Monday, September 21, 2009

Gathering together, building community

How to explain this deep-seated urge I have...?

I am a match-maker. I love to put people together with resources; I love to bring people together with other people I think they'll have good conversations with; I love to make connections, to knit things together with each other in unexpected ways that work in new ways. I adore connecting people with one another. ("A, meet B. B, meet A. Here's what made me think I should introduce you, but I'm sure there are other things I don't know about. Talk amongst yourselves...")

Fostering space for people to get together, building community, this has been an important (to me) part of my ministry since sometime in the late 80s or the early 90s.

When I went back to college in the early 90s and became part of the Pagan community there, I started organizing dinner get-togethers in the dining halls, or small private rooms just outside them, for Sabbats. I felt that it was important that people who are part of a minority religion, without any kind of campus ministry, who were from different traditions, who didn't know each other well enough to be in circle together necessarily, should have the chance to celebrate together in a meaningful way and to be in community with each other in a way that didn't require the intimacy being in circle together does.

After my life was no longer centered on campus, this translated -- predictably perhaps -- into wanting to hold Sabbat potlucks.

This wish came true as part of the work Nif and I did in the early years of Roses, Too! Coven. (Well, the idea to start something that might grow into a Coven came about at a potluck in the first place, now that I think of it.) Once we had our feet under ourselves enough to start hosting things, we started throwing Sabbat potlucks. These eventually became one of the signature features of Roses, Too! Coven, drew all sorts of people, and became quite a community. I admit some pride in the fact that the extended potluck community included plenty of non-Pagans and plenty of folks who claimed no spiritual path at all, people who did ritual with us and people who never once did ritual with us -- but for whom coming together in this way, sharing food and drink, music, and our stories, was somehow important.

(Now that I'm back in the Delaware Valley, I'm looking forward to starting Roses, Too! reunions, and hosting regular Sabbat potlucks here again, too.)

Different kinds of wanting-to-bring-people-together have been on my mind a lot lately:

1) The week we moved was the Full Moon in September. I knew there was no way we'd have our act together enough to host worship. I happened to ask folks on the QuakerPagans YahooGroup if anyone in the Philly area was interested. Really, before I even blinked, someone had Full Moon Meeting for Worship all arranged for a location in Delaware County, and other folks had made plans to join us in worship from far away.

We definitely felt their presence during our worship here. That reminded me a lot of the sense I used to have, of kinship with Witches everywhere celebrating the Full Moon and the Sabbats, and of the sense I have talked with my Meeting about, of being with them even from afar through Meeting for Worship.

Folks on the email list talked a little about their worship that night, and there was something powerful going on there.

This really struck me. I hosted Full Moon Meeting for Worship/Worship-Sharing the entire year I lived in Seattle; why did it never occur to me to invite distant folks to join in from wherever they were? Why didn't it ever occur to me to post Full Moon and Dark Moon queries here on my blog and see where folks' worship took them? Interesting!

2) A friend from several different contexts has another friend who's Pagan and seems to be called to worship with Friends, but is concerned about finding a Meeting where she will feel welcome as a non-Christian. So of course I keep thinking of people in that area to put her in touch with.

3) All sorts of Friends from different geographic areas, some of whom identify as Pagan and some of whom don't, have been talking about the power of the idea of getting together for Full Moon Meeting for Worship. Sure, Pagan Quakers get together at FGC Gathering every year; but more and more of the folks I'm in touch with aren't able, for any number of good reasons, to go to Gathering. This was the need that led to Great Waters Pagan Friends Gathering, but there hasn't been the energy or leadership to continue it.

We need to get together; we need to gather.

4) A Pagan Quaker blogger I sometimes read has been writing lately about feeling isolated and unknown in her Meeting. (I don't know her well enough to know if she'd welcome a link here.)

5) Another Pagan Quaker blogger I often read wrote recently about two things that struck me: being known, about each other as an avenue of communion with the Divine ("You Who Are My Bible"); and about the lovely woods near her new home, with a clearing with a fire ring ("Meeting for Worship for Woods") (yay, woods)...

