At Sunday’s Denton CUUPS business meeting I made an announcement I have contemplated for years and planned for months.
October 31 will be my last day as Coordinating Officer of Denton CUUPS.
After 14 consecutive years as an officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans – the last 12 as Coordinating Officer, the equivalent of President – I am stepping aside from formal leadership. I will not run for another term and I will not accept nomination to this or any other office.
An early call to leadership
In early 2003 I realized I that my Pagan practice had gone as far as it could go on my own. I needed a group. I didn’t want a Wiccan coven and there were no Druid groves in the area. Somewhere in my reading I had heard of CUUPS – the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. That sounded like a good place to start. There were two groups within a reasonable distance – I planned to visit them both and see which fit me better. Denton CUUPS had a better website – it looked like they were more active. So I went there first, for Imbolc 2003. I liked it and I never left.
I started attending all the events, and after a couple months I joined. I was very active, and that Fall I was elected Events Coordinator. I served two terms in that office, then in Fall 2005 I was elected Coordinating Officer, a position I still hold.
The work of the Coordinating Officer
As the title implies, the job of the Coordinating Officer is to coordinate the activities of the chapter and the work of the other officers. It’s my job to make sure that everything that’s supposed to get done does get done.
Many times I found it easier to do something myself rather than asking someone else to do it. Sometimes that was necessary, but in general it’s bad leadership. It puts too much responsibility and too much authority on one person. And it deprives others of the opportunity to learn by doing.
Last year two problems came to a head. First, I was overloaded. Denton CUUPS is growing and there was more work that needed to be done. At the same time I was finishing The Path of Paganism, maintaining my blogging, and deepening my own spiritual practice. I was doing more than I could handle.
Last Fall we revised our list of officers. In particular, we added a Communications and Technology Officer to handle our website, Facebook, and e-mail operations. That took a ton of work off my plate. It also brought two newer members into our officer group (they agreed to share the position), with new ideas about how to do things. Other officers stepped up too, and I’m no longer overloaded.
But there was a second problem, one that can be summarized with a question: “why do we always do things John’s way?” It was usually asked more diplomatically than that, but that’s the core of the problem.
I never wanted to be an autocrat. I’ve always done my best to listen to our members and to work toward reaching consensus decisions. At the same time, I’ve never shied away from leading the group in the direction I thought it should go.
The complaints weren’t wrong. When anyone is in a key leadership position for a long time, their voice and their influence become oversized. And mine has.
CUUPS is a UU covenant group
The use of the democratic process is an integral part of Unitarian Universalism and thus an integral part of CUUPS. A CUUPS group must be run democratically.
Autocracy confirmed by consensus isn’t democracy. Neither is majoritarian rule. A CUUPS group needs to make room for all Pagans with UU values, and it should also provide opportunities for anyone with the skills and willingness to lead. That can’t happen if one or two voices dominate every conversation.
I’m proud of the work Denton CUUPS has done over the years. We’ve been around for 17 years and we’re still going strong, and that’s quite a feat in the Pagan world. We facilitate deep meaningful rituals, we serve our community, and we’re a home for Pagans and Paganism in North Texas. I expect Denton CUUPS will continue doing these things in years to come.
But other voices need to be amplified and other people need to take a turn driving the bus.
I’m not going away
I’m not resigning. I have six months left in my final term as Coordinating Officer. I intend to use this time to finish the work we started building the processes and procedures that will facilitate decentralized and democratic decision making.
I’m not leaving Denton CUUPS. I will remain an active, dues-paying member. I will continue to participate in all our events. I will continue to take my turn leading rituals and classes.
There are things I know how to do because I’ve done them for 12 years that other people may not even know need to be done. I will be available any time the next Coordinating Officer needs my help with anything.
Denton CUUPS remains my spiritual home and I will do everything I can to make sure it remains a vibrant and welcoming home for Pagans and Paganism. Everything except take an active leadership role, that is.
But I am stepping aside
I won’t pick my successor. There are several people who would make a good Coordinating Officer, if they want to do the job. If two or more people decide to run for the office, I won’t campaign for either. If I hand-pick one of them I’m not really letting go of the reins. Making this announcement now gives potential candidates plenty of time to think it over, ask questions, and make a considered decision without being rushed.
No matter who takes the job, I won’t backstop them, or any of the other officers. If they ask for help, I’ll do as much as asked. But I’m not stepping in uninvited if something looks like it’s about to fail.
This will be the hardest part for me. In The Path of Paganism, I wrote “people sometimes fail, but the group can never be allowed to fail.” I do not expect the new leadership of Denton CUUPS to fail. But I do expect they will do things differently, and those differences will sometimes look like they’re about to drive the bus over a cliff, particularly to a control freak like me. But if I don’t give them room to make a sudden course correction (or maybe an abrupt turn at the cliff was their plan all along) then they aren’t going to grow into their leadership positions, and I’ll still be running the show.
Leadership is work… but also opportunity
When I joined Denton CUUPS I was just a couple years removed from a job that ended badly. I had been told I would never be promoted again because I wasn’t a leader. I believed it, and I clearly remember an early conversation at CUUPS where I repeated it. Shortly after that I was asked to be an officer and I said yes, because someone had to do it. But I had serious reservations about my leadership ability.
I soon discovered that I was perfectly capable of being a leader, if I was passionate about what I was leading. I take my paying work seriously, but I’m not passionate about it. I’m passionate about my religion, and about the religious groups that are my home. Leadership in Denton CUUPS has been a source of tremendous growth in my life.
But I’ve held on to that opportunity for too long. Now it’s time for someone else to step up and do what must be done, and to learn and grow in the process.
I’m thankful for all I’ve learned as Coordinating Officer of Denton CUUPS. That includes learning this final lesson: knowing when to step aside.