The Closing of a Pagan Community Center

Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), recently announced their imminent closure, a decision that came in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz has just posted a lengthy and informative exploration of exactly what happened, talking with several individuals involved in running the center.

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

“At 6:25 pm (April 25th) the Executive Director dissolved the board of directors,” reads the last entry in the minutes of the final board meeting of Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota. A few days later, on Beltane, Executive Director Teisha Magee sent out an email saying the center closes May 31st.

“Why is Sacred Paths Center closing?” is a question asked by Twin Cities Pagans after reading the announcement.  That question is quickly followed by, “What can we learn from their experience?” by Pagan organizations such as Solar Cross Temple in San Francisco and the Open Hearth Foundation community center in Washington DC.  PNC-Minnesota spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor, looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Teisha Magee to answer those questions.

In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional, the finances were in disarray, the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income after  two years of  road construction right outside their door didn’t help matters.

The entire article is essential reading for anyone curious as to how this closure came about, and a lesson for anyone thinking of opening their own community center. You may also want to read JRob Zetelumen’s obituary for the center, which looks at its accomplishments and historical importance.

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

The Sacred Paths Center opened for business Friday February 13th, 2009 and celebrated its grand opening Friday March 13, 2009. Within weeks, on Saturday April 4, 2009, the SPC began fulfilling its commitment to the community by hosting a fundraiser for local Elder Ken Ra who was facing financial crisis after a kidney failure, with a significant mass of the community coming together to support one of its own. It has since hosted countless rituals and community gatherings.

Although the SPC was not the first Pagan community center in the nation, or even locally, it’s closing leaves The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC as having the only Pagan community center in the nation.

The previous local community center was The New Alexandria Library. The New Alexandria Library opened in September of 2000 as a subscription library. It was a subsidiary of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Its stated purpose was “to create an archive that preserves our Pagan history, culture, and heritage, to ensure community access to hard-to-find and out-of-print materials, to provide access to a wide range of information and training materials, and to serve as a center of studies and research for scholars of Neo-Paganism.” The library quickly became a center for Paganistani activity. For financial reasons, the library closed its doors in July 2004.

The SPC was a direct successor of Evenstar Books, opened in 1979 by Loui Piper, which was a center of Pagan activity for almost 30 years. In 1991 Loui Pieper founded the Evenstar School of Sacred Paths and in October 1992 it received federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. After Piper’s retirement, Magee continued running the shop. Within a month of Evenstar closing, January 24, 2009, the SPC was opened around the corner, in its 5000 square foot facility after soliciting enough memberships and donations to be able to sign a lease, in the middle of a recession.

Considering how few Pagan community centers there currently are, the closing of Sacred Paths Center is an event that reverberates far wider than Minnesota. It is my hope that this closure will provide both inspiration and education to others looking to start similar initiatives where they live. With most Pagans rejecting a congregational model of worship, and due to the broad theological diversity under the umbrella of “modern Paganism,” multi-faith/tradition community centers may be one of the few viable communal physical spaces we can work towards. With the recent opening of The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC (which recently debuted its own library), and with several other groups looking into creating a permanent or semi-permanent physical meeting space, the “community center” experiment is still ongoing.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://www.facebook.com/EdAHubbard Ed Hubbard

    Wow. lot to learn from here. This was a important project, and offers a lot in teaching points. I am happy they are being open about what happened, and I am hoping they will share more in the form of teachable moments. We can improve.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Just finished reading the reports by Cara and JRob, and recommend anyone with the slightest interest in Pagan community centers do so. They provide a binocular X-ray of the institution and its history.

    It’s clear that SPC had enormous heart and spirit. They should have succeeded.

    It’s also clear from Cara’s report that finances must be done competently and transparently. This is an area in which I have no talent and less interest, but a lifetime of involvement with UU churches has taught me it’s absolutely essential. Reading that part of Cara’s account made me cry out so loud my wife asked if I was OK.

    Peeking out from the reports is another, perhaps more subtle topic: Political awareness. Light rail projects such as the one that blighted commerce on the street where SPC was located, do not fall out of the sky. They are planned, with a public component, and part of a neighborhood’s self-preservation is knowing what the plans are, influencing them where possible and finding alternative options when necessary. It needn’t fall on a spiritual center and shop to also be a neighborhood organization but someone should do it and it behooves shops, storefronts, etc to be in contact with such folks. (This happens to be an area wherein I have considerable experience and interest.) One absolutely cannot blame SPC for not being a neighborhood organization – it calls for a set of interests and skills all its own — but lack of such is suggested by the impact the light rail project had on the whole neighborhood, not just SPC. (soapbox off)

    • Ciaran

      Dear Baruch Dreamstalker,

      Please get back on your soap box for a minute.

      Are you suggesting that the SPC should have somehow done more to champion it’s neighborhood and prevented the light rail project?

      It sounds like you are not familiar with the light rail project on University Avenue in the Twin Cities.  

