With the group of us on Sunday morning, though, I noticed something upon later reflection that made me question this entire endeavor slightly. While getting together via Skype or in person and having a nice beverage or a meal is wonderful, and on this occasion proved that John Halstead and I can break bread together at the same table and not have the universe explode (and there is photographic evidence of this forthcoming!), the urge to be nice to one another because we can physically see each other has an impact of its own, and results in the total avoidance of certain topics—and the larger the group, the more this tends to be the case. Our conversations stuck to topics that were pleasant, small talk, sharing of personal anecdotes, and so forth. These things are fine, and I enjoy them—especially when getting to know and meet someone in person for the first time—but then that leaves a great many more difficult and often important conversations left unsaid, essential issues unaddressed, and some important work left undone.
I am very happy to be friends with nearly anyone (as long as they're, at the very least, not racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic, or anti-Pagan, and they're working or willing to work on improving in whatever other areas they might lack awareness or sensitivity), and it's great to have friends of a diverse variety.
However, if I am to be colleagues with someone in my religious community, or they are considered colleagues within my greater religious umbrella, then more is required. No matter how well I get along with someone and how much I value them as a friend, if I have not been in ritual with them and cannot work with them, there's less of a draw to get closer to them. I'll still try to be as friendly and respectful toward them as I can be and as is appropriate to our contexts, but there will be a distancing on some matters that will inevitably occur. If it isn't an important enough subject to talk about with someone, then likely the variety of relationship involved won't be as important to either of us as well.
I suppose because I have been to a ritual that Steven was involved in presenting last year (put on by Hrafnar in honor of Freyr), and I took everything in that ritual extremely seriously (even when it seemed to have somewhat funny results!), there was an intangible something that I will always now take into account when I see Steven, and I knew this would be the case when it actually happened.
As it turned out, the Beard Blessing Ritual that the Ekklesía Antínoou held on Monday morning at nine o'clock, and which was better attended than any of the other events I was responsible for convening over PantheaCon 2014, was also attended by John Beckett, John Halstead, and Ruth. They all indicated to me that they at least enjoyed it, and that's important. I spoke a good deal more with John Beckett later in the day, but didn't get to speak further with "the other" John or Ruth. Will we speak more in the future? I don't know.
But, my question now becomes: as a person focused on the gods to whom I am devoted: what is my responsibility to those who have come to these rituals and have enjoyed the hospitality and blessings of my deities? I am inclined to think that any answer other than "I have no responsibility toward them" is not only a good answer, but the right answer; and yet, still, what is my responsibility specifically, which is entirely independent of their own beliefs on these matters?
It's a question I will be struggling with over the coming months, and I'd be intrigued to hear your own thoughts on these matters if you have them.
And, John B., Jason, Niki, John H. and Ruth, Steven, and Angus: let's have some liquids and/or pork products the next time we're in the same space again!