On Contact Expectations, Or Lacks Thereof

It’s that special time of year again, when I have two more Clergy Training Program courses due by the end of the month, Friday night in this case. Looking over the questions, the Bardic Studies course doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as it did last fall when I was deciding which courses I needed to get done by when. The questions on Magic I look a little more imposing, but then I’ve spent nearly twenty years studying various forms of magic(k), so I should have an easy enough time of it. So no huge article this weekend, just a brief (but I think important) one.

I’ve often talked about how hard it is to deal with fundraising and money issues within SLG, since we come from such diverse backgrounds, both religious and economic. We have people who can easily afford to make donations to us on a regular basis, and others who can barely pay for the gas to attend our rites. And we have people who have no problem being asked for money, and others who have panicky flashbacks to their involvement with other churches who expected, or flat out demanded, a large chunk of their income. It’s a fine line to walk, and while I do make a point of telling people about our raffle and our donation box at every High Day rite, and that no wee don’t own the nature preserve and we do indeed have to pay rent to use it, I don’t try to force the issue with anyone. As much as we need money to keep the Grove running, I’m sensitive to others’ boundaries with such issues.

Similarly, I’m also sensitive to boundary issues when it comes to communications. No, I don’t think a phone call is as much of an imposition as a demand for immediate cash, but it’s an imposition in its own way. (When was the last time you heard someone complain that their family dinner was interrupted by an annoying e-mail?) And with e-mail, I can think things through before phrasing them. In real time, that’s a lot harder for me, and I’ve been known to stutter slightly as a result. So in general, unless it’s someone I know personally, I prefer e-mail. (I still loathe instant messaging though – as intrusive as phone calls and as hard to emotionally read as e-mail, without the advantages of either.) If someone phones me, or e-mails me and asks me to phone them, well that I can handle, since the move to initiate is clearly on their end.

(Oh, and I also avoid making phone calls because I hate the way my voice sounds. Especially compared to how it sounds inside my body. When filtered through my skeleton, the sound of my voice is like a cross between Samuel L. Jackson and George Clooney. I hear my voice on tape and it sounds like “Weird Al” Yankovic after a slight inhalation of helium. Good when I do song parodies, not so much when I’m actually trying to impress people as to what a knowledgeable Druid guy I am.)

The flip side of this, as I was reminded during a discussion this week on ADF’s e-mail list for its leadership, is that a lot of people prefer phone contact with others. Which is fine, I accept that as part of the bargain of being a public pagan in a position of leadership, if I’m going to make myself available for contact by the world at large, sometimes it needs to be on their preferred terms, not mine. What surprised me a good deal more were the folks who actually felt annoyed, if not offended, that they didn’t get personal phone calls from ADF leaders, and specifically ADF’s Clergy, without having to ask first. I suppose in some social circles that’s acceptable behavior, but I’ve never considered it such. I’ve heard to many horror stories from my Grovemates and others about the group who kept calling them on the phone to “check up on them”, especially after they had missed a meeting or two. These folks felt, well “violated” may be too strong a word, but they sure didn’t like it, and ended up leaving those groups. I don’t ever want to be the guy who scares people away from SLG or ADF or paganism because of something like that.

Sadly, just as one person’s “friendly” is another person’s “creepy” or “cultish”, one person’s “polite” can also be another person’s “standoffish” or “apathetic”. While having members from lots of diverse social backgrounds can be a good and educational thing, it can also lead to such misunderstandings. For those reading this, whether you’re in SLG or ADF or some other Pagan group,  all I can suggest is (a) don’t assume that people don’t care about you, or even hate you, if they’re not contacting you regularly, and (b) if you want contact with said folks, you should feel free to make the first move. While most of our ADF Clergy are busy folks (gods know I am, as I stare at these two courses due in five days), we generally try to make the time to talk to folks if we know that they want talking to. We do care about our members, or we’d never have gone through all this work to put ourselves in this position of authority in the org. Just don’t assume that we have the time or the social inclination to meet your social contact needs, especially if we don’t know what those needs are.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF


Think Locally, Act Locally?

