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.