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


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