      Right now, today, the Metro Council is still giving impacted businesses detailed blueprints and plans and schedules for the anticipated impact to their businesses, then bulldozing the entire street building front to building front – removing sidewalks, parking access, street access, crossings, electricity, power, water, and phone without any warning and contrary to their well-laid plans.  If you want to see an example of this, go to the Overflow on University and look at the plans they were given.  You’ll have to take a 12-block detour and drive over what used to be lawns to get to their parking lot, where you will be able to inspect a beautiful planning document that shows their parking lot unimpacted by any of the construction.  Oh – they lost their pond, too.  Whoops!

      The SPC ran into the same set of lies and bad planning.  The 2-week interruption that was promised is still dragging on, with people having to drive blocks to find crossings, and people having to walk right past heavy equipment and crawl over debris where sidewalks used to lie to get to stores.

      Even Minnesota Public Radio was unable to protect their own neighborhood despite a very heated legal battle.

      If you are, indeed, suggesting that the SPC was supposed to have somehow influenced the light rail project, then – dude.  You seriously are not familiar with that project.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I am, until just now, completely unfamiliar with the project, in fact. Thanks for the fill-in. An appalling case of urban planning run amok.

        • http://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738721910 Elysia

          Yeah, not to mention the fact that Pagans, of all people, would not be protesting the much-needed implementation of mass transport infrastructure, that will leave our city so much greener… after it’s done. (And yes, its construction making ALL of us very grumpy, no matter how much we support the initiative itself.)

  • Amyhale93

    Cara did do a fine job with this report. It is indeed essential reading. I’m curious to know if they had a business model at all?  What a story.

    • Ciaran

      Hi Amy,

      There was a business plan, and it was included in the Board Training Manual.  I don’t believe it’s public information but I’ll look to see if it can be included in the historical documentation that we prepare as a part of the post-mortum.

      I can also tell you that the business plan was evaluated quarterly, and during 2011 the “Grow And Change” program was a transformative project to transition the SPC from its historical business plan to a broader set of revenue models.

      Effectively, the initial business plan focused on membership and donations, and a healing center had grown as a cornerstone of the business’s monthly revenue.  The SPC nailed those numbers quite effectively and the community support was significant.  However, it was still not enough to run the programs that the SPC wanted to sponsor and with the decrease in revenues from the store (detailed in the Q1 report available on the SPC website) and the eventual demise of the healing center, the board determined it was necessary to expand the core model to add  teaching, antique-style-sales, and poly-faith consulting services to the non-profit and business community in the Twin Cities.

      There were other initiatives as well – I just can’t remember what they were now and don’t have my notes at hand.

      Please note that these new items were in addition to the original model.  It has sometimes been incorrectly reported that the SPC was getting rid of its membership model – but the membership has always been an essential part of the community center, and always should be.

      So – yes, there were business plans for the center, they were reviewed a couple times a year as a part of looking at the budget, and eventually I hope to get them on the website as a resource for future community centers.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Nothing ventured, nothing gained. All those involved with the Center deserve thanks, praise, and respect for the time and energy and money that they put into it.

  • Deborah Bender

    I knew Ken Ra many years ago when he lived in California. I’m grateful that SPC hosted a fundraiser for him and I’m sad that they will not be able to do the same for others.

  • http://nitecaravan.blogspot.com/ Green Monk

    Wow!  There is tons to learn for any who hope to create their own communities, of the necessity to be fully competent and organized in the areas we often consider “less spiritual” such as management and finances.  Thanks for sharing this!

  • Northern_Light_27

    The problem, in my experience, with a lot of Pagan shops and organizations is that wanting something doesn’t equal being able to produce that something. Lots of people– me included, when I was starry-eyed and younger (and thankfully my father-in-law had the sense to realize a bad investment when he saw it and it died on the vine), have had the “gosh, I wish I could open a Pagan shop/campground/center bug, but way fewer people are qualified when it comes to how to plan and run a business. So many shops that close soon after they open for lack of a business plan or the choice of a poor location or a hundred other factors that could have been foreseen with experience and research.

    It seems like Pagans often put the cart before the horse and open something before they fully understand how to sustain it. What kills me is how often they’ll blame the community for not supporting it with donations when it goes under, when it’s really not the community’s fault for not sustaining a poorly planned enterprise. I’m happy at least that’s not the case with this community center, but the “romantic notions before practical understanding” problem does seem to be the case here.

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

      For me, there’s a very good somewhat tongue-in-cheek litmus test for organizations to see if they will be financially viable–

      If the plan for either the startup capital or the operating expenses includes the words “cookbook fundraiser”, you’re doomed to failure in the long run.

      Cookbook fundraisers seem to be the jumping the shark moment for nonprofits hoping to achieve financial sustainability. It seems to be a clear sign that instead of having a viable business model, folks are grasping at straws. Aside from that, within paganism, when I hear words like “once we’re open, we know the community will support us to sustain us”, I get a nervous twitch. There seems to be a huge gulf between idealism and realism that never seems to be able to be reconciled.  It’s sad to see an organization that has people very passionate about what they are attempting to do fail, however it does point to a lack of a certain mindset and/or skill set among many pagan clusters.


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