Pagan Community Center in Danger of Shutting Down

On Tuesday PNC-Minnesota reported that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), had unveiled a new national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar. Open for just over two years, Sacred Paths has been seen as one possible model for creating Pagan-centered and dedicated space within a local community. Their journey was profiled by PNC reporter Cara Schultz  in a special video series produced earlier this year (part 1, part 2).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7zQe6H37t4

However, just days later, Sacred Paths Center posted an urgent message on their website saying they were out of capital, and that the center is in danger of closing down unless they can raise $7,500 immediately.

“Sacred Paths Center, the Spiritual/Pagan Center, open to all, first of its kind in the United States, is broke. “What, AGAIN?” Yes. “Now why?” Simple: lack of YOUR support. This message will reach thousands and thousands, but how many of you will care enough to do anything? A physical banner has been put in the ground here, proclaiming this area as sacred to us; SPC is that banner. “Pagan Community”, “Paganistan”…it seems they are just words. There are thousands of us here in the Twin Cities metro, and among us all, we can’t give $3000 a month to keep that banner standing open. What does that say—really say—about “Pagan Community”? Less than a dollar each, and yet… Less than a dollar each, and yet… There will be no plea running pages and pages; no dog and pony show; no Benefit Event. If you can’t step up, Sacred Paths Center closes. We need $7500 now, right now for a reasonable chance at a future.”

That statement, posted by memebers of the SPC Board, bluntly highlights that this crisis comes from a lack of local fiscal support. As a member-supported, non-profit community center, recurring donations are vital to their long-term health and viability.  Now, it looks like the “next chapter” of this community center’s story depends on the locals of Paganistan.

“We donated today when I saw it. It’s a valuable, necessary resource and the community needs to put forward the money so that we can keep it going.” - Shelly Tomtschik, Sacred Paths Center volunteer

Cultural anthropologist Murphy Pizza, a Pagan scholar who lives in Minneapolis, says that the Twin Cities boast “the second largest contemporary Pagan community in the US, “ and that there is a “unique Minnesotan Pagan culture.” I was able to speak with two local Pagans who are part of this unique culture to see what their views and reactions were on this development. For Nels Linde, an editor at PNC-Minnesota, the main question is if the Sacred Paths Center can broaden its support at this urgent crossroads moment.

“The Sacred Path Center has been funded by, and the center of activity for, a relatively small but active section of our community. Many wonderful events, services, and concerts, as well as the Ancestor Shrine have been hosted there. The Center appeared to be burdened with high overhead at this location from the start, and now may be also threatened by extended light rail construction and possible gentrification inflation after completion. It has rallied once already, but it remains to be seen if a much larger number of the thousands of area Pagans value it enough to support it on a monthly basis. Without grant funding, or a continual fundraising effort, consistent moderate donations seem the Center’s best hope.”

Elysia Gallo, an employee at Llewellyn Worldwide, the world’s oldest and largest independent publisher of metaphysical books, located in nearby Woodbury, Minnesota, wonders if they tried to do too much, too soon.

“It would really be a shame if Sacred Paths Center were to close down, because so many Pagans have held it up with pride as an example of what a strong and sustainable community we have here in the Twin Cities… but if people aren’t supporting it monetarily, then we’re all just kidding ourselves. We have metaphysical bookstores which also serve as community hubs and meeting spaces, but they’re not putting on concerts and things like that, they’re more constrained in their usages. I just wish Sacred Paths Center would finally figure out a sustainable model of growth, which would include them figuring out what the community values enough to pay for, and keeping their expenses trimmed to just sustain those things until they’re strong enough to deliver the whole enchilada. I think they tried to go for that far too soon.”

Both responses seem to boil down to what the local Pagan community in the Twin Cities is willing and able to support. The issue of money and funding for Pagan organizations, community centers, temples, and service-based initiatives within our interconnected communities is still largely unsettled. Jonathan Korman, Secretary of Solar Cross Temple, a non-profit religious organization based in California, thinks there are two roadblocks to creating a culture of fiscal support: That many modern Pagans are still “deeply anti-institutional, and regard the lack of institutions as a feature, not a bug” and that “Pagan institutions are below the critical mass where Pagans are able to see the benefit of the institutions and the need for their financial support.”

Can Sacred Paths Center, located within a large Pagan community, reach that critical mass? For now we are left with the question asked by the SPC Board in their appeal: “Does it end here? Or does SPC go forward with your help?” For those interested in giving some support to Sacred Paths Center, you can find donation information at their website. Or you can contact them via email.

ADDENDUM: PNC-Minnesota has posted an interview with Sacred Paths Center board member CJ Stone.

“The immediate needs to keep the doors temporarily open were covered. The Center needs 7500 dollars to continue to operate through this month. The Board has decided that 12,000 was what we needed by midnight of July 30thor we will close the facility. If we can secure that 12k dollars, we can pay our bills to zero and have a positive balance to keep the center open and by able to steer the Center in a direction that will be financially viable.”

Read the whole thing for insight into what the center’s plans are, what they need, and why they got into trouble.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

    In an age where no one seems to want to even identify as “pagan” or any category larger than their own tradition, the prospects for such a place seem dim, at best. On the other hand, I suspect the problems of the center are not entirely due to the peculiarities of modern paganism. Running a non-profit community center or any similar venture is a real science. The days of bumbling along with a sympathetic landlord and a wing and a prayer are long gone. Nor can you run a venture like that in a crisis-to-crisis mode. “We need seven grand by yesterday” is a billboard size announcement which says “we’re not sustainable.”