Art Fair descended on Ann Arbor again this week, like a brightly colored Biblical plague with a food court close behind. Nah, not really, other than having to find parking to make my floral deliveries, I don’t really have a problem with Art Fair. There were a few more cars on the road than usual, true, and some of them going the wrong way down one-way streets and making other boneheaded out-of-towner moves, but student move-in day in September is worse. And Art Fair brought back the Link, the free bus service that goes around the town, and gave me a chance to ride with Gen’s niece and nephew and wonder at how awed they were by the chance to ride in a bus. If I got that happy every time I rode the bus to or from work, I’d be dead by now! It was also a little sad, as it looks like the Link will be permanently shut down before its normal restart date in the fall. More signs of Michigan’s worse-than-average state in a bad economy. Pointing out the Ann Arbor News building to the kids made it even sadder, as their last print edition is due this Thursday, after being in publication since before Michigan became a state. Still, early word says that the fair had more attendance than expected, so maybe there’s hope for a local recovery still.

But I know you didn’t come here to read about the state’s economy, so I’ll jump to Thursday when we walked around the fair, stopping off at the robot repair store (or is it?) on Liberty, and the kids and I made our own small buttons. I made one with a green Druid sigil and “Rob” on it, and now that I’ve made it, I realize that this may well be the perfect thing to wear to ADF festivals, assuming that my own personal finances ever allow me to attend them again. After that, we went down Liberty Street to the portion of the fair where the non-profits get to set up their booths. “Non-Profit Row”, I’ve always called it. Not that I counted them, but there seemed to be fewer than usual this year. Or maybe the number was inflated last year because it was a big election year? But no, I didn’t see as many church booths as I’m used to.

The church booths do tend to get my attention, obviously, since I’m the spiritual head of a congregation in the area, and because we almost got a booth at the fair once. Back in 1996, we applied for one, but due to some problem in mail handling somewhere along the line, we got the “you must be at this meeting or we’re going to give your booth to someone else” letter about a week after the meeting. Oops. (Remember the old days when people actually snail-mailed important stuff like that? Do you miss it? Gods, I don’t.) We’ve tossed the idea around since then to apply for a booth again, but of course in 1996 we had 70 members, and now we have 20, and I honestly don’t know whether we’d have managed to get enough volunteers to staff the booth for all 45 hours of Art Fair back then never mind now. (Yes, the rules say that you have to have at least one person actually at the booth at all times. Setting up an empty booth with just flyers wouldn’t be allowed, and would look kinda lame anyway.) Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that we could do with another group, a joint venture of all the open Pagan groups in Ann Arbor – if there were any other open Pagan groups in Ann Arbor.

And at the same time that I sigh with sadness about this, I sigh with, well, a little less sadness, when I see that the Detroit version of Pagan Pride Day is scheduled for the same day as our Lughnasadh. Not that I was absolutely intent on going, mind you, but the option would have been nice. And I’m still puzzled why they not only put it so close to a high day – or “sabbat”, to use to more Wiccan-friendly term – but August? The month when people tend to go out of town for camping or family vacations? SLG has more or less gutted our August schedule just because of how few people stick around town. I do hope that PPD has better luck than we do in terms of August attendance, and I hope even more strongly that they move it back to September next year.

I had someone ask me this year why Ann Arbor doesn’t have its own Pagan Pride Day, and I pointed out that their national org prefers not to let two events happen within fifty miles of each other, which would just barely put us within the radius of both the Detroit PPD and the one that the folks in Jackson put on some years. (And even if that rule wasn’t in place, other than SLG, who would run an Ann Arbor version of the event anyway?) As often seems to happen when dealing with the Pagan community, whose members come from many different economic and social backgrounds, the whole “local” concept varies wildly. To someone who takes the bus to work every day, metro Detroit isn’t local, but to someone who gets around by car, maybe it is. And go a hundred miles north of here, and the folks living in the Upper Peninsula and the top of the Lower Peninsula, and a couple of hours’ drive each way is reasonable. Sometimes I think that this, more than anything else, is the biggest stumbling block in terms of getting “local” Pagan groups to do things together. I bet the folks running Detroit’s PPD think that SLG is a local group who should be taking part, but to me, they may as well be in Nunavut for all of my ability to get there.

