Tag Archives: priest

Leaders are Always Growing

This is excerpted from my Leadership Development course, and refers to what I see as my own strengths and weaknesses as a leader, particularly as a leader within ADF.

When considering how I fit within the context of leadership in ADF, especially as it pertains to the organization as a whole and its members, I think I am strongest in Strategy, Shared Values, and Strengths/Skills.  I have ideas how to keep moving us forward as a religion, and work to implement them, especially on a local level, with my peers.  I identify strongly with ADFs Shared Values as stated in our Mission and Vision statements, and work to align my personal work with those shared values.  I think the greatest strength of our church is our individual members.  Everyone has something to bring to the table, and we can grow stronger as an organization by using these skills and making sure all feel like valued and contributing members.

I still have a lot I think I can improve on in Staff, Systems, and Style, as it relates to leadership.  Because Staff refers to the people within an organization, and the general skill sets that they all have, I think that, although I am a people-person, this is someone that every one of us can continually improve on.  I’ve been trying to make a point of making myself available to people who don’t have a local community.  I spend time following and engaging in conversations with folks who I’m unfamiliar with, especially when they are seeking help, advice, or just other like-minded people practicing Druidry. I also do my best to make it to rituals at others groves, and to festivals, though I recognize that they are only a very small percentage of our membership, and so it must be coupled with distance communication with solitary and faraway members.

Because I believe our greatest strength as an organization is the people who are in it, I think it’s absolutely vital to continually get to know those people, and make sure that they have the opportunity to become familiar with me, and know that I’m someone they can reach out to at any point without fear of awkwardness or judgment. I love discussing Our Druidry with people, so I want continue to learn about the individuals of our membership: what their path is looking like, where they want to go, how to help them get there, what they’re carrying with them (skills, knowledge, burdens) on the journey.  I’m an extrovert most of the time, but prefer in depth one on one conversations, so in order to improve this particular Leadership Skill I need to be cognizant of my inclination to want to continue long in depth conversations with people I know, and be able and willing to step outside that comfort zone and make myself available to others.

As far as improving Systems, I think there is a lot to be done as far as the organization itself is concerned to improve these, and I have ideas on how to help.  I can improve this by continuing to follow my vocation and drive, and work on not sitting quietly, but instead taking a more active role in the changes that can and are happening.  I see our study programs continuing to grow and evolve as we get more members, and more specialized knowledge.  I see those study courses each having a rubric, both to help the student as they’re writing, and to help the reviewer as they are evaluating.  Most of all, I see more active work happening as far as creation of useful materials for members, especially solitaries.  The more practical and supplemental help we can provide for those walking the path of Our Druidry, like prayers, ritual scripts, meditations, tools, and other ideas, the better.  The focus here is on contributing more towards improving the Systems that allow each individual member to more fully and accessibly experience Our Druidry.

Because I tend to be rather quiet (indirect and reserved) in many situations within ADF, in order to improve my leadership Style, what I need to work on most here is navigating when to flex that style.  I need to work on flexing from indirect to direct so that my voice gets heard and taken seriously amongst all the other loud, forceful, and passionate voices.  I also need to work on allowing my outgoing side to take precedence more often in non-in-person scenarios.  It isn’t often a problem when I am with other people and conversing in-person.  However, since due to the small and spread out nature of our organization, online and other distance communications are more regularly used, and in those situations I tend towards reserved.  So working on being more outgoing when communicating over distance is another area of focused improvement for this.

Things No One Told You About Being a Priest

There are a lot of things about being a priest that aren’t in any of the training, and that you really only learn or experience once you’re on that path.  This is an ever-evolving list of things that have surprised me, that I’ve learned and experienced, and that I’ve reflected on since becoming clergy.  They’re not really organized in any particular order.  Perhaps at some point I’ll organize them, or write more deeply about some of them.  I have bolded a few of the more important ones, or at least the ones that I keep coming back to.

If you are thinking about the clergy path, or are already on it (at whatever point in your journey you may  be), please, feel free to reach out to me.  I know that I process best when I have conversations with others, and like talking about these issues.  So, no need to feel shy about it.  Reflecting like this is part of growing and learning.