    If they are in this shape it is either because 1)There simply isn’t a sustainable market in the pagan community for what they’re doing or 2)They aren’t effectively marketing the true value of the place to their client base. Without knowing much about who is involved or what they may have done so far, I would say that they need to start back almost at square one. What is the mission statement? Who will you serve and what will you provide them. That has to be much more specific than “a place for the pagan community.” What do you propose to provide that area pagans cannot get in their home coven or grove or the community at large? What kinds of services or programs do they really want? Who IS your client base? Has anyone done real surveys or focus groups or the demographic analysis of who these people are, where they live, how much they earn etc.? Is your location accessible to them if they rely on public transportation or is parking an issue? Is it the kind of neighborhood most of them feel safe visiting? (I don’t know squat about the Twin Cities).

    Once this stuff is figured out, THEN you can build/lease the physical space accordingly and identify your funding sources. Every organization has a little pie chart, or several, which identifies, in broad focus, their funding sources. You have programming costs and the baseline sort of infrastructure costs. Right now, I suspect the pie looks something like this: event tickets and the like cover some or perhaps most of their own costs. The little core of dedicated volunteers covers almost everything else out of their own pocket minus the occasional influx from desperate community appeals. Again, clearly not sustainable. Going back to the “who we serve” issue, there are many ways to tap into state, federal and local funding sources if you know what you’re doing. If you have some programming that serves seniors or teens or veterans or certain other groups in ways that aren’t being duplicated in the community, you can easily attract some funding from United Way, townships, the state, other foundations etc. It may only be a few hundred or thousand here and there, but that’s how you build that pie, with lots of small to mid-size wedges/sources.

    I could rant on this for hours, but the core point is this: We pagans tend to be wary of institutions and that’s fine as far as it goes. We do a lot of wonderful things in “festival” fashion where people roll up their sleeves and go all in out of love. That model works for a week at PSG. Not so much in a world where rent and expenses roll in 365 days a year. Full time non-profits must be run more from the head than the heart.

    • Cigfran

      > In an age where no one seems to want to even identify as “pagan” or any category larger than their own tradition, the prospects for such a place seem dim, at best.

      I think this is dead on. In many recent stories and comments we read about the alleged necessity for pagans to not even identify as pagans, let alone admit to any significant shared worldview or purpose. “Community” can mean nothing in such a context, and it can be no wonder that such a minority, split even further by ego and insularity, cannot sustain it.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      I think the whole “no one wants to identify as Pagan anymore” thing is hugely blown out of proportion by the Pagan media. My experience is as soon as I find people not routinely exposed to Pagan media, when I tell them about this, they’re basically… “huh, wha?”

      • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

        Polytheists tell you this? Heathens? Kemeticists? Hellenics? Druids?

        There’s a difference between blowing something out of the water and giving people a voice.

        • Sarah

          As a Hellenic polytheist living in small-town Kansas, I found myself rather confused by the whole debate. We are still struggling to educate people on the fact that non-Christian religions exist and we don’t all worship the Devil and kill cats for fun. While I’m sure many people would prefer to use more accurate and specific religious terms, the word “pagan” serves a purpose for us. Our “pagan” shop and “pagan” events are frequented by hard and soft polytheists, Heathens, Kemetics, Hellenics, Druids, and many others, none of whom are objecting at this point to being included under the “pagan” umbrella. Maybe it’s just a function of Kansas being a few decades behind the rest of the world, but that’s where we stand right now.

        • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

          There’s also such a thing as a vocal minority.

          And yes, some of these people include Heathens, Kemetics and other non-Wiccan Pagans worshipping multiple deities.

  • H R

    This is so unfortunate. I would LOVE to live in an area with a Pagan community center. Heck, I’d take a Pagan community SHED. I think Mr. Korman hits the nail on the head with his comment about anti-institutionalism and hope that this will serve as a warning bell for those within the community who resist the idea of organizing and coming together.

  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

    While I’m saddened by the fact that SPC is in danger of shutting down (no one likes to see a community center shuttered!) I have to wonder if this recession plays a big part as to why people may not have been donating. I’m not sure of the job numbers in Paganistan but times are tough for a lot of people who may love to donate but just can’t budget it in at all.

  • Caliban

    How much of their profits, made from pagan and occult students and practitioners around the world, has Llewellyn actually put back into the community? How large of a donation do they make to the Sacred Paths Center? Until that amount is more than $0.00, Elysia Gallo and Llewellyn Worldwide can, as we say in the internent blog commenteer community, STFU.

    • Anonymous

      From what I’ve seen of Elysia, she is absolutely dedicated to the Pagan community. She’s the one who shows up at Paganicon planning meetings. Her opinion was solicited in the article by the author. She doesn’t deserve the personal attack.

      Llewellyn does support other community endeavors, Pagan Pride and Paganicon come to mind. I have my doubts SPC has asked Llewellyn for help or sponsorship. They never even asked us (Eye of Horus) for help during their first crises, but we gave several hundred dollars to them from our own funds and from a weekend event where they got 10% of all of our sales. That was all our idea. They haven’t asked us for help since. Think about it.

  • Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

    I live in the Paganistan area, and I have just donated some money to SPC, which I also did when the last crisis occurred. I think that the problem is pretty much as Elysia Gallo has stated, SPC is attempting to do too much in too short of time. Also, there are a lot of other organizations and groups who are doing much the same thing, although they might not have a permanent home. I am not a board member, but I think that the member need to put together a business model and focus on sustainability rather than having such an aggressive community based ambition. I also think that like a local PBS station, they should also have periodic membership drives and donation pledges. It might not be fun and glamorous, but at least it ensures that the money comes in.

    I have also found the blunt ad on their website as kind of insulting, since I do have a very busy life outside of the cities and my own occult and pagan work, it’s very easy to not focus on what’s going on at SPC. Getting the word out and informing the community is part of their outreach. I generally only hear from them when they need money. I hope that the committee that runs SPC will do some soul searching when and if this crisis is averted. Doing less and living within your means is something that all of us have had to do in the recent three recession based years.

