So, last fall I found myself in a leadership role in my local group. We’d gotten quite small, and the previous chair was unable to continue, so another member and I stepped up, and, well, now we’re co-chairs of the group. It’s been an experience thus far, and while I’d love to step down after the year is up, I have a feeling I’m going to be dragged into another year of service.
I did not want to take on a leadership role, but I took one for the team because I felt like it was more important that the group continue. It’s an open, multi tradition group, where any and all pagans are welcome, and the only such group in the region.
That said, we don’t often talk about leadership in pagan circles. We can generally agree that leaders are needed, and we’re quite good at criticizing them. But here are a few of the observations I’ve been able to make from my brief time in the trenches. I thought it might make for a good post, and it’ll also be a nice record to refer to if I wind up doing this longer than planned (I’d say longer than I want to, but we’re already past that point).
- Something will go wrong with every ritual, no exceptions. As a solitary practitioner, it doesn’t matter if I stumble over my words, or get something out of order. If my incense goes out, it’s no big deal to relight it, and if I forget something, I can run back inside for it. Not so much when your ritual is across town. Sometimes it’s small, and easy to improvise. Other times, the person who agreed to do the ritual flakes out and you have to step up and take their place. As a leader, you have to be prepared for the worst so you can cover and still have things go well.
- You can’t do it all on your own. It’s so tempting to just lead everything so you can have control over it, but you have to delegate. Not only will it save your own sanity, but allowing others to be involved encourages them to be more invested in the group and helps them on their own path.
- Sometimes you have to let people fail. So and so says they’ll bring the whatever, and you know they won’t. Go ahead and let them, but pack the thing in your own kit. At best, they actually follow through, at worst, they don’t. It makes for a valuable learning experience for all involved.
- I was talking to my mom and she made the comment that leading a church group is like herding cats. Well, leading a pagan group is like herding feral cats. Some will be more agreeable than others, some will think they know better than you do, and somehow you’ve got to figure out the right combination of cat treats to keep them healthy and from killing each other. Okay, that got a little away from me at the end there, but you get my point.
- Pick your battles. People are going to disagree, and you might get some infighting. Your job is to keep the group functioning and healthy. Sometimes that means stepping in, but generally it’s best to let members sort it out between themselves if that’s possible. Sometimes this means certain members will hate each other. Don’t let that stress you out, just make sure they’re civil if they both show up to events. Not everyone is going to be friends. That said, if someone is actively threatening another member, you have every right to ask them to leave. Knowing when you need to step in is a vital skill.
- Expect to spend money. I live in a relatively poor part of the country. Our members are at all income levels and in varying levels of health. Some activities cannot be done without money. But only doing free things severely limits your options, which means your regular meetings get really boring, really fast. You can always take donations from the group, but if the group doesn’t have enough money to cover the main dish for the sabbat feast, you’re going to have to pony up to cover it.
- You will have to moderate not only your physical group, but any online forums they have, too. I’ve had to step in when members got into on our facebook group, and where we’re an open group, I get to field inquiries from potential members.
- You represent your group. Whenever I get an email asking about the group, I have to keep in mind that my response is their first impression. What I say, how I word it, that matters. Same thing for when a new member comes out to a meeting. How the other members act is a factor, but how leadership is perceived to run things can make or break a group. Much as we hate to admit, appearances do matter.
- I feel like a faker, and probably always will. I’ve spent my life avoiding responsibility, and feel wholly inadequate to lead a pagan group of any size. This is compounded with a mixed path group. I’m fairly well read, but there are paths I know nothing about. I feel like as a leader I should be able to serve everyone, but I have large gaps.
- A mixed path group means celebrating holidays that mean nothing to you. My group celebrates the wheel of the year. Previously, I had skipped these rituals because they’re completely irrelevant in Kemeticism. Now I’m having to learn real fast. What’s Beltane about? When is Imbolc? Wait, Lughnassa and Lammas are the same thing? These things don’t matter to me, but they do to the group.
- You’re the first one in and the last one out. I’m lucky in that I have a co-chair who runs early, so she usually opens up the meeting space and I usually lock back up. But one of the other of us has to take care of that.
- If one person gets something out of any meeting or ritual that helps them on their spiritual path, it’s all worth it.
And this isn’t everything. I’m sure I’ll learn more as this gig continues. But the point here is, when you are a community leader, you are responsible for taking care of that community. You will have to make personal sacrifices. When the people in your group fail, you have to pick up the slack without resentment. You also have to give people the freedom to explore and disagree. There is nothing simple or easy about being even vaguely competent when it comes to leadership, especially when it comes to paganism. But if you can manage to deal with the less pleasant parts, there is nothing like being able to help people on their spiritual paths and to provide them with a place where they can be free from judgement about those paths.