  • Clergy work is lonely.  Intensely lonely.  That wall of loneliness that kind of creeps up around you, even in places you didn’t think would have it.  You slowly shift towards a more introverted personality style. 
  • People you’ve known for a long while and the change in the way they react to and interact with you.
  • The expectation (however well founded it may be) that you’ll raise your children pagan
  • The assumption and expectation that you prefer the term Priestess, when in fact Priest feels much more comfortable
  • The comments made (both from insiders and outsiders) that you control how your congregation acts and thinks (what the hell?!)
  • My stole is heavy.  In a way that I can feel when I put it on.
  • Getting asked if the reason you don’t drink (or don’t drink often) is because you’re a priest. (And being grumpy that the very fact that that person thought to ask and make a judgement based on that means that the answer is partially yes)
  • The ownership that others think you have over rituals and liturgy (though I’ve experienced this from both sides, actually)
  • I answer my phone more often now.
  • Being lumped in with all ADF clergy, and occasionally with all pagan clergy in general
  • I’ve been both pleasantly surprised (and disgusted) that none of the folk and only other clergy have made mention of my being (too) young.
  • Sometimes feeling as though I’m resented for now having the “Rev” title
  • The hundreds of small sacrifices of family and friend time you make. How the responsibilities eat their way in small but noticeable ways. 
  • Community members will come to you and say something along the lines of “if/when I die, I’ve given my Significant Other your contact information and told them I want you to perform my funeral.”
  • Being asked “will you make sure (the rest of) my offering gets burned?” or “I can’t be there, can you make an offering for me?”
  • Being asked if you will provide personalized training for someone.
  • Having your extrovert-priest-self mistaken for personal social self, and folks getting upset when you’re less social with them: aka: taking it personally when you’re not actually their best friend, but rather are just kind and personable with most everyone
  • There are no books written for pagan clergy to help with a lot of the issues we seem to encounter
  • I am less confident in my liturgical & ritual skills now than I was before ordination.  These higher expectations (real & imagined) that I now have to live up to.  And the trust (from the folk) that I will live up to it.  Like there wasn’t as much riding on success vs failure before.  There is this trust that I won’t mess something up, that things will go as planned, that folks will get the feels they want to feel from a rite/from me.
  • women as clergy and the issues that brings
    • raising a family while a priest
    • books for spouses of female clergy
  • how to navigate the larger religious world without an M.Div./chaplaincy (hospitals, prisons, military, etc)
  • As female clergy, if a request from the folk involves kids: congratulations, it’s probably you who’s getting the call. Whether it’s baby blessing, mother blessing, child’s rite of passage, pregnancy, miscarriage, or stillbirth funeral. 
  • (6 months in) I’ve now done more funerals/memorials since having my stole than I have anything else…. including high day rites… I hope it balances out…
  • The fact that all the training does not actually seem to prepare you for the day to day bits of being a priest. You can cite facts and procedures, but the actual doing and priesting, the interactions wth your folk, and the Work. None of that is covered in the training, so you better have been doing the work before hand or you’ll feel like you’re drowning. 
  • Having your Significant Other mention how you’re now working two jobs (you day job and your job as a priest) and realizing they’re right. (Or three, or four…)
  • Having to really step up your game for setting boundaries, time management, and saying no.
  • The feeling of nervousness the first time another priest asks you to do something big ritual-wise for them like a rite of passage.
  • The drive to be constantly creating materials that others can use on their path. How very much of your life and your vocation can be defined and focused by your oath(s): serve the folk & lead others to the flame. 
  • feeling so incredibly lucky that I have a local priest as a friend and mentor.
  • I’m tired of writing liturgy for funerals. (But I’m glad I can and am someone my Folk feel like they can come to for that). The mix of emotions there is complex and odd.
  • It’s our own practice that lets us keep our center and be able to do the hard stuff.  “Keep your own flame bright, or you cannot show others its light.”
  • Occasionally getting grilled on my knowledge of liturgy, lore, and other religious things.  It feels like when you say you’re a gamer, and suddenly everyone has to ask you all these obscure questions to make you “prove” that you are, only in this case its with religion and having to prove knowledge of lore, theology, and personal devotion and practice.
  • When people you’ve known for quite a while, certainly longer than you’ve been a priest, ask for (leadership) advice, starting with the phrase “so, because you’re trained for this…”
  • The first time you get paid for doing clergy work
  • Who is the priest for the priest? I guess we must serve each other. And allow our folk to support us when other clergy cannot. 