  • Elnigma

    I hope there’s a turn around and it stays.

    Something I note – looking at its schedule, the center had generous hours and few events that would actually bring in money. “Laughing Reiki” has a very limited appeal, tarot readers- most of the funds would go to the reader, Community Potluck – great idea, but that’s *free.* I think Bellydance has a wider appeal, and greater opportunities for financial good, too. If there was other things it’d host and have on the schedule, they weren’t promoted well on their site.
    A schedule is important – most religious institutions get most of their donations when someone puts in the basket when they come to an event or service.

    Though I’ve never been there, I would guess there was probably 2-3 people who don’t strongly support the Center who made it their second home.
    Someone being there all the time on the comfy seats always either dispensing advice or requiring help also doesn’t pay for rent. Financial exchange has to occur.

    • Cara

      Groups that do classes, workshops, potlucks, etc pay a room rental fee.

      • Elnigma

        It’s a suggestion, one I don’t know is viable: perhaps to become sustainable, they could look at offering the space to evening private events such as handfastings, big Midsummer and Yule parties, Dances, seminars, etc.
        People still look to do things like those during a recession.
        Many pagans identify themselves more by their traditions (private events) rather than community ones.
        Locally, I could rent a small bare, ugly room for 300$ for the evening and count that as cheaper than fancy halls with required caterers.
        The other thought being of course the same as theirs on the website – how if nobody is earning any money and they’re still so far under all the time, to pack up the Altar and move.
        (Service and sacrifice have their places, but martyrdom isn’t what being pagan is about IMHO, and when the Universe sends clues, listen..)

        • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

          Who’s to say it has to be limited to Pagans. Money from non-Pagans is just as good last time I had to pay someone with it.

          • Elnigma

            I wouldn’t say it.

        • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

          Who’s to say it has to be limited to Pagans. Money from non-Pagans is just as good last time I had to pay someone with it.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t normally add comments online…fact that will probably be apparent: much of Kenneth’s and the other posters’ comments ring true. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned it yet, but we had a Pagan community center here in Dallas for a number of years (Betwixt and Between). The few who supported it worked very hard. But, in the end they (we?) succumbed to financial pressure among other things. While I only attended a couple of times, my perception from others who attended was that the center meant different things to the different people who did attend and lend support. The few phrases that come to mind for my quick comments: a) people in general only value things that they have to pay or invest it (ie. free things aren’t valued by most), b) In order to pay or invest in something, people need to be able to define its value; and in the case of a pagan community center, what is it doing for ‘ME’?, and c) until we find a compelling reason to come together for some unified purpose, we will continue to be socially fractured.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      I never knew about that center in Dallas and I’m just down the road in Houston. Granted, I’ve only been here for a few years. Not that I’d have used the center, but my travels do take me up that way on occasion and I would have love to stop by and leave a donation in return for letting me stop by.

  • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

    It’s difficult to have a space that is self-sustaining. You need to be a bit creative. Give some things away that will get people to come back and give a donation/buy something from them. Perhaps have people donate their time and hold classes (not just 101 crap either – cool stuff like drum making) that the community wants, and charge something like $20 for the class, or $40 if materials are supplied by the instructor.

    Just spewing some ideas that have worked in other places.

    Or maybe it’s time to take a hint and surrender, realizing that people do not want this facility and the constant fiscal crisis is a symptom rather than a problem onto itself.

  • http://profiles.google.com/paganveg David Salisbury

    This is very sad for several reasons
    1- As someone who is involved with my own city of DC creating our own community center (a project around 15 years in the making that will come to pass this February!), it is concerning that the community hasnt supported it enough to be sustainable. It has been said here “build it and we’ll support it!”. Well, the SPC was built, and folks didnt support it well enough. This makes me nervous for my own area. Will people really support the DC Center once we build it? I hope so.

    2- Im surprised at all the “its SPC’s own fault” views. A community center is based on…well.. community. Don’t think they’re doing enough programming to bring in funds? Join their board! volunteer, help out, send ideas..etc. Do something. What is that quote some dude said about being the change you want to see?…

    3- As has been stated, MN has one of the largest Pagan populations in the nation. If they cant support a center, who can? Is it just that folks in MN are all broke? Or do they just not donate? Is it a political issue? Bad part of town? Is it welcoming? These are all factors that could play a hand that we dont hear about as community outsiders. I wonder if there is more below the surface.

    Finally, for all who think that SPC needs to find a sustainable model:
    There is no truly sustainable model for a community center that is not highly funded by state or local government. Take LGBT community centers for instance. In cities where they get BIG dollars from their city and state (LA, San Fran, NYC, Chicago, etc), they are all thriving and well. Never in crisis. In DC, our LGBT community center gets no funding from the gov. We are one of the ONLY LGBT community centers to get zero gov funding in the nation. This means that our LGBT center changes location about once every year, is frequently in crisis, and the space itself is usually the side of the closet.
    So, its not just Pagan centers, its all centers. Any center that can get by without big funding is probably running off a combo of highly motivated and paid community members, and pure luck.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

      “Build it and we’ll support it” is a proven formula for failure. Building a full-time not-for-profit, especially one with its own space, is a business venture like any other. With the exception of some taxes and a formal profit margin, you’ve got to meet all of the same expenses as a business. You’ve got to have revenue streams that will generate perhaps 80% of the money you would need if you were opening a hair salon or insurance office or whatever in that same space, every month of every year. You wouldn’t open one of those businesses without a business plan, or you certainly wouldn’t get any bank financing to do so these days. I don’t mean to denigrate the people who envisioned SPC or anything like it. The do what they do out of love, but love don’t pay the rent (unless you get into THAT business :) Counting on the vague and clearly fickle loyalty of a group identity as mushy as “pagan” is not in any way shape or form a business plan. It’s sort of like counting on the kindness of a complete stranger to bail you out on your mortgage because they happen to be a fellow redhead…

      Having a full time community center just to have a touchstone for people of a certain identity (pagan, LGBT) is not a viable model. Public ancestor shrines are not big revenue engines, at least in our culture, and the occaisional concert or book signing is clearly not enough to pay the considerable expenses of a building which sits empty most of the time.

