in the group is different–let the new leader lead and learn from their mistakes. You can set a powerful example just by being present in the group after your term is over–it shows your faith in the group as a whole, and builds self-efficacy among the members.
  • Practice Humanistic leadership. Every person deserves a chance to be heard. Every person deserves to be valued and respected. Begin by actively listening to the group members, and not running off on your own ideas. A Pagan group is no place for ego (although there has been a lot of it in the past…)! State problems as “I statements” so you don’t accuse others of being a part of the problem, which makes them more likely to listen to you.
  • Learn so you can serve. Keep up your Pagan studies. Besides seeing you as clergy, the group may also see you as an authority–even if it isn’t nessecarily true! So keep reading and studying. Try some of the more advanced books available in the Witchful Thinking Store.
  • Don’t let your group eat you alive. Many groups are entirely dependent on their leadership to put events together and organize them. If we accept personal responsibility, then success or failure must be up to the group. The more your group members do, the more active and integrated they feel in the group. So give them something to do. Don’t let them make you do everything. You will burn out, and then the group will not benefit from you.
  • Give thanks where thanks is due. Praise is reward for good work. It shows the rest of the group the kind of behavior you expect, and bolsters self-esteem. And don’t forget the “behind the scenes” folks, and people who are outside of your group membership. Even in a failure, a good leader can find something positive to praise. But don’t give it out for every little thing, or do so without sincerity. Studies show that intermittent rewards work better than consistent rewards in future positive behavior.
  • You might have to be the bad guy. You may have to bring bad news, or solve problems by letting people go. Keep your intentions towards the benefit of the group, and use the charter as a basis. For the benefit of the group, you may have to ask disruptive people to leave. You may have to work with authorities who don’t like you and what you are doing. Sometimes you have to tell the group no. Gather all the facts you can before you make these decisions. Involving the group in the decision making process (without spreading gossip) or telling them the reasons why you made the choice can help people understand and support your tough calls.
  • Answer all questions as if they are honest. Why keep secrets? Or if you have to keep one, tell them why it must be secret. Someone may ask a sarcastic question, but may really have a desire to know the answer. Why not talk about it? No reason to reply with hostility. Besides, it makes you look knowledgeable and calm, and that’s never bad.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Not everyone needs to know everyone’s business. Make it a policy that gossip ends with you. If someone told you something about a group member that needs to be addressed, by all means, address it! But no need to say what your source was if they asked to remain anonymous. It means a lot to people that you can keep a secret.
I’m sure there is so much more to being a good leader. I think it really starts by being a good, honest person. Your desire, Fearless, to learn more shows that you care and is a wonderful place to start. Those that you lead will pick up on that kind of stuff and respect you all the more for having their needs in mind.
Here are a few excellent books on the subject:
  • Wicca Covens: How to Organize and Start Your Own by Judy Harrow. Probably one of the best books on leading Pagan groups. Harrow is a counselor and uses her knowledge in Pagan circumstances.
  • Deepening Witchcraft by Grey Cat. This book is mostly about advanced practices, but has some excellent advice about starting groups and events.
  • Strengths-Based Leadership by Barrie Conchie. This was recommended to me, but I have not read it. The author is a scientist who studied leadership for 30 years and talks about why people follow certain people.