Fighting the Good Fight:
Article Specs |
Article ID: 8773
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,445
Times Read: 5,741
Author: Rev. Heidi Gleber
Posted: November 14th. 2004
Times Viewed: 5,741
Another day, another "to do" list as long as my arm. In amongst our day-to-day duties - Shelly cares for her two-year-old twins, attends her first grade daughter's school play; I take my nineteen-year-old daughter to her volunteer job at the Public Library and my four-year-old to her library story hour and homeschool my other three children - my co- clergy, Shelly O'Brien, and I scramble to complete the final tasks in preparation for a Halloween Ball we are putting on as a fundraiser for Fingerlakes Pagan Pride. But today I am shaking. Yet again, our activities have sparked controversy.
When I found that our usual venue for fundraisers, the Ontario County Arts Council, had already been booked for all the weekends in October, we began looking at other venues in which to hold our Halloween Ball, a secular Halloween party geared towards the general public. My husband suggested that we rent the parish house at his church, an Episcopal church here in western NY.
I spoke with Dahn, my husband's priest, and received an enthusiastic welcome to use the parish house for our fundraiser. Relieved at having settled this first crucial item, Shelly and I proceeded with planning the first fundraiser to benefit Fingerlakes Pagan Pride Day in 2005.
On Monday October 25th, four days prior to the Halloween Ball, the phone rang as Shelly and I were going over our lists of final preparations for the fundraiser. Dahn was calling to let me know that she was receiving complaints from some of her parishioners, because she had rented the parish hall to Pagans and because there were going to be traditional divination games being offered at the party, but Dahn was steadfast in standing behind her decision to rent her church's parish house to us for our fundraiser.
As the last days passed in a flurry of final preparations, my husband kept me up to date on all that his priest was having to deal with as a result of her open mind and open heart. Phone calls from concerned parishioners; e-mails questioning her Christianity; phone calls from the Diocese and finally from the Bishop; being contacted by outraged fundamentalists in the area, a number of whom planned to come out the night of our fundraiser to protest and hand out religious tracts.
Shelly and I are no strangers to fighting for our rights and the rights of others, whether religious in nature or otherwise. When planning the first Pagan Pride event for our area we faced strong opposition from the City Manager's office and actions in violation of our First Amendment Rights as representatives of Fingerlakes Pagan Pride. Our first step was to contact our local branch of the ACLU. Next we met with the City Manager and appeared to have been able to reach an accord. When that proved to be false, our lawyer, assigned to our case by the ACLU, began assisting us with calls and faxes to the City lawyer, and attended the final City Council meeting with us. In addition, our struggle for our constitutional rights gained the attention of various media, resulting in a total of five newspaper articles, one television news report and one radio news report. In the end, our perseverance and willingness to put ourselves on the line, was rewarded when the City Council granted Fingerlakes Pagan Pride the permit to hold our 2004 event.
Why do Pagan Activists put ourselves through this? We obviously give a lot of time and effort over to the causes that are important to us. While I certainly can't speak for all Pagan Activists, I am more than happy to share the philosophy by which Shelly and I operate. It is important to both of us that our faith, our religion, be brought into the light. While the tradition of hiding the Pagan faith, "to keep silent," was born of necessity during an era when it was dangerous to be of any faith other than Christianity, the fact is that the Inquisition is long past (in fact the Pope issued an official apology in March 2004, Reuters News Service) and for those of us willing to put ourselves on the line and step out of the "broom closet," the time to bring Pagan religion into the mainstream is now. In addition, our work for religious rights, just as with our work for gay rights and other causes important to us, is done for our children's futures. To create a better world for our children, the work must be done now.
What can you, as a Pagan Activist do to further the cause of religious rights for Pagans? There is a wide range of possibilities, from the time- and work-intensive job of volunteering to be a Local Coordinator and organize a Pagan Pride event in your area, to the simple act of wearing your pentacle (or other religious symbol) as you go through your daily activities.
While the "big jobs" of serving as a Local Coordinator for the Pagan Pride Project or heading up a Pagan Activist group sound impressive, and are certainly important, probably the most important thing any of us can do as Pagan Activists is to model our Pagan values. Wear your pentacle as you go about living your life: when you are volunteering to help with your daughter's Girl Scout troop or son's Cub Scout den; when you are working out at your health club; when you are shopping at the grocery store; when you are working at your job each day. At times people will ask you, "What is that symbol? What does it mean?" A simple explanation that it is a religious symbol, that you are Pagan, is often enough to satisfy people's curiosity. And what is the benefit of this? It is simply that the people you interact with will come away with a new perception of what a Pagan is. Suddenly a Pagan is neither mysterious nor frightening. Suddenly a Pagan is the "cookie mom" for the Girl Scout troop. Suddenly a Witch is the man that they have worked with in the same office for years. Now, suddenly, Paganism has a face and it is a face that they know, trust and respect.
Of course, wearing religious jewelry isn't the only way this can be achieved. Pagan activists use many low-key methods of letting those around them know that they are Pagan. Relevant bumper stickers on their cars or, when asked how they spent their weekend, answering that they attended Ritual for Esbat or Sabbat.
When we use these methods we need to be prepared to explain the meaning behind our bumper stickers, what a Sabbat or Esbat is and what a Ritual involves. Being prepared with simple statements such as, "a Ritual is a religious service" is important. Being prepared to explain further if the person you are speaking with is interested and receptive is also important.
What do we do if these low-key methods bring a negative response? That, of course, depends on you and the particular situation you are in. Are you comfortable providing information in the face of negativity? Is this someone you need to be able to continue to work in close proximity with? For some Pagan activists, making a simple non- threatening statement ("I'm sorry you feel that way;" "It sounds like you are comfortable with your opinion on this subject;" etc.) followed by "agreeing to disagree" with the person in question works well.
For the Pagan Activist who is ready to make a larger commitment, there are many opportunities to do so. Is there a Pagan-run charity in your area? Volunteers are always needed. Your area Pagan Pride event is undoubtedly in need of volunteers. You may want to join the Pagan Educational Network (or PEN of New York for those in NY).
On October 29th Fingerlakes Pagan Pride held a Halloween Ball as a fundraiser. All who attended had a great time, bobbing for apples; walking the haunted trail and listening to our talented storyteller tell ghost stories; enjoying good food, good music and good company and, yes, enjoying the many divinations offered. As our event started, one of our volunteers came to let me know that there were protesters in the parking lot handing out religious tracts. I went out to introduce myself and explain our ground rules for protesters (as put forth by the Pagan Pride Project). The protesters were pleasant, asked questions and agreed that they would not be disruptive.
As a Pagan Activist I am accustomed to dealing with opposition, lack of understanding, fear and, yes, even hate at times. While I am always saddened to find myself once again facing someone who feels these things about me due to my religion, I know that this only means that I have more work to do. As Maggie Kuhn said, "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." And so I speak.
Rev. Heidi Gleber
Location: Bloomfield, New York
Bio: Heidi Gleber is co-founder and co-clergy of Pagan Church of the Sacred Pentacle in Bloomfield, NY. She is committed to promoting Paganism as an accepted, mainstream religion through her work as Local Coordinator of Fingerlakes Pagan Pride and as President of the Pagan Educational Network of NY.
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