      If any of these entities are to thrive, a few things need to happen. One, pagans in general need to take a more grown-up view about money. We tend to run things on a hippie economy of give and take, (and too often, just take). Maybe we don’t want four-wall institutions like other religions. There are arguments for and against that, but if we do, we have to suck it up and realize that they cost real money, not the infrequent “love donation” of five bucks or one afternoons income from a Tarot booth.

      Organizers of such community centers need to learn how to play the game like they do in the majors. Get a business plan. Look at providing real social services that draw government money. Offer some amenities that people can’t get elsewhere. Maybe offer some nice ritual spaces with options for food and booze catering with a markup. Restrict access to real paid memberships. Hire some professional charity development/fundraising folks. You can also get a lot of free advice by talking with other centers to learn what worked for them. Cultivate wealthy donors. Paganism doesn’t have a lot of hedge fund managers or CEOs, but we do have some well to do professionals. They do exist and they are willing to give money, but they want to see annual reports and some professionalism and their names on brass plaques and all that sort of thing.

      Pagan community centers only have a future if we are willing to get real.

    • Dm13677

      WHAT??!?! THERE IS GOING TO BE A CENTER IN DC?
      I’d leave the Eastern Shore to go see that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marienne.foxwood Marienne Hartwood

      The DC area has a challenging history when it comes to pagan community centers/retreat centers. I remember what happened with the last pagan community center I knew about in the DC area. At one time, there was a need for community financial support to keep the doors open. For myriad reasons, there were lots of people willing to “send energy”, but few people willing to send dollars. No surprise, that center no longer exists except in fond memories and some wounded hearts of those that supported it. That was less than a decade ago. I am skeptical that “community” has changed that much in the past few years when it comes to opening checkbooks.

      There’s a decent number of people in the DC area who could write a check and get the doors for a community center open tomorrow–however like the multi-millionaires on Shark Tank, without knowing that there’s a sustainable business model that would keep the doors open without relying on handouts, I don’t know if any of them would step forward. If there is a plan in place, perhaps that needs to be made more public to grow confidence, which might then produce funds.

      Has any thought been given to casting a wider net for the DC center, and instead of making it a pagan community center, make it an interfaith center of which pagans provide some of the funding and leadership alongside other (potentially better-funded) faiths? That model is not guaranteed for success either, because you’re still dependent on contributions, but it might be something that could gain critical mass easier to open the doors and then be more likely to secure corporate/private funding from non-”people” contributors. The challenge with that is that the board does have to honor the desires of its members, and if that suggestion hasn’t flown yet, it probably is because it isn’t what is wanted.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      Well I’ve been following a few concepts with fundraising, and some of this observation covers building community centers.

      First, I’m intrigued by the Hacker Space concept. For those of you who do not know, a Hacker Space is for those looking to get into electronics or doing cool stuff like building your own circuit boards or manufacturing your thingamabob. Equipment for this often sits in folks’ garages unused and so these people will bring in this expensive equipment (often costing $30k+) for the joy of showing others how to use it and seeing it be used by people genuinely interested in learning.

      While the name derives from the 1970s concept of Hacking (taking something apart to see how it works), modern day crackers are often in the crowds at Hacker Spaces showing off things like building better programs. If we can teach people when they are new, they wont make the mistakes that generations of others have made.

      I find this completely fascinating because this group of geeks is often viewed as anti-social because all our social interaction takes place online. To see a group that has no established need for a space just suddenly start creating these spaces all around the world because one group did it and “it was fun” and “we need to have one of these in my city to spread the fun” is quite an interesting phenomenon.

      Problem with a building is silly things we forget like buildings exist 24/7. What happens when no one is there? What about security? Can we even afford to be anywhere other than the ghetto where guns are shot at night? All fun things to go over.

      Also, it’s often discovered swiftly that the donation model fails to drive sufficient funds. Donations couldn’t sustainably fund The Wild Hunt, how do you expect ‘em to fund a building? Run it like a business: supply products & services people demand.

      As for rapid fundraising, I like the concept of founders or the “100 club” concept where you get 100 people to donate 100 dollars to raise funds in a hurry.

      Let’s not forget that it’s proven Pagans have every bit as much fiscal diversity as any other sampling of the American population. There are people out there that wouldn’t mind taking a fiscal risk in exchange for a possible interest payment or other form of return on investment. However, the proven fiscal irresponsibility of Pagan communities makes people like that weary of investment in those communities, so be sure you got a good plan to be fiscally sustainable by means other than “give me money,” guilt-tripping or other forms of perceived charity.

      • Elnigma

        I noticed on the website that after they reach 3700 in donations a generous donor is offering to match 50 cents on the dollar.

        If everybody reading sends a little very soon this is possible.

  • zack

    well if it closes and the pagans still need temple space to rent they should be checking out Leaping Laughter Lodge OTO (there are even some pagans in OTO) who will rent you temple space to your heart’s content

  • Iris Firemoon

    I will be making a contribution to the Sacred Paths Center.

