Pagan Temples and the 20%

Star Foster at Patheos is thinking about temples again. Last September she talked about the Temple of Artemis and asked “Are temples an investment in our devotion?” My answer was that while buildings aren’t a necessity, they are tangible statements about the values and priorities of those who build them. Most importantly, temples are a concrete expression of multi-generational thinking. That’s something that’s mostly lacking in contemporary Western religions, from New Agers chasing the next peak experience to Evangelicals who build massive structures around the personality of their pastor.

now a Christian church – later a Hellenic temple?

Yesterday, Star found a Methodist church building for sale near her and, in her words, dreamed really big. How easy would it be to turn it into a Hellenic temple, what benefits would it bring to the community, why it would have to be run by one group and not try to be pan-Pagan, and what resources it would take to make it a reality.

CUUPS President David Pollard weighed in on the discussion, pointing out that in any religious, political, or charitable group, 80% of the resources typically come from 20% of the members. If you need $100,000 a year for debt service and operating costs, you don’t try to find 100 people to give $1000 a year. You find 20 people to give $4000 a year and then count on the other 80 to give $250 a year. The actual breakout won’t be that sharply defined, but the 80/20 rule is pretty constant.

Today Star followed up with another post where she clarified her thoughts on the benefits of a tradition-specific Pagan temple, and she hit the proverbial nail on the head as to what it takes to maintain one:

The kind of people who will keep such a temple going will be rooted in the local community, completely committed to the religious, ethical and cultural vision of the temple, and have a stake in seeing the temple serve multiple generations. They will have a deep desire to create a home for the Gods they honor to last beyond their own brief life.

So the most important question for us is “how do we find and nurture such people?”

Or perhaps, how do we become them?

To become part of the 20% takes two things. The first is deep commitment: to the religion, to the religious community, and to its long-term success. You don’t get that commitment from people who find you on the internet and come to an event every six weeks. You don’t get it from people who look at their contributions as membership dues and who wonder if they’re getting a good deal for their money. You don’t get it from people who are happy to write checks as long as things are done the way they want them done. Don’t misunderstand – even in liberal democratic altruistic organizations, money buys influence. But it can’t be allowed to buy control. The good of the organization must always trump the desires of any one or two or five members.

You do get that commitment from people who have a strong connection to the religion: to its gods and goddesses, to its history and heritage, to its beliefs and practices, and to its vision for the future. You get it from people with a strong connection to the community – their co-religionists are their closest friends and chosen family. You get it from people who want that community to be there for them when they’re old and for their grandchildren when they’re gone and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

To become part of the 20% also takes financial resources – you can’t give what you don’t have. There are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, students don’t have any money. Young couples with children are the “target market” for most churches, but that’s because children represent the future. Young couples tend to spend all their money on acquiring stuff (houses, furniture, etc) and on their kids. In most churches, the bulk of the money comes from adults in their prime earning years (age 35 to 54), from elders who accumulated wealth and want to see some of it put to use while they’re still alive, and from trusts and bequests from deceased members.

Hindu Temple in Lilburn, Georgia.  Photo by Qwiddler

In the discussion on Patheos, both Star and Cara Schulz brought up Hindus, who have built numerous temples in the United States, despite being roughly comparable in numbers to Pagans. While not every Indian-American is a doctor, IT wizard or store owner (or for that matter, even a Hindu), those stereotypes exist for a reason. So do the stereotypes about Pagans who don’t have two nickels to rub together.

While I would hate to see Paganism become a religion that equates wealth with worth, I really wish we had a more mature relationship with money and with what it takes to earn money.

The number of financially successful people who care for the Earth, who see God as female as well as male, and who feel a call to the beliefs and practices of our ancestors is growing. Yes, they’re a minority, but we don’t need to win a general election – we just need to attract a few of them. Do we welcome them when they come to our circles? Do we present a professional image in our organization and in our rituals? Can we show them a vision for the future? Or do we joke about the abomination that is Pagan Standard Time?

Attracting financially successful people to Pagan religion is one side of this coin. The other side is for more of us who are already Pagan to make ourselves financially successful. Maybe your True Calling isn’t to renounce the mainstream world and become an itinerant mystic. Maybe your True Calling is to become a doctor or lawyer or engineer or start a mundane business, make a bunch of money and become a founding donor for a temple or grove or shrine.

There’s nothing wrong with renouncing the mainstream world. But there’s also nothing wrong with earning a nice living providing a needed service. The Pagan community needs both.

There is honor in every offering given in the spirit of sacrifice, whether it is large or small. But in order to build temples, more Pagans have to make more large offerings.

The Parthenon in Nashville.  Not officially a temple, but while we’re thinking big…
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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • Napoleon Nikolai Zivkovic

    My sentiments exactly; also, the Classical designation makes for a perfect, identifiable encapsulation of Western traditions before the imposition of Abrahamic monotheism

  • Keith C. McCormic

    When I went through Nashville, I stopped to pour a libation before the Parthenon there. Sadly, it was closed that day so I couldn’t go inside afterwards. BTW, the wine shops in the area are not allowed to sell corkscrews, have one beforehand!


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