Reading her description, I wanted to ask, Can we have a bunch of people come over for Full Moon Meeting for Worship at your house? This is actually less about Full Moon per se, and more about the lure of those woods and that clearing, and the lure of bringing Friends together for Quaker worship that is rooted and seated in nature...

It's about community. It's about the isolation that so many Pagan Quakers and Quaker Pagans feel. It's about the magic that happens when we come together, where we can feel deeply many of the ways we're alike and can be different in all the ways we're different from each other. It's about the magic that happens when non-Pagan Friends join us in worship and in spiritual community, and we help each other be faithful. It's about the magic that happens when non-Quaker Pagans join us in worship and in spiritual community, and we help each other be faithful. It's about the magic, the power, of silent worship in expectant waiting.

Expectant waiting on the woods. On the moon and the stars. On the wind and the sun. On each other.

And what about getting together?

More and more, yet again, I'm hearing this need -- just as in other minority communities I've been part of -- to gather.

For years, I was part of a group of Quaker lesbians who got together once a month for Meeting for Worship, followed by a potluck dinner. We met at different women's houses. This was a magical experience for me.

Since 2001, I've been part of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns, a community of LGBTQ Friends and allies, and have grown very much as a result.

Friends of African Descent, allies, and loved ones get together for Meeting for Worship and for gatherings, and these gatherings feed Friends' souls in the same way as other minority-focused time and space do.

This year at FGC Gathering, I finally went to Shabbat with Jewish Friends.

Both in spiritual/religious space, and in non-spiritual space, I have seen, and I have experienced for myself, the power that comes when folks who are a minority in the larger group or larger society come together.

In Quaker contexts, all of my experiences with minority groups within Friends have deepened my identity as a Friend, as part of the larger community of Quakers.

I feel again the hunger for connection among Pagan Friends.

How shall we gather? How shall we connect? How shall we come together?

What ways of getting together would help us connect, build community, would feed us and our allies?


Marcella said...

Ahhh, Stasa, now I know why I've been wanting to meet you. We have in common this urge to make connections between people and between ideas and people.

In a recent conversation (with whom, I don't recall at the moment), a Friend commented that she is not a Pagan but that she feels a spiritual connection with Nature. I felt within me the idea of bringing together those who feel a spiritual connection with and in Nature -- whether or not they identify as Pagan.

As a new Friend, my focus right now is getting to know more Friends, so I love your idea of bringing people of this intersection together.

I can't say that, at least at the moment, I have any brilliant ideas beyond what you and the folks in the Delaware Valley are already doing. Why not start with that, and see how far the idea will spread?

The core seems to be smallish groups of people from the same area getting together, knowing that others are meeting elsewhere at the same time or around the same focus, and inviting the energetic connection with those who aren't yet part of a group.

Something like this could easily be publicized via the internet. If the terminology was "feels a spiritual connection with/in Nature," perhaps it would feel less risky to those who might not want to be seen as connected to Paganism (in their mis-definition).

What kind of vehicles does RSoF have to get the word out to interested Friends? Could an announcement be sent to each Monthly Meeting?

I look forward to seeing what others think. I'm excited about this and am willing to put some energy into it.


Anonymous said...

Hystery, would/did you consider being part of the meeting "through the ether," so to speak? How did/does that feel?


staśa said...

Hystery, it's true that virtual community does not replace in-person community.

The population of people who self-identify as Pagan Friends is not large, and it's also very widely spread geographically. So it's rare for Pagan Friends to get together in person in groups of any real size. For example, when I was hosting Full Moon Meetings for Worship in Seattle, sure, any number of people came; but there's only one other person whom I know self-identifies as a Quaker Pagan who ever attended.

You said, "I found it frustrating to keep reading about others in the group getting together in the real world when I could not." What group/what gathering in the real world was this?

Marcella, thinking about language:

If you look at, for example, the language on the QuakerPagans YahooGroup, it talks about being open to folks who "experience the Divine primarily through nature, the seasons..." and goes on to include the Goddess, the Old Gods, etc. (As well as using the word "Pagan.")

When I host Meeting for Worship for the Full Moon, or a Sabbat, etc., I make it very clear that anyone is welcome, and there's a special welcome "for Friends who experience the Divine through nature, Her seasons and cycles." In the notes I had in my Meeting's weekly announcements, I usually just said, "Full Moon Meeting for Worship" and said people could call or email me with questions (which folks did).