    I am the Chair of the Open Hearth Foundation, the DC Pagan community center project in Washington, DC. We have been looking to the Sacred Path Center as an example, and looking for the guidance and lessons that can be learned from their published experiences. We very much appreciate the stories that they have shared with the community about some of their challenges and triumphs.

    There is this sense in DC that “if we build it, they will come,” but this set of recent Sacred Path Center experiences changes our stability in that train of thought. This is already causing discussion between some of the OHF board members, and we will likely discuss this with with the DC Pagan community on what this development indicates for our success.

    Representing the OHF aside, I don’t want to see Sacred Path Center fail, because it’s success means a strong and connected Pagan community. I personally mirror Maria Aquila’s personal feelings in her blog that discusses frustration with lack of adequate community support for projects that one would think would be of importance: http://itsallelemental.blogspot.com/2011/07/worst-fears-realized.html

  • Anonymous

    I do think it’s possible to sustain a community center if you can get enough memberships upfront and make membership your focus. At least I want to believe it. The SPC opened before getting members, which was a lofty goal, but they haven’t been able to solicit supporting members. I do wish they had let us know about their troubles before it was a crisis. I suspect, from the tone of their announcement there is some serious burnout involved. I wish them only the best.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    In my thirties I was involved with a neighborhood organization. We ran an annual street fair, in which we charged serious rent to vendors who lined the sidewalk of the main drag, which was closed to traffic for the fair for two blocks. We needed permission of the city and it was not easy to get, but we got it and we were really nobody in particular — the least regarded (in City Hall) neighorhood of our inner-ring suburb, organized originally to resist City Hall’s redevelopment schemes.

    It’s not the same thing as SPC of course — we didn’t have a bricks & mortar institution — but it’s a model SPC could adapt, especially if “Paganistan” unites to press City Hall to allow it. “Start where the people are at.” — Saul Alinsky.

  • Charles Cosimano

    The importance of location cannot be over stated. In the mid 1990s I was an officer in an organization in the Chicago area that was, frankly, dying on its feet. And the club president picked a meeting location that hastened its doom being in the middle of the city and nowhere near any expressway exits.

    I remember one night sitting across from her in a restaurant and she was telling me that she wanted to be where the “people” were. In frustratration I took out a road map of Chicago and, moving my hand around the land mass of the suburbs said, “THIS is where our people are! They aren’t going to come here,” followed by some nasty comments about rat food…

  • Anonymous

    This is an interesting discussion. I’ve posted some (likely unpopular) thoughts at my blog. http://hecatedemeter.wordpress.com/

    • Robert Mathiesen

      These are important considerations, and I am very glad you took the time to write your post. I have added a comment there. My thoughts are much the same as yours, though my starting point is a little different.

  • Revsonyamiller

    7,000 dollars to save them? I am sorry, I have to agree with Llewellyn…they need to budget, and use their money more wisely. How could it be that much in so little of a time? We have a church here, and while we do not have a building that big or nice…and are working on that fund all the time, I could not imagine asking for that much money from the community all at one time. If we bail them out this time…what’s to stop them from doing it again?

    I see that more often than not in this community. Elders and Pagan leaders asking for money from the community because they mismanaged it, where is their money…? What do they have to show for the money…couldn’t they have grown more slowly? Have they done fundraisers? Do they have a non-profit staff, a public business account that posts this? Maybe the have a space that is too expensive? These are all things, that are not discussed yet are practical things that our growing religion needs to address.

    If you go to a clergy training in any other religion, business is demanded…why would it not be in ours? How did they get into debt, how much does their staff put into the pot? Why is no one asking these questions? I am sure you writing about them here, will bail them out…but are you sure that is really what we SHOULD do?

  • Dervaloch Maqqnuduns

    The problem with pagan community centers goes beyond the label “pagan”. When we see some news story about some other pagan culture out there that has some long established tradition, and long-established centers of culture or community, and when we see pictures or footage of their worship spaces, their temples, or whatever they have, what we love isn’t the fact that they are pagans worshiping gods that might be similar to ours. What we love is that their way of life never had to be reclaimed or reconstructed. And what gives their worship places and spaces and temples or whatever the power they do have, is the fact that a community of people who all believe similar things, who do similar things in honor of ancestral powers, have gathered here sometimes for centuries. We are feeling the aura of authenticity, devotion, and ancestral piety.

    We don’t have that and can’t match that because we don’t have actual communities of “pagans”, because “pagan” means nothing today, really. It means whatever the individual pagan wants it to mean. I could make an easy historical case that the vast majority of Indo-European pagans from the past- including the famous “Celts” and even the currently-sexy “Norse”, had a religion that was 95% ancestor worship. It wasn’t focused around these popular “gods” you see being sold in statue form by Sacred Source, or whatever. People descended from the same ancestral powers were linked together by an organic cult, and they occupied a place in this world, used the same stands of forest or caves or plains for their group worship, and they had an identity drawn from the land and ancestors, in some tangible place. They were united, fully spiritually united to one another and to a land, to a place. The blood and bones of their own kin and group were inside that land.

    Modern Pagans are a bunch of strangers from all walks of life who have their own collection of mis-matched statues from various now-dead Pagan cultures, and their predictable collection of new-age books that don’t reflect a spirit of ancestral unity or sacred connection with the land. What we want, what we are all thirsty for, is the dignity that once radiated from a long-lasting, intimate connection with one another, ancestral powers, and the land itself. But we won’t have that, because 99% of Pagans are against really being part of a group, against putting themselves aside for a group identity. They want the group to serve them, to get them more “new age” stuff, to give them that “religious identity” which loses all its power when it becomes just another label to hold against someone in an online debate, or to piss off the folks, and to be flashy for the internet.

