Passing the Dented Cup

Saturday night’s Samhain ritual was my last event as Coordinating Officer of Denton CUUPS. After 12 years in this position and 14 years as a CUUPS officer, my formal leadership has come to an end.

Late last year I finally realized that it was time for me to step aside. I announced my plans back in April, so members would have plenty of time to think about who wanted the job and who the membership wanted to be Coordinating Officer. At our Fall Business Meeting, we unanimously elected Hannah Nutt to be our new Coordinating Officer. I am thrilled with that outcome, and I am certain I’m leaving the group in good hands.

Hannah Nutt and John Beckett
Hannah Nutt and John Beckett

Time to share the opportunity

Anyone who’s ever been a leader in a Pagan group knows it’s a lot of work. But it’s also a great opportunity to learn and grow. I learned a lot because I had to – something needed to be done and it was my job to make sure it did get done. While I’m a strong supporter of formal education, our mainstream society often devalues learning by doing. It’s still one of the most effective ways of learning, particularly if you don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because your first effort went well you don’t have to keep trying to get better.

I read books and took classes to learn how to be a better Pagan leader. I’ve been invited to lead rituals for other groups, to speak at interfaith events, and teach classes because I was Coordinating Officer of Denton CUUPS. Just the practice of being front and center for the past 12 years has done wonders for my confidence and my ability to write and speak.

Yes, it’s time for someone else to take over the work of leading Denton CUUPS. But it’s also time for someone else to have the opportunities I’ve had for over a decade.

Sometimes a team needs a new coach

I know – most Pagans have no use for sports. But some of us do, and sometimes sports really can teach useful life lessons.

If a team is losing consistently, the coach is likely to be fired. The team needs new direction and new leadership to help them learn how to win. That’s an easy concept to understand. Sometimes it’s too easy – changing the coach isn’t going to help if the players just don’t have the ability to compete.

But sometimes even a winning team needs a new coach. A coach that’s good at turning losers into winners may be unable to turn winners into champions. A coach that’s good with developing young players may have trouble relating to a team of veterans, and vice versa. And sometimes teams just need a change.

My leadership style and skills have been very helpful over most of the past 12 years. I set high expectations and I lead by example. I make sure stuff gets done even if I have to do it myself. I don’t let excessive deliberation get in the way of action. That works well in a small group – it’s probably necessary in a small group.

But as Denton CUUPS has grown (we now have 49 members), my “just get it done” style has become less effective. There are plenty of people to do the work – they all need to be included. Opportunities need to be shared more widely. Standard processes, best practices, and institutional procedures need to replace ad hoc decision making. I know this, and the 2016-17 officers did a lot of good work in this direction. But it’s not what I do best.

Denton CUUPS doesn’t just need a new leader, it needs a different kind of leader. And now it has one.

A wonderful Samhain ritual

I can’t think of a better final circle than this year’s Samhain ritual. Wren coordinated a ritual titled “Into the Cave of the Morrigan” which invoked and honored the Great Queen and allowed the participants to hear from Her. Everyone was invited to claim their wisdom, and then to consider how to put it into action to respond to the needs of our world in these troubled times.

Hail Morrigan!
Hail Morrigan!

We had 64 people in attendance – that’s a new record for Denton CUUPS. Numbers aren’t everything, but they’re nice to have.

After the ritual, we recognized our outgoing officers, especially Bonnie Davidson. Bonnie has been a CUUPS officer for 12 years. She doesn’t get all the publicity I do, but she’s been a constant presence and a strong contributor over the years. She deserves a break at least as much as I do.

Hannah Nutt and Bonnie Davidson
Hannah Nutt and Bonnie Davidson

The Dented Cup

A couple years ago the Anomalous Thracian told me that when I say “Denton CUUPS” what he hears is “Dented Cup” and he imagines a chalice with a dent in it, but that’s still beautiful and functional. I loved that idea – and I had the perfect cup for it. It’s been used in countless Denton CUUPS rituals to offer libations to various Gods and spirits (including this Samhain), and occasionally to share the blessings of the Gods in a small gathering. The tarnish is authentic – it’s one of the first magical tools I bought when I began exploring Paganism almost 25 years ago. I added the dent myself.

The Dented Cup has become the symbol of the deeper spirituality of Denton CUUPS. While the Coordinating Officer is not a High Priestess or a Chief Druid, they are responsible for insuring that whatever we do – and CUUPS is open to all forms of Paganism in alignment with Unitarian Universalist values – we do respectfully and we do well.

That has been my top priority as Coordinating Officer, and it seemed both appropriate and necessary to formally pass the Dented Cup to my successor.

Passing the Dented Cup

And so at the end of our post-ritual announcements, I asked Hannah if she would accept the job her fellow members elected her to fill, and she said yes. I asked her to take responsibility for the Dented Cup and all it represents, and she said yes. I charged her to demand the same from her successor, whenever that may be, and she said yes.

passing the Dented Cup
passing the Dented Cup

I almost said “will ye serve?” But I’m not sure how many people would get the Pirates of the Caribbean reference, and in any case even 12 years as Coordinating Officer is not a hundred years before the mast.

At various times over the years I’ve said “there’s no one available who can do this job.” Whether that was ever true, it isn’t any more. Hannah has been a great Communications Officer this year, she has great leadership skills, and she has a deep Pagan practice of her own. I’m excited about how and where she’ll lead this group that means so much to me.

My future plans

So what am I going to do now that I’m not responsible for leading a deep, growing, and thriving CUUPS group?

For one thing, I’m not going away. I’m still a member of Denton CUUPS and I intend to remain active. I’ll be at all our events unless I’m out of town (which is happening more and more these days) but I won’t be opening the building and locking up at the end of the night any more. I won’t be running meetings and advocating for policies. I won’t be pestering people to get stuff done. I’m not “in charge” anymore.

Having this responsibility off my plate lets me devote more of my attention to writing and teaching, and especially to my devotional and magical work. Some people are called to be leaders and some are called to be scholars. I’m at my best – and my happiest – when I’m doing Paganism, and then writing about it so everyone else can see what I do, adapt it for their own practices, and let us know how it worked for them. That lets me adjust my practice based on their results, and the cycle starts all over again.

This is how the Pagan movement grows in depth and meaning.

I am honored by the gifts and tributes I received on Saturday night. Sometimes being a Pagan leader feels like a thankless job. Other times your friends let you know just how much they really do appreciate you.

It’s been a great 12 years. Now I’m happy to pass the Dented Cup to Hannah Nutt.

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