If I was hosting a Quaker Lesbian Potluck, I don't think it would be effective to say it was open to women who love other women, rather than to say it was open to Quaker lesbians.

(I actually really like the language Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns uses. I also like the emphasis on "radical love and radical inclusion." And I love that it's LGBTQ-centered space, with absolutely no "card-check" at the door.)

So, I think there's a balance with language. I don't know that I've found it for myself or in the language I use; and I expect that balance to change over time.

I know that for me, personally, it's a matter of integrity to say plainly that I am a Quaker Witch. (I actually had a long struggle with someone on my ministry oversight committee about this. He really wanted me to use other language than Pagan, because it made him so twitchy, and made others twitchy. This, from someone who proudly claims the word "faggot." My membership clearness committee, completely independently, wrote in their report why it was so important to use the word Pagan. My ministry oversight committee person has since said that he was wrong. So for me personally, I have a particular place.) For other people, how they identify, how out they are, etc -- just as in the LGBTQ community -- is up to them, their needs, the circumstances of their lives, and their spirituality.

I'll write back about networking in a minute.

Thank you both for your comments!

p.s. Hystery, if you're on FB, feel free to look me up.

staśa said...

Marcella, thinking about networking:

What you said about brilliant ideas... You can also host conversations, host worship, things like that. You can ask your Monthly Meeting, QM, or YM (which is also mine!) to have me come do a workshop, retreat, etc. You can do an Adult Religious Ed presentation. You can host a potluck, timed around some occurrence in nature, with a theme and queries around that. I know there are other things I haven't thought of. Be creative. See how you're led. I know most of those things will need to wait until you've settled into your Meeting a little more. (And congratulations, by the way.)

I'm well-versed with sharing events via the web. I've been posting the events I host and my ministry schedule on my website and on Facebook. It wouldn't be hard at all to add the virtual part of, say, Full Moon Meeting for Worship to the Facebook invitations.

Announcements to Monthly Meetings... well, that would depend. Which MMs? I will certainly send one home to UFM for their announcements, because I have a connection there, and my ministry has a connection there. Other people who are attending, in real life or from a distance, could perhaps post notes in their weekly announcements or newsletters.

Beyond that -- more MMs, that sort of thing -- would depend on a lot of things. I'm not sure my "mandate" from my Meeting stretches that far; I'm not sure my guide stretches that far, either. :) But I'm perfectly happy for folks who have connections with particular MMs to help pass the word.

For Great Waters Pagan Friends Gathering, we did send email or US mail to all the MMs within a certain geographical radius of the site. That felt appropriate.

I will chew on this some more, and certainly welcome feedback. :)

Thanks again!

staśa said...

p.s. Thank you both for helping me think about this in different ways than I might have otherwise!

staśa said...

"Stasa, we are already friends on Facebook. :-)" *Stasa blushes a lovely shade of bright pink*

staśa said...

p.s. I guess I didn't recognize you without your glasses. ;-P

Marcella said...

Hystery, in my phrase "through the ethers," I was referring to the invitation on the QuakerPagans elist for those those unable to physically attend the recent Full Moon Worship gathering to join at a distance by settling into worship during the same time.

I was thinking that your comment, "reading about others in the group getting together in the real world when I could not," was about that particular Full Moon worship gathering.

Sorry I wasn't clear, and if I guessed incorrectly. :-)

Marcella said...

Stasa, my comments were/are in the spirit of brainstorming, but I fear that in responding to certain portions of your original post, I overlooked that I was simply restating other parts of it.

I agree that the language used in what I've seen of your invitations to Full Moon Meetings for Worship and the verbiage used on the QuakerPagan elist is quite useful. In fact, I was drawn to both before I was sure I was a Friend. The specific reason my mind turns toward using language that may be even broader is to increase the number of people who would consider participating -- thereby increasing the chances of enough gatherings so people wouldn't have to travel far to attend.