    The historical pagans didn’t call themselves anything special; their religions had no names. They were just “the people” of a certain place, or of a certain ancestor. Until we reach back to that, and embrace a sense of shared ancestry- which we can all do, even today, under several broad cultural categories- and until we find our way back to a “place” that we can all bond with together, we aren’t going to be anything except a failed SCA that no one takes seriously.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Dervaloch, your basic argument is flawed because it assumes up front what it is trying to prove: That Paganism without closely shared ancestry is a sham.

      The fact of the contemporary Pagan movement proves, on the contrary, that a cohort drawn randomly (from a genetic viewpoint) from the general population by a shared spiritual quest can indeed form a community.

      That community has been struggling to manifest in a largely hostile surrounding culture and, despite being engaged in struggle, has refused to abandon joy and celebration as part of its makeup. The fact that it is still fumbling for competence at things like brick-&-mortar institutions can be traced to the fact that it is still young and finding its way.

      (No, Apuleius, don’t jump in with the claim that the Pagan community is two thousand years old. Everyone here but you knows what I mean.)

      What this community needs, Dervaloch, is not your brand of despair, but the kind of hope it already contains.

    • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

      In my interactions with the Pagan community, both personally and online (though I will admit that this is not the whole of community and is merely an anecdote) I see Pagan ancestor worship and/or veneration on the rise. Whether this is because more of the Pagan community is crossing into African and Diasporic traditions, or if this is because of the efforts of Reconstructionists to reengage ancestral worship, or even if it is just part of some unfolding understanding in the wider Pagan community, or some other reason, I count it as a plus.

      A lot of Pagans in general were not raised with ancestor veneration, and as far as my experience of Wicca goes, ancestors are not venerated in the sense that they are honored in ritual, in everyday practice, are regularly propitiated, or are seen as being part of one’s everyday spiritual reality. The most I’ve seen where ancestor veneration comes into play with most forms of Wicca is in Samhain celebrations. While I think that there is a growing presence of ancestral worship and veneration in the Pagan communities, I don’t think it should be rushed, but grown into. A good number of the people who are leery of it, myself included when I started, is because recently deceased Ancestors actively disagreed with our religious views, or there is a history of hostility to religions other than the ones we were raised in (if we were converts) or our families belonged to. For me, it took some getting used to, working around personal feelings, and some growth before I was ready to full embrace my Ancestors, and even still, it is sometimes a challenge with some of Them.

      Again, what I’m saying here comes from my own personal interactions and experiences alone and with the Pagan community, so your mileage may vary.

  • Cara

    From previous interviews with Sacred Paths Center it looked like they were doing everything right. Multiple streams of revenue (room rental, a store, membership, and outright donations), a formal business plan, careful acounting, and a Director who worked an insane number of hours and didn’t draw any money out of the ceter. All the ‘employes’ are volunteers so there isn’t a staff to pay. The Center is busy and full most every day of the week.

    From my perspective, if a community center can’t make it in Paganistan…I don’t see how one can make it anywhere. And while some Pagans are broke, the idea that Pagans are all poor is absurd. In every single survey I’ve sen on various Pagan populations in the USA, Pagans are actually better well off than the general population of the USA.

    We have the money, we express desire for various things such as comunity centers, we use the services and go to the places provided (like a community center) – we just don’t back up our words with our actions (or our money).

    And that is sad.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      It’d be cool if next year’s PSG was on the moon.

      It’d be cool if there was a local Pagan community center.

      Not seeing how those statements are vastly different.

      I don’t see it as a lack of putting money where our mouth is, it’s more that most see these as lofty unrealistic ideals rather than essentials.

      As for the place being staffed by volunteers, if they can’t pay minimum wage for workers, how do they expect to be paying all the rest of their expenses? Again, too much charity-begging going on here, not enough fiscal sustainability.

      • Cara

        Dave, I’m going to respectfuly suggest that you may not know what you are talking about re: this situation and our community. How long have you lived in the Twin Cities? How many times have you visited the Twin Cities?

        Yeah….

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      Let’s not pretend that “if it can’t happen in Paganistan, it cannot happen anywhere.”

      For example, AFAIK there isn’t a single Pagan Podcast out of Paganistan – yet there’s a large thriving community of Pagan Podcasters over at http://PaganPodcasting.org

      If we’re going based off culture, there should be more Pagan Podcasts coming out of Paganistan than the Evangelical-dominated Dallas, TX that currently has 3-4 active Pagan podcasts (depending on how you count).

      • Cara

        We have more than 4 Pagan podcasts coming out of the Twin Cities area.

        • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

          [citation needed]

    • http://www.tigerseyetemple.org Dan Miller

      Spot on Cara. I think there is a disturbing lack of stewardship in general paganism. Beyond small pockets of dedicated people, the rest of the pagan populace, in general, would rather only take and not give back, but complain when their needs are not being met, or how much some workshop costs, yet find the money for trinkets. Yet, the money aspect doesn’t bother me that much. Understand that for some, giving money is not a option, but how about time and energy to whatever local project needs to be done?

      Wade of Deeply Rooted has given talks on his developing topic of “Pagan Orthodoxy” at events the last few years. If nothing else, it would make a smashing and interesting topic for the general pagan community to chew on here on WH.

  • Cara
    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Stocking revenue-drawing consumeables serving the local community, whether they are Pagan or not, is a great step toward “starting where the people are at.”

      I hope the Center gets past its current crisis and that the board then does some long-term planning in terms of “starting where the people are at” with Paganistan. I made one suggestion a while back based on my experience; the board would of couse go with theirs, knowing the local situation.

  • Anonymous

    As much as I tried, I could not often find a reason for me to go to Sacred Paths. In my opinion, the store was not a good example of what a Pagan store should be. There are many other better stocked Pagan stores in the metro.

