I’ve been an officer in Denton CUUPS for ten years, I’m a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National, and I have a visible presence on the internet. So I get occasional e-mails asking how to start a CUUPS chapter or how to deal with difficult people in a host congregation. But in a conversation this weekend, it occurred to me there’s an important question that is rarely asked: what are you signing up for when you agree to serve as an elected officer or even as an informal leader?
What are the obligations I have as a CUUPS leader? How do they differ from the obligations of a coven or grove leader, from the obligations of a priestess or priest, or from the obligations of other lay leaders in UU congregations? This is not organizational policy – I’m speaking for myself, not for the local or national Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. But this is something CUUPS leaders need to consider. If you disagree with my conclusions, fine – just make sure you understand why you disagree.
A CUUPS leader has an obligation to seekers. About a year after my Pagan epiphany, I recognized I had gone as far as I could go on my own – I needed a group to work with. I thought a CUUPS group would be a good place to start my search, so I went to a circle led by Denton CUUPS… and I never left. Other people do what I did – it seems like every circle someone will tell me “this is my first time at a public Pagan event.”
I have an obligation to these seekers that begins with being there for them: making sure our circles happen, that they’re easy to find, that they’re welcoming, and that they’re accessible. “Accessible” doesn’t mean watered-down, least common denominator rituals designed to make sure no one’s sensibilities are offended. It means you don’t need a second degree initiation to understand the terminology and participate in the flow of the ritual.
I don’t have an obligation to provide personal instruction. A CUUPS group is not a teaching coven or a dedicated priesthood – we have no fixed traditions to teach. Denton CUUPS teaches an Introduction to Modern Pagan Religion class about once a year. It’s designed to give new Pagans and other interested folks a basic foundation for beginning their own religious and spiritual explorations. On the rare occasions when I take on students (usually as an advisor / mentor rather than as a teaching elder) I do so in my role as an individual Druid and priest, not as a CUUPS officer.
A CUUPS leader has an obligation to Unitarian Universalism. The values of modern Paganism and the values of Unitarian Universalism have much in common – it’s why CUUPS works. It’s easy for Pagans to support UU values like justice, compassion, and liberty, and the seventh principle and the sixth source speak specifically to Pagan themes. The challenge for Pagans is to remember that Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion. Whatever you believe about the Gods or Nature or magic, there will be someone else who believes something different – and that’s OK. CUUPS is “Big Tent Paganism” in practice.
Again, this doesn’t mean moving everything to the least common denominator. It means accepting the value of differing Pagan perspectives and providing opportunities for their expression. Many of the members of Denton CUUPS are polytheists in one sense of the term or another, but when our matriarch (who trained in New Thought) wanted to lead an Ostara circle that fell squarely in the middle of the Self-centered Paganism camp, the only question anyone asked was “how can I help?”
I’m leading Beltane – we’ll be making offerings to Danu. We have no shortage of volunteers for that one either.
A CUUPS leader has an obligation to the host congregation. There’s been much written – some of it here – about the need for “right relationship” between a CUUPS group and its host congregation. But my obligation to Denton UU goes beyond supporting the church physically, spiritually and financially. I also have an obligation to encourage those who come to our circles to support the UU church. Part of that is from a sense of reciprocity. But just as importantly, Unitarian Universalism can be helpful to Pagan seekers, who in turn may become supporters of UUism and the local congregation.
I’m a Pagan and a Druid and a UU – it all works for me. It won’t all work for everyone. But while neither Paganism nor UUism condone proselytization, CUUPS leaders owe it to their congregation to let everyone know that good services happen on Sunday mornings as well as Saturday nights.
A CUUPS leader has an obligation to the Pagan movement. Just as I have an obligation to promote UUism within Paganism, so do I have an obligation to promote Paganism within UUism. While I have neither the need nor the desire to convert UU Buddhists and Christians and Humanists, I do want to represent Paganism accurately and favorably to my fellow UUs – and where I have the opportunity, to represent Paganism to the wider community.
A CUUPS leader has an obligation to the Gods. An essay on UU Paganism isn’t the place to debate the nature of the Gods, much less to insist that my view is the correct view. But whether you view the Gods as distinct beings with agency, as aspects of the Divine, or as the better parts of ourselves, They clearly represent something that is worthy of our respect, honor and service. Yes, we put work into building our CUUPS groups because they’re helpful to us, to other Pagans, and to other UUs, but they also contribute toward doing the work of the Gods and making Their values manifest in this world. We are part of something bigger than ourselves, and as leaders we have an obligation to it… or to Them.
As a priest, I have obligations to Cernunnos and Danu. Those obligations are neither superior nor inferior to my obligations as a CUUPS leader. Sometimes they can overlap – as with the Beltane plans I mentioned earlier – but I can no more attempt to turn my CUUPS chapter into a Celtic temple than I can ignore Their needs just because Summer Solstice will honor Egyptian deities. I’ve made two sets of obligations and I must fulfill them both.
A CUUPS leader has an obligation to CUUPS. Denton CUUPS was there for me in 2003 because Summer, Monique and Cheryl started it. They could do that because CUUPS National and other chapters that served as role models were there for them. As with all institutions, we pay our debts to previous generations by being here for future generations. As a CUUPS leader, I have a multigenerational obligation to make sure there is space for Pagans within Unitarian Universalism that is safe, welcoming, nurturing, and challenging.
So with all these obligations, why would anyone want to be a CUUPS leader?
I went to Denton CUUPS looking for a place to celebrate the seasons and a place to learn. Instead, I found a community to serve. I accepted the obligations, and in the process I’ve learned and experienced more than I could have ever imagined.