A community building (and as it turned out ego-boosting) article…

So those of you that know me know that I am into building community. In service to that I posted an article to Witchvox about community building that was published much later. Anyhow one of the responses was from one of the editors at Pangaia, giving some compliments and constructive criticism and suggesting that I should look at submitting things to them!! I was terribly flattered!

So to start things out today I’m posting that article…

Over the last 7 years or so I have been involved in community building work in my local Pagan community. First in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska; and I’m just starting to get involved in my new home of Orlando, FL. It seems like whenever you talk with other Pagans in person or online one of the things you frequently hear is the complaint that there’s not that active a community in their area.

How many times have you signed on to a Pagan Community message board with 100+ members only to find that on those rare occasions when someone does post, it’s one of the same five people? Or, you go to a Pagan community event and everyone else knows each other and is clumping and you feel odd one out? Or there doesn’t seem to be much of anything Pagan that happens locally and when it does you don’t hear about it till the last minute, and it’s too far away, and it costs too much?

These are things that bothered me about the Pagan Community in my hometown for years. There are a lot of Pagans there; it’s just that there wasn’t a lot of communication or socialization going on between us. For a long time this bothered me, until one day I felt called to move beyond complaining about the lack of an active community up there, and start doing something about it!
That led to a number of misadventures, and one heck of an education about building community! I’d like to share a few of the lessons I have learned with all of you.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to fight The Fear™, which is that fear of both discrimination and disappointment that often causes us to choose to hide our Paganism from those around us and more insidiously causes us to immediately find reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t bother participating in the community when we darn well could.

Now, how often have you bemoaned the lack of pagan communication in things like online communities, but you rarely if ever post to them and take part in the discussions? I know how it is, I’ve done that. Heck, sometimes I still do.
How many times have you gone to that Pagan community event and everyone was hanging out with their friends and acquaintances, and you were hanging back intimidated as all-heck because you were the new kid at school?! People who know me from my work within the Pagan Community in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska and here in my new home in Orlando, Florida, are surprised to learn that I am shy, or at least can be, around new people.
Ok, so most statements about my own shyness are usually met with a snort of disbelief and chuckling. The truth is though, that I’ve gotten a lot better (and infinitely less socially awkward!) over the years and for me my work in the community was a part of that. Part of that for me was HAVING to talk to people cause I was hosting the event that people were out at.
Now when I am in a new community at my first events I try to talk to a few people and make an effort to reach out, I didn’t always do that and I would find reasons not to go back.
How much does that far away event cost? Have you tried calling the contact number and seeing if you can get a ride or can work for a few hours in exchange for a reduced admission?
I never used to do that. I’d just sigh and hide away from folks while I thirsted for some sort of fellowship and conversation with my fellow Pagans.
Is any of this sounding familiar? You might be dealing with The Fear™. The first thing you can do in fighting The Fear™ is to acknowledge it.
Admitting, at least to yourself, that one of the reasons that the first thing you say when you learn there is an event across town is either “It’s too far away” or “It costs too much” is that you are afraid of the rejection, or of not being able to get a ride there or back home, or of the embarrassment of having to work your event fee out in trade, or that you don’t know what it is your afraid of, is in no small step. It is, however, an important one.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” He was right. The Fear™ is insidious, and undermining, and overwhelming all at once! Yet, fight it we must if we are to have the kind of Pagan community that we deserve. It took me about four or five years in the community to take that particular step… so don’t feel like you have to do it until your ready, but please think about it.
So, once you’ve faced and acknowledged The Fear™, what’s next? There are five basic things you can do to build a stronger and more active Pagan Community in your area.

1. Communicate with and within your community!

So go ahead and post to that e-mail group once in a while as the topics interest you, and ask questions if you have them. If you see an event advertised somewhere go ahead and call the contact number and if it’s a voice-mail box leave them a way to call you back. Take the step of talking to that person in the bookstore who is looking at your 19th favorite Pagan book of all time!
If someone in your community puts out a community events calendar get your hands on it each month, if they put out a newsletter pick it up and if you can go ahead and subscribe to it!

2. Take part in your community and its events, repeatedly if necessary. One time does not a fair sampling make!
Go to that community social or that movie night out or that drumming circle or check out the open ritual. Attend the Pagan Pride event in the next County. Try attending a road or park clean-up.
Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone at the next pagan social…
“Hi, I’m Geoffrey or Pax; uh this is my first time here, do we sign in or anything?”
(There are an endless number of variations but fight back that fear and take the first step!!)

3. Look around your local community for Pagan owned and operated business that you feel you can ethically spend your money at and do so!

There are plenty of examples in ethnic and religious communities and in the gay community of people from the particular community spending their money in community owned stores and on community made goods. And not just the occult bookstores and stone and crystal shops either! If someone in your local community just opened up a coffee shop then buy a package of your roast of choice, or a buy 7 get one free coffee card and commit to yourself to filling that coffee card!
The more we contribute to our communal economic prosperity the better our community will be able to stand up for our rights!

4. Look for ways to positively increase the public profile of your Pagan Community!
So, again, take part in that park clean up, or the 10k walk for charity. Or just donate money or goods to a local charity with a note attached saying “This item donated by the Pagan Community.”

5. If you see a lack within your community ask yourself, is it a need I can help fill?
The next time you’re bemoaning the lack of social events in your community, look to see if your neighborhood coffee shop has a meeting room or if they are amenable to having a social event held on site… most places will just want folks to order drinks for the use of their meeting room.
If there isn’t an e-mail list in your area go to one of the websites for such things and try starting one!
If you thought about starting a newsletter or a regular social get together and you find out there is already one in town, contact them and see if they’d like some help! (Most folks already involved in community work will welcome volunteers gladly!)

So those are the five basic things you can do to build a stronger and more interconnected Pagan community for yourself and your community.

So what do you think?! Opinions? Ideas? Beuller... Bueller?!

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