Not as much time to write as usual for me this weekend, between preparations for my trip to Wellspring and spending the evening watching the final episode of Lost with friends. That may be just as well, since even after pondering it for a week, the long list of “myths about the Grove” I wanted to cover this time around still stands at one. But it’s a big one, and one that I definitely think hurts us and our ability to survive and grow in the coming years, so I may as well make a big deal out of it and give it its own article:
Despite what many folks think, no, we don’t own our own land.
Granted, anyone who’s seen our treasurer’s monthly reports, or heard me complain about our low fundraising income, or even just spent time with the average Pagan group of our size, would never think that we had enough money for such a thing. But there are lots of people out there who don’t fall into any of those categories, and many of them assume that if we’re a church that’s been around for a long time and gets written about in the newspapers, then we must have a building and some other assets, right? (Hmm, there’s an odd fundraising idea: make ourselves look more pathetic so people think we’re as poor as we really are.) As a reality check, out of about sixty current ADF groves and protogroves, all of one of them owns its own building (and that was from a donation from someone’s estate) and one other owns its own land (which was donated as well).
I was reminded of this again last week when someone e-mailed me asking for permission to spend the night at the nemeton for personal spiritual work. Which sounds like a great idea, except I can’t really give permission for it because we aren’t the land owner! Those of you who have been to the Botsford Preserve have probably met Don Botsford at some point. He’s been nice enough to let us set up our permanent nemeton in a clearing on his land, and use it for sixteen years now. While he never attends our rituals, he’s certainly sympathetic to us, and to anyone else who cares about nature. He volunteers his time and his land to school groups who come out and want to see the many different species of flora and fauna that inhabit the preserve. But he doesn’t let us use the land for free. We have to pay $80 for the rituals where we just stay for Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and $100 for rituals where we stay late on Saturday, like Lughnasadh and Samhain. Which is entirely fair, in my opinion, as it’s his land and he puts a lot of work into keeping the preserve as a lovely place for us to gather five times a year.
So how does this “myth” hurt our Grove? The odd e-mail from people who think we own the place aren’t a big deal to me, and the occasional person who shows up at the preserve to meet us because they think we have an office there is a bit of a nuisance to Don, but easily corrected, and not the worst thing in the world. Rodney’s aforementioned treasurer reports show the big problem most plainly: We just don’t get as many donations at our outdoor rites as we do at the indoor ones, in part because people think that we don’t need much money because the site is ours, or because it’s a natural outdoor site and we must get it for cheap. Sadly, neither of these is true. Our three indoor rituals during the winter are held at sites that cost us considerably less to rent out – and yet we consistently get more in donations and raffle proceeds at those rituals. For Spring Equinox, we pulled in more than enough for the Friends’ basement’s $60 site fee. For Beltaine, we didn’t even get half of the $80 we needed to rent Botsford. And that was after I had bought most of the ritual offerings and supplies with my own money. Even if I do have a higher-paying job now than I have since 2001, there’s only so long I can keep pumping my own money into our rituals before I decide that if nobody else thinks the rites are worth it, then they’re not worth it to me either, and then we get to do cheapo ritual weekends in a public park or on the side of the road somewhere and hope that people still think they’re worth attending.
In fairness, I’ve been saying this sort of thing for ten years now, and somehow we manage to get enough in donations to keep things going the way they are, but damn it’s frustrating. I know all too well how little disposable income people in Michigan have these days, and I know that many people out there want to help us with out financial problems and just can’t, but it’s far worse when people don’t even know that the problem exists. So hopefully, as Schoolhouse Rock used to sing, “knowledge is power” and the truth of our land-owning situation will spread without me having to be all whiny about it.
Next week’s entry will be delayed until Monday or Tuesday, depending on when I get home from Wellspring and how tired I am when I do. See you then!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
P.S. – For those wondering about whether we could buy the land from Don, or from Don’s children when he passes away (no, I’m not being morbid, he’s in his late 80’s and he’s not immortal) and leaves it to his children, I can only note that he was offered $2 million for half of the property a few years back by a group of Indonesian businessmen who wanted to build a few houses but leave the forest mostly untouched, and he turned them down. So if you donate $4 million to us, we will certainly ask him about buying the whole thing. >8)