I think many people would be drawn to explore the intersection of mysticism (we each have the Light within us) and a connection with the Earth. But a good number of them are not going to know what "Quaker" or "Pagan" mean *until* they experience it. (That was certainly true for me and others I know.) So, my sense is that there's a benefit in describing quite broadly what we're talking about when we say "Quaker" and "Pagan."

Oh, and I vote for gathering in the woods -- and wherever expresses the Nature of the area of each gathering. That blog post you refer to brought back some wonderful memories.

One more idea for getting the word out: Quaker Pagans who attend regional and national Pagan gatherings might start asking for and/or offering open silent worship meetings there. Both to integrate the whole of their spiritual selves, and also to offer other Pagans the opportunity to learn about Friends' ways. Has this been done before?

Thank you for the opportunity to converse about this.

staśa said...

Hystery, as far as I know, you haven't pissed me off yet... and so what if you do? It would be no reason for me to disrespect you, even if that was a challenge for me personally. :) (And if I have, I apologize.)

Marcella, even if you do, that's probably fine; and I'm sorry if I sounded impatient about it.

One of the things I realized this year is that while I have focused on Pagan Quakers - folks who identify more with Friends - more over the last four years, I have a ministry to Pagan Quakers - folks who identify primarily with Paganism - as well. There's a regional, non-denominational Pagan church in the Seattle area (Our Lady of the Earth and Sky) that a Pagan Quaker/Quaker Pagan F/friend of mine is very much involved with, and I went to sometimes, sang for ritual, taught workshops, tabled, etc. I got into conversations with any number of people who'd been raised Quaker, whose parents became Quaker once they were grown, etc, etc. This surprised me, although on thinking, it shouldn't have.

Laura T hosts Quaker worship-sharing at one of the OLOTEAS weekend-long festivals each year. And I know of another Pagan Friend who has hosted Meeting for Worship at Four Quarters.

It hadn't occurred to me that perhaps I -- and other Pagan Friends! -- are called to more outreach and intervisitation among Pagan groups. But I think you're on to something.

And it makes me uncomfortable. I've written a little about this -- Pagans have had so many folks from organized religion come try to, well, evangelize -- and I don't want to even seem like I'm doing that. And yet, I know this need is there: several people in the Pagan community in Seattle wanted to get together and talk about Quakerism and Paganism, but the scheduling never worked out.

I will think on this, and perhaps ask my oversight committee.

Hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm.... (More wheels turning. Thank you!)

staśa said...

p.s. Hystery, thank you for the compliment about spiritual hospitality. *pleased blush*

Marcella said...

Stasa wrote: "Marcella, ... I'm sorry if I sounded impatient about it."

Nope, you didn't. I was just realizing that I was commenting in a somewhat blathering way. It occurred to me that I should / could center down for a while before typing. But I already had a response starting in my head, so went ahead and typed. Er, keyboarded.

I also saw that I had been responding (in my first comment) in the spirit of "what can we all do?" and realized that you might not have meant it that way, that you were perhaps simply looking for feedback in order to hone what you were thinking of doing.

And I don't do well typing in a small box at the top of a page when what I'm responding to is all the way down at the bottom. Call me a Luddite! ;-}

So, all that aside, I share your concerns about looking as if you're/I'm "evangelizing" to/at our Pagan sisters and brothers. Where is the crossover between that and simply being who I am, sharing what interests me without pushing it? Practically everything I learned about Paganism was from someone who was sharing the part of their spirituality that engaged them so deeply that they wanted to offer it to anyone interested. (Even the books and magazines.)

Sure, there are Pagans who are perfectly happy in their spirituality as it is, and I completely respect that and am pleased for them. At the same time, so very many of us came from somewhere else spiritually (including agnosticism) -- are we still open to further refinements of our spirituality? further discoveries of additional ways of looking at Spirit *that already speak to us,* even though we didn't yet know the names of those ways?

I'm glad to read the examples you gave of Laura T's work in this. I think this opening up of conversations between Quakers and Pagans will happen more and more -- in its own time and at its own pace -- when we each live authentically.

For me, as much as I feel enthusiasm toward facilitating such conversations, I'm also aware that it is not a leading for me at this time. I wish you the same certainty, yea or nay.

I look forward to reading more about your journey in this as it unfolds.