  • I think tonight (Imbolc 2016) may be the very first time I’ve truly (like actually truly in totality) felt the “you’re /my/ priest” from the clergy side of the equation. Like people feel like I’m /their/ priest. I… It’s kinda weird. Its heavy.  There’s stuff I could mess up, really mess up, on all kinds of levels.
  • Something about being out here outside the building where we’ve held ritual, lighting a sacred fire and burning all the offerings after a ritual while most others are socializing at the potluck, people come to talk to you. About all kinds of stuff.  Lots of “….Do you have a minute?”
  • conversations with people who are considering becoming clergy.   I didn’t think I’d be talking to anyone this soon about their vocation, their ministry, their Why they want to do the priest thing… Which kind of ties into the “I figured anyone who would have those questions would want to talk to Michael” The “wait, what? What do you mean I’m /your/ priest?”
  • When you’re doing introductions to new folks and you think it just means names, so you say “Hi, I’m ___.” And then several others in your grove add on “she’s one of our priests.”
    • You can call yourself whatever you want, it’s what others call you that matters
  • encouraging folk who have been told they were doing something wrong with their practice that they in fact are doing exactly what they need to if it working for them. And don’t they dare let anyone tell them they’re practicing their devotion wrong.
  • The (mostly unspoken) expectation that you will be totally mentally stable all the time. And finding that when you are going through crisis your own support network is way way way smaller. For the most part the laity don’t want to feel like you’re not stable, and the other clergy don’t think you’re capable of representing them well if you’re in crisis (and some didn’t think you could handle it emotionally anyways…)
  • You are more likely to discover which people consider you their Priest in times of tragedy than in times of joy.
  • When you go to a social gathering that you thought was going to be mostly people who didn’t know you as Priest, and then the awkwardness that happens when there are people there who only know you as Priest.
  • having atheist friends and acquaintances come to you for advice/counsel because they’ve been watching the clergy work you’ve been doing from the sidelines.
  • Remembering the real Work always helps.  Love the Earth.  Serve the Folk.  Honor the Gods.  Following that drive and passion and vocation will renew your drive and passion and vocation
  • Doing a ritual for the first time with nearly all new grove members, and the awkwardness that they expect you to handle most of ritual, and they don’t seem to want to speak at all. They trust you.
  • Having in depth conversations with folks about their spirituality, and knowing that you’ve made a difference for them. 
  • The sheer number of conversations with my folk that now begin with “So you’re a priest…” and then request advice, or knowledge, or even just listening.
  • Conversations with people facing death never go how you expect them to.
  • How attached I am to my “sacred tuft” (the spot where the hair I cut at ordination is growing back in)
  • (Spring Equinox 2016) Going through pictures from our recent rites, I finally don’t feel like I look weird with my stole on.
  • The joy you experience having in-depth conversations about liturgy, ritual mechanics, and the magic of the Work.
  • Being more nervous leading rituals now that you are a priest than you ever were before you were ordained. 
  • Leading a ritual where a large number of new folks got up to do parts (or old members doing new parts) for the first time, and being so proud of how well they did and how well the energy was raised and the ritual flowed.  Seeing folks you’ve had a part in mentoring grow into their roles and blossom in their own Work.
  • Never having really liked that some people use the title of Rev. for power or influence, and being pleasantly surprised at how that title has aided me immensely in the Work I was already doing serving my Folk.
  • Being the Priest for another Priest.  The first time that relationship flips with someone who has always been a counselor and priest to you, and you are the one being counselor and priest.
  • training becomes ongoing, self-directed, and on the job
  • relationships – congregational disapproval, stresses of work
  • leadership roles become intrinsic or more visible
  • lifestyle balance becomes important – engage in your hobbies; have other circles of friends
  • No one wrote us any books for this
  • Who counsels the counselor?
    • importance of having someone to go to – spouse, another clergy person
    • internal counselor
  • Clergy always held to a higher standard
  • you don’t get to pick your congregation
  • confidentiality is hard, especially for small congregations
  • job apps don’t seek this kind of experience
  • It’s a business: Planning – all important
    • income/expenses
    • product packaging
  • sometimes people leave
  • sometimes you are disappointed
  • sometimes they expect you to fix problems that they won’t tell you what they are
  • pressure to “act like clergy”
    • pray about problems/don’t drink
    • avoid depression
    • humility
    • temper
    • sexual morality
  • Not all skittles and beer
    • funerals
    • executions (prison ministry)
  • Boundary issues, spouses and second-class-ness
    • clergy 24/7? Can I call at 2am?
    • What is personal property and church property?
      • Clergy home? – used for church functions…
      • Clergy person? – when is he accessible?