    If I walk into a store with money to burn and people to buy for and walk out with a $7 purchase I made because I felt obliged, that is not a good business model.

    I’d read the events and class schedules and nothing appealed to me. So it might be ‘my fault’ if it closes, but I won’t feel its absence.

  • Grimmorrigan

    I worry about our community. Maybe it is a fear drawn from hearing only about failed projects, lack of participation , poor communication, or general jack-assery. Maybe it comes from reading comment sections where folks feast like jakals over the failing of others. Mayhaps it is simply some left over ealry twenties angst. That being said..
    I worry. I live in West Virginia, and the issues I see presented in the Pagan media I see locally. The same anger at titles, fear at being open, grumblings that things are going “my” way, and lack of iniative are here. I’m sure you can relate. However what we have here are a few folks who TRY. Despite the closeted nature of our community we have some amazingly active people. Folks who teach classes, organize event, such as Beltaine in the Forest which draws a few hundred folks everyear, and several open rituals which draw crowds of 5 -25. I know its nothing major but we’re proud of what we can accomplish. However, we get folks who will participate, but few who will organize, lead, develop, and occasionally fund these events.
    I can only wonder what is at the reat fo these iusses. It is simply apathy? Is it a side effect of 50 years of comfort culture? Is it related to the concept of selective participation we’re seein spouted by those who only want their taxes to go to things they support? Is it even something we can figure out?

  • CJ Stone

    CJ Stone here, board member at Sacred Paths Center (SPC).

    First, let me say thank you to everyone for this long and careful discussion. Regardless of what happens to SPC, we need to talk about our values and how we are living them. You folks are doing that, and it affects SPC, but it’s bigger than SPC.

    Second, thanks to folks like Frater B., who have deep and serious concerns, but who still give generously to SPC.

    It seems like the issue concerning most of you is: how did it get this way in the first place? Well, I see several things here.

    *We didn’t know how hard it was to run a community center. Now we do.

    *We gave too few people too much of the work. We thought we could double up on some responsibilities, but we were wrong. Things that should have gone forward got dropped, and revenue dropped with that. These were not large things, like a $5K funding event; rather, small things that might have brought in $200-300/month. Now we are spreading the responsibility to the right number of people. We will monitor them more closely than we did in the past and be sure things go forward at the right speed.

    *We had some uncontrollable changes. Revenues are down because of the light rail construction on the main road. Revenues are down because it is summer. Revenues are down because of the economy. Rent is up. One of our regular bills more than doubled a few months ago, and we think we are paying for a neighbor’s use. We haven’t been able to sort that out with the landlord or the service provider, but we are still responsible for the bill at this point, and we are being threatened with a cutoff. And so on.

    It’s also true we need to prepare for the possibility of closing the Raymond facility (our current location). Per our lease, from the day we say we are done, we’re on the hook for a certain number of months of rent. Some people have given personal guarantees to SPC, and we will not hang them out to dry. We may not be able to cover everything, but we won’t just walk away and let them take it on the chin.

    If we make our $12K, that amount gives us room to maneuver, make the changes I’ve talked about elsewhere (PNC interview), and so on.

    One challenge that will continue is finding responsible volunteers to staff the higher-level positions. But we will do it.

    At least one of you has said we should cut our costs. There’s not much more we can do. We’re already running an operation without a payroll, which is at least 40% of any other org’s cost. We keep the lights off. We keep the temp cheap. We might move to another location, but we need to keep SPC at an easy-access, high-traffic, public-transportation site, and this is that. We might have to move in two years because of gentrification rent increases, and we’re starting to feel some of that now, but we’ve done what we can do short of moving. At the end of the month, we may be moving anyway, but that’s a different consideration to be taken up then.

    The comment from Eye of Horus is taken to heart. (And let me say, right away, THANK YOU.) Yes, we didn’t ask you to do a charitable day for us again; but in all honesty, I’m not sure how we could have asked you. You are a defacto competitor, so it’s hard to come to you and say, like a mugger, “Give us your dough.” On the other hand, the reverse is easy: you come to us and say, “We don’t see you as a competitor. We do want to support SPC. We can do a charity day once every X months, and we want to.” Our children would praise your name unto the seventh generation. (Assuming we continue, I’ll be over in the next little while to talk with you about it.)

    Now, I’m not pointing that out to chastise EoH for their inaction or whatever. Instead, I’m using that instance to point out there’s a social situation here, too–what our community will allow, what it won’t, what’s OK, what’s not, who can ask whom for what, etc….Nothing unusual there, but it’s sometimes hard to remember those situations stem from our relationships, whatever they are. And building those kinds of relationships around money, well, for Pagans, that’s particularly hard.

    And that’s something we have learned the hard way. Now we, the board, get to look at ourselves and figure out how we, as individuals on the board, can change to build the relationships we need to garner the financial support SPC needs and do good for the community.

    And we need time to do that.

    And we are asking for the money to get that time so we can build those relationships.

    For example, while I think we are stuck with our 1% local response, if we could reach out to 10 people in every other state, that would be about 500 folks. At $5/month each, we’d have a significant amount of our costs handled. But we have to reach out, deal with somebody who knows somebody, chase down the six degrees of separation until we find those 10 folks in each state. Or someone in each state who will do it for us.

    While we do that, we have to steer our local activities into a better revenue stream. Not hard, not complicated, yes time consuming. We need that time.

    Again, thanks to everyone for giving us your very thoughtful consideration.

    If you have any specific questions about the situation, please feel free to write me at ClosingQuestions@SacredPathsCenter.com

    • Anonymous

      If this were the first instance of SPC calling for assistance under dire circumstances, I think I may be more open to helping.

      But since the community went through this just a couple of years ago, with the same reassurances were are getting now, I don’t feel like anything has changed.