So for now, SLG and I will just keep on keepin’ on, doing open public rites in Ann Arbor, and inviting anyone who can get there to join us. I’m more concerned with taking good care of my congregation than with serving the “greater Pagan community”, or the “local Pagan community”, or whatever nebulous term we want to use for that nebulous entity. And if someone else starts up an open group in the area, I would consider that a good thing. I could look on that as a form of competition, but I’m not one to shy away from competition, nor do I consider that a bad thing. Especially when I know that our group and our tradition don’t appeal to every self-described Pagan out there (nor should they), and I’d be much happier to see people take part in some kind of Pagan practice than to take part in none.

(Oh, and if any open groups do start up in Ann Arbor, write to me about sharing an Art Fair booth!)

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

PS – Speaking of competition, we did get three people at Druidic Mini-Golf today, which is three times as many as we got last year! We spent the whole time talking about Grove fundraising and membership issues, as is customary for our social events. And at our business meetings, we usually end up talking about movies or TV shows. Go figure.

Friday Night’s All Right For Shrining

This past Friday night, we made a group outing to our permanent Manannan shrine, in the wild woods of the Waterloo Recreation Area of western Washtenaw County. Jude had suggested that a summer spiritual event would go over well, and despite my concerns about the insect population being a tad higher in July than in October (our usual shrine-visit month), I agreed. So six of us (me, Gen, Matt, Kestrel, Mike, and Rodney) drove out to Dexter and beyond, and after a few wrong turns, we found the lake. Oddly, Jude was quite absent and hadn’t called us. I assumed that she had made some weird deal involving offering our blood to the local mosquitoes, but the several insect repellent sprays that we brought along actually did a good job of holding them off.

For those who haven’t been there yet (which I assume is most of my five readers, so at least three of you), the shrine is a semi-circle that juts out into a lake, with a ring of trees forming a rough circle around the edge of this peninsula and the land behind it. We discovered it during one of our Fall Hunts when the troupe found a camping spot uphill from the lake and went down to get water. We thought the liminal nature of the site made it a perfect place to honor our Grove’s god of boundaries and gatekeeping.

As is our custom, we walked down the path (or the closest thing I could find to a path from where we’d parked) until we were directly uphill from the shrine area. I walked down and made a triangle out of sticks on the ground, then motioned the others to approach and make food offerings to the local Nature Spirits. Most folks hadn’t brought anything, but I had enough apples to cover everyone. We went back to the path (which we’d actually found by that point), waited for a sign of approval from the Nature Spirits, or at least an absence of any hugely negative sign, and after a few minutes of bird calls and frog croaks, took it as an affirmative.

We walked back down to the shrine, where we found the rock we used as an offering table still there, but could find the string of bells and SLG necklace that we’d hung from some of the trees. (We’ll need to bring new ones next time.) We made offerings to Manannan (silver from Kestrel, flowers from Gen, and more apples from me) and spent time looking out into the lake, and listening to the bird calls, and spotting a frog that thought we couldn’t see it because it wasn’t moving, and Gen pointed out a long series of spider webs coming down from one of the trees, a site we would never be able to see in October. It was also odd to be there well before sundown, the place was much more brightly lit than I’m used to, but the not-quite-sunset did look lovely. No cranes or herons, though, as we usually see on October. Was it too early in the daylight or too early in the year?

Anyway, after a little while we said our goodbyes to Manannan and the Nature Spirits, and headed back up to the path – where Jude was walking down toward us. Aww, it wasn’t an elaborate trick after all! She’d been kept late at work and, silly thing, didn’t think of calling us to let us know. Then again, calling might not have helped much at that point. Not only did my ancient cell phone not manage to get one bar, but Matt’s didn’t either. I was hoping to post the GPS coordinates of the shrine for those interested in seeking it out themselves, but it looks like the location will remain shrouded in Manannan’s fog for a while longer!

Speaking of such things, I was at least going to try to post a satellite photo from Google Maps, but figuring out the exact location isn’t easy with the resolution they have for that area. I’ve made my best guess here, based on what appears to be the path we walk to get there – but for years we’ve been saying that the shrine was actually on Island Lake, and this location is actually on the small unmarked lake to its east. I’m thinking that this must be the right one, because there are no houses visible from the shrine circle, but if we were on the southeast part of Island Lake we’d be able to see several. More of Manannan’s fog? Maybe part of the way we earn the right to use the shrine is just finding the darn thing in the first place?