Thoughts on Virtues and Ethics

As I’ve been reflecting on some of my Clergy Training Program work, one of the things that I have found to be extremely valuable these past 8 months or so was the work I did to examine what the values and ethics are in our society, and develop a personal code of ethics to help me navigate the work I do as a Priest. Since writing it, this Code of Ethics has continued to be useful to me and to my practice.  This is also part of the clergy continuing education, and is something that is required to be re-examined and re-evaluated at least once every three years, though honestly I expect I’ll be doing it more often than that. Reflection is a key part of this practice, and that commitment to continuing reflecting and re-evaluting my ethics may in fact be one of the things I add to my personal code of ethics when I revise it. Here is my Personal Code of Ethics as it stands today:

Personal Clergy Code of Ethics

  • “I will pray with the Good Fire” – I will maintain my own practice and my own relationship with the Kindreds. In this way I will have the fertile soil in which to grow into my role as a Priest.
  • “I will lead others to the Flame” – This is part of my Initiate Oath, and means that I will not hoard my knowledge or skills. I will be a good role model, guide, and teacher for all those who seek to walk the path of neo-paganism, and I will provide services relating to this path as much as I am able.
  • “I will be kind to others” – It costs me nothing to be kind to someone. My words and actions have the possibility of deeply affecting others, and my kindness may be the only bit of hope a person sees that day. I will also do what I am able to be sure that kindness is a priority in interactions that I observe and am part of.
  • “I will acknowledge growth” – This is two fold: I am constantly growing and as such should strive to continue learning. Others are also constantly growing, and I should allow in my perception of them that they are continuing to learn. I will not hold grudges.
  • “I will be an independent and responsible person” – I will be my own person, and determine my own actions. I will walk my walk, and not let others’ vision of me influence my path. I am responsible for my own actions, and will strive to remember that I am not responsible of the actions of others. I will also fulfill duties that make me a responsible member of society and the priesthood, especially as it relates to the law.
  • “I will be loyal and hold true to my word.” – When I make a commitment, those who are depending on me should be able to be certain that I will not back out, or that if I do it is for a very good reason. I will speak truth whenever possible, admit when I don’t know, and seek out those who do know. I will maintain the confidence of those who have trusted me to hold space with them.

When we write our Personal Code of Ethics for use as Clergy, one of the things we’re asked to look at is the Nine Virtues within ADF, as well what kinds of virtues exist within our society and how those two might play off each other. It is meant to give a starting point in developing our own ethics. The Nine Virtues in ADF are Wisdom, Piety, Vision, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Moderation, Hospitality, and Fertility. In addition to the Nine Virtues, other ethical codes that have influenced my own code of ethics in particular are The Delphic Maxims and The Hippocratic Oath. Throughout all these virtues and ethical codes are values that can be seen woven through the fabric of our society. So, where do the values in our society come from and how do they relate to these ADF Nine Virtues and other ethical codes?

Our society places value on wisdom, and as a culture we encourage people to seek out those who have gained wisdom through their life experiences. However, as a Millennial it is also encouraged to seek wisdom from less established sources, and instead seek wisdom through personal experience gained by risk-taking and creative problem solving. I seek to have wisdom by sharing the knowledge I have gained, and thus providing others with the opportunity to share in that wisdom.

Seeking wisdom through personal experience, risk-taking, and creative problem solving also relates to the virtue of vision. We value the ability to see the bigger picture, and plan out ways to make that dream a reality. I have goals, and in order to see those goals come to fruition I am acknowledging that there is always room for growth, and that there is always room for improvement.

This personal experience, risk-taking, and creative problem solving also relates in part to the virtue of fertility. We like to encourage freethinkers and those with creative minds. Fertility really sums up this focus I have on growth and my dedication to continue growing, both as a person and as a Priest, as well as my dedication to helping others grow and acknowledging that they are always growing and changing.