      • CJ Stone

        CJ Stone here.

        That’s a reasonable feeling. There is some difference between then and now. Then, we had gotten into it without a big enough stake, and we weren’t able to build our membership as fast as we thought we could. We were still pursuing the member-supported model.

        Now we’re in a situation where we need to move away from the member-supported model. This is a new phase of the Great Experiment, and I assure you Things Will Be Different (in caps so you know I know you’ve heard it all before).

        Ultimately, it’s about your values. If you can see we are being honest with you and leveling about the changes we need to make AND supporting SPC is in your important things to do, I look forward to your donation. If not, blessed be, and please give your full support to other worthy Pagan efforts.

    • Jasmine

      If this had been the message that had gone out, rather than “YOU’RE NOT DOING ENOUGH, SO WE’RE FAILING (through no fault of our own)!” then I think a lot of people would have had a better reaction.

      • CJ Stone

        I think we might have done better to say, “WE WOULD HAVE SUCCEEDED HANDILY (if more Pagans had walked the walk).” We depended very heavily on all those who said a Pagan center was a great thing. It turns out now that “all those” numbered 129. And that’s not enough.

        And it was our mistake to make.

        And we made it.

        Now we have stopped making that mistake and are asking for the chance to move on.

        If you and others will support us, we WILL finish correcting our mistakes and move forward. For instance, we are already planning a “Change and Grow” retail sale to let us sell out what we have *immediately* and restock our retail space with things less pervious to the vagaries of the economy, the city’s construction plans, and so on–something more sustainable. (BTW, that sustainable market wasn’t there two years ago–the condos near us were built after we moved in.)

        In any case, consult with your gods, act out your values, and support good Pagan works wherever you find them.

      • CJ Stone

        I think we might have done better to say, “WE WOULD HAVE SUCCEEDED HANDILY (if more Pagans had walked the walk).” We depended very heavily on all those who said a Pagan center was a great thing. It turns out now that “all those” numbered 129. And that’s not enough.

        And it was our mistake to make.

        And we made it.

        Now we have stopped making that mistake and are asking for the chance to move on.

        If you and others will support us, we WILL finish correcting our mistakes and move forward. For instance, we are already planning a “Change and Grow” retail sale to let us sell out what we have *immediately* and restock our retail space with things less pervious to the vagaries of the economy, the city’s construction plans, and so on–something more sustainable. (BTW, that sustainable market wasn’t there two years ago–the condos near us were built after we moved in.)

        In any case, consult with your gods, act out your values, and support good Pagan works wherever you find them.

  • Sunweaver

    Maybe it’s only almost time for Pagan Community centers to open. It’s like… maybe taking the cake out of the oven before it’s actually done. We need a little more time as a sub-culture (or collection of micro-cultures) before we really have it together enough to produce a sustainable community center. We need time to bake.

    The fact that there are so many centers springing up is very promising. This means there is something here that could be worthwhile. But we’re collectively new at this and when you’re new at something, you’re probably not going to be very skilled at it. You should see my first knitting. It isn’t very good, but now that I know enough to teach someone else, I can teach from the knowledge gained by my own mistakes. I guarantee you the first knitting of those I’ve taught has been FAR better than my own first attempt.

    Anyway, I’m trying to say here that if we’re willing to take the long view and do our best to learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of our colleagues, that this is possible. It might be another 20, 50, 100 years, but that doesn’t mean that the effort shouldn’t continue.

    There are Buddhist centers and that operate on a volunteer/donation model and still do very well. Unitarian Universalists have a fuzzy definition of who they are and yet still manage to get on just fine. So, it’s possible. We just haven’t got the hang of it yet. What are these organizations doing that we’re not and what are we doing that they’re not? Are we trying to grow too fast? Are we doing too much? Is it too soon?

    I don’t know the answer. I have no solution. I am, however watching and waiting to see how to do this more skillfully.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      I think viewing this as an experiment like CJ suggests above is a healthy way of looking at this, it allows us to be less emotionally connected to concepts of success and failure and lets us have more focus on what’s working, what’s not working and most importantly: what have we learned? Sharing what Sacred Paths Center and other community centers have learned is something that will hopefully be done at a regional or national level, but in the meantime the organization has to learn from its own missteps or potentially accidental good decisions.

      Fun thing about running a business is unexpected things happen. If you don’t find that fascinating, you’ll just stress yourself out.

      To borrow from a cliche: Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all. But let’s try to avoid that failing part in practical ways :).

  • CJ Stone

    CJ Stone here, board member at SPC.

    I’m happy to say we’ve received more than $7000 in donations. We’re close to our minimum $7,500, and I”m hopeful about getting up to the $12,000 that will let us grow and change into the community center everyone needs. Please ask your Pagan confrers near and far to consider a donation or a matching grant.

    We are doing some local fundraisers, but for folks farther away, there’s a “raffle” of some Paganistani homebrew, $10/ticket. We’ll announce that officially soon, so please keep an eye peeled. I’ll be back here to announce it, too.

    There’s also an auction of a lovely wedding/handfasting cup set at

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=180696055764

    This is a personal item from my wife’s estate that I donated for the benefit of SPC.

    I thank very kindly everyone who has worked to help us stay open and continue, to change and grow. Please be sure to check for donation and action updates at our website, http://www.SacredPathsCenter.com.

    cjs

  • Ginny

    Please contact me if u are interested in assistance in raising funds blessed be my friends xo

  • CJ Stone

    For anyone still following this thread, SPC has broken $11K in donations, and we have donations today that have not yet been tallied. We’re very close, so if you’ve been hanging back, now’s the time to pitch in.

    For everyone who has given to help us “Change and Grow”, thank you very much. We appreciate your trust and fidelity.


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