After we all headed out, mostly bug-free, we went to the A&W in Dexter, but they closed two minutes before we got there, so instead we went to the New Garden Buffet in Ann Arbor (a personal favorite of mine) for Chinese food and conversation. We all said our good-byes to Mike, who will be heading to Arkansas this week for his new job, and headed home.

For those of you who missed out, I’m planning on using our October An Bruane for a return visit, to place a new necklace and new bells on the trees, and maybe collect some water for use in the evening Samhain ritual.

Next weekend, I’ll either write something deep and meaningful about the nature of paganism and working with other groups, or I’ll complain about how nobody showed up to Druidic Mini-Golf again. If my five readers don’t want to hear me complain, at least two of you had better show up! >8)

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

PS – Rodney took many photos, when I have access to them I’ll post a comment here.

A Bored Senior Druid in the Summer is a Dangerous Thing

Ah, Independence Day, a chance to visit friend’s homes, eat large quantities of meat, sit around the fire, watch fireworks light up the night sky as the not-quite-full moon darts in and out of the clouds… It’s not a Pagan holiday by any means, but I do end up wondering whether some day in the future, when we have public High Day rites with hundreds of people participating, if we should make fireworks part of the celebration. Definitely not Indo-European, but still very impressive!

Recently, Paul Hartzer has been kind enough to start putting together a proposal to redesign the Grove’s Web site, which has needed it for a long time, and yes, I freely admit that I have trust issues with letting other people make those decisions, but I know that my own HTML design sense is still stuck in the mid-to-late-90’s, and I trust Paul’s eye for such things. And given that we have fewer events in July and August than during the rest of the year, this is the best time to work on such things.

Looking over the site at things that we need go get rid of (I still can’t believe I never deleted that “tour of the site” thing), I’ve also been thinking about things to add to the site. One idea came indirectly from Paul, who recently had a new baby and registered at Babies R Us for gifts. I know that my Grovemates, and for that matter people who attend our events but never join, are generally very willing to help us with our needs, only they don’t really know what our needs are. And usually I think in terms of “we need you to attend our events” and “we need cash to keep things running”, but the latter is a sensitive subject for many pagans, and the former come across as so sickly sweet that I don’t even want to read it, much less write it, even if it is true.

So assuming that everyone out there knows that we’d love the donation of their time and money, what else do we need? In particular, what comparatively easy to donate things do we need? Easy things that even someone who has only been to a few of our events could fully devote themselves to? To that end, my newest portion of the Grand Experiment That Is ADF will be the “Senior Druid’s Registry”. (I thought about calling it the Grove Registry, but that term could be too easily misinterpreted as exclusionary. “The SLuGs have as Grove Registry, I guess it must be a list of people who are allowed to do things in the Grove…”) I’ll maintain a list of the small things that we need done, that many people will be able to do if they so choose, which will genuinely help our Grove, in my opinion. I only have a few items for the list so far, but why not include them here?

New Donation Box
If you’ve been to any of our rituals, you’ve seen our green-paper-covered “Donations Welcome” box. It was a very nice box when it was first made ten years ago. It’s still a very nice box for its age, but it’s definitely not holding up as well as we’d like, with bits of tape and paper falling off of it. A new donation box would be lovely.

New Bratach Bríd
One of our Grove relics, this embroidered cloth has been blessed by Bríd at every Imbolc Fire Watch since 1996, and also present at the births of several babies, not to mention a mule. The midwives of ancient Ireland carried such a cloth with them to ease the pains of birth in the women they tended to, and we keep the cloth to continue that tradition. The problem being, this particular cloth hasn’t survived the wear and tear of the years very well, and now has several holes in it. Gen and Jude and others who know more about fabrics than I do say that it’s probably beyond repair, so I’d like to get a new and sturdier Bratach for our Imbolc rites and for those women who want to have it with them near or during their deliveries. Hopefully we can incorporate a portion of the old Bratach into it.

Once upon a time, we had a local Bardic Guild who wrote at least one new song for every High Day ritual. Then the members moved away, and in the last ten years or so I think we’ve had maybe three new ones written by Grove members for our rites. We could use some more.

If you’re interested in helping us with any of these needs, contact me at robh@shininglakes org or 734-262-1052.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

PS – Don’t forget about our Manannan Shrine visit on Friday night, and Game Night coming up on Saturday! As always, our current schedule can be found at: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/schedule.html