There is value placed on piety in our society, though in ADF we define piety based on the actions we take in our religion, rather than a certain set of ascribed beliefs. For me this is the act of prayer and maintaining my relationship with the Kindreds. It is also important for me to continue in my personal religious practices both for my own piety, but also so that I have integrity when I am discussing those practices with others, and not be disingenuous whether I’m writing liturgy, counseling others, or performing rituals

Integrity can be summed up in the famous line from Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” From the Delphic Maxims, one of the most well known is maxim #8: “Know Thyself.” If we are in tune with who we are and what we desire we have the ability to begin to sort out what our ethics are, and how to live with integrity in our own lives. I’ve had to examine myself in order to write this Code of Ethics in the first place, and when I consider how I will be an independent person, I need to first have a good idea of who that independent person is.

In America integrity seems to be particularly valued. That attempt to walk to the beat of your own drum and not to let others define who you are. This in and of itself is often something that takes courage. Henry David Thoreau said “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” We have a history of self-reliance and a certain flair for independence as well as take pride in our ability (and right) to be ourselves.

This integrity is something that often takes both wisdom and courage. It takes wisdom to know what path I should walk, and wisdom to examine my own values and how they apply to my path. It takes courage to be independent and walk my walk. It can also take courage to hold true to my word when I may be pressured to do otherwise.

Perseverance can be seen alongside integrity and courage. In determining who I am, I will need to persevere in order to maintain that sense of self despite any obstacles I may encounter. I will need to persevere in continuing my path of growth and in continuing to challenge myself.

There is a huge precedence for the value of perseverance in America. In is contained in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence that we are each entitled to “the pursuit of happiness.” There are stories, myths, and legends about people in America who came here with nothing and through their perseverance built a life for themselves and became rich an famous. The concept of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is widely known, and generally hugely valued.

Moderation is also something that is valued here, though it seems to be a value that has a variable degree of implementation. One can be moderate in things from drugs and drinking, to consumerism, to sex. We tend to see a lot a press given to enforce the idea of moderation as it relates to puritan ideals such as abstaining from drinking, drugs, and sex. This contrasts sharply with the other part of the virtue of fertility. However, there is less social pressure put on those who engage in rampant consumerism, and in some cases, society even seems to encourage this lack of moderation. For me in my personal code of ethics, I will strive to moderate my behavior to reflect my ethics.

The last virtue, hospitality, is encouraged in our culture, but it seems a bit more one-sided that the value placed on in in the context of ADF and the *ghosti relationship. Hospitality is a guest-host relationship, and each party has duties to hold to. In American society the host often seems to have more duties and the guest less. Think of parties you’ve attended where many of the guests leave without picking up after themselves, or family gatherings where someone always seems to overstay their welcome. For me, a lot of the idea of hospitality, of *ghosti, of kharis boils down to kindness. Being kind to others in as many ways as possible is a way of building relationship, and building the trust necessary to have a good relationship.

Relationships. That can sum up my approach to my spirituality and religion fairly succinctly. It is all about relationships, whether that is between two or more people, two or more groups, a person and the Kindreds, or any other collection of people and spirits. We build these relationships based on reciprocity and mutual benefit. My personal code of ethics allows me to be sure I’m staying true to myself in my actions and interactions with others. And reflecting on and re-evaluating my code of ethics on a regular basis will help me both maintain knowledge of my ethical conduct and allow me to see if there are parts that need to be added or removed to better maintain myself and my relationships with others.

Let this Victory of Love Rejuvenate us!

I took great pleasure in updating the Druid Wedding fliers for Three Cranes Grove, ADF this morning!


Let us celebrate this great victory: revel and take resounding joy as love wins.

And amidst the celebration, let us remember to take this joy and this energy we’ve been given, the rejuvenation and reigniting of our spirits, and continue to fight for those who still lack protections and rights under the law. For those who identify as bi, trans, queer, pan, poly, or any other orientation that does not have the same visibility and same rights that we are currently celebrating: we see you! And the fight continues until ALL love wins!

So celebrate! And let your spirit be reinvigorated for the continued fight ahead!

Brightest Blessings on us all!

~Rev. Jan Avende

Evening Devotionals

I’m in a quiet, calm, and reflective kind of mood, and some nights, when it’s dark and quiet, it’s nice to just light the candles on my altar, enter that sacred space, and just be.  Just exist and do the work that calls to me and walk the path that sings in my blood and my soul. 

A few prayers spoken to invite those who I honor regularly, a few offerings made as I welcome them in. Then healing work for those who’ve requested it. And then contemplating the Fire, and knowing it’s okay that some nights this is all I do, and that it is exactly what I need to be doing. I am at peace and in the presence of the Kindreds.