I was lucky enough to be invited to sit on two panels (and they even let me speak!) at 'Fest. One of them was pretty open ended and was one of those "Meet the Presenters" type panels. The second one is the one I want to write about today, and that panel was on community. There were some real heavy hitters on there too. Selena Fox (and you could argue that she is the Pagan community), Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimassi, Stephanie Taylor (Raven's wife, and she has more impressive hair than I d0) and from Great Britain Damh the Bard. (You've never heard of Damh? Neither had I, but he was really cool, good singer, and the English accent lent him an air of authority). There were a few more local types on it, but a lot of these folks I'm sure you've heard of, or read.
We got asked four or five good questions, and all got to respond. The opening question "How do you define community" was the best question, and my answer was very different from the answers the first five or six people on the panel gave. At one point an individual who runs a 501-C Pagan "Church," started talking about Muslims being a part of his "greater community" because he believes in religious outreach, and in the idea that we are all worshipping the same idea under different names. I disagreed, and his answer changed my entire perspective on the idea of Pagan Community.
I think it's wonderful to think that we might influence someone's opinion of our faith with "outreach." I don't believe it happens very often, but the idea is good. However, no matter how many "interfaith panels" I sit on, the majority of people in the audience have already formed an opinion. What I say might sway someone into thinking I don't eat babies (I don't, not even veal which is baby cows), but they aren't going to just mystically start approving of my faith. That's fine, at this point in my life I really just want to be left alone and not hassled. It's important for Pagans to visit things like "The World Parliament of Religions,"less important to come out to your Evangelical neighbors. Just be nice to them, and when they figure you out, then their opinions will change for the better, no need to be loud about it.
So as the panel slowly moves towards me and as Selena Fox says almost everything I want to say (the woman is great), I come up with this amazing, yet simple, definition of community. "Community picks you up." I realize that community is not a rental car, it's something intimate, it's something shared, and it should be full of people who know you personally or are in some way directly connected to you. Unless I have secret Muslim friend who has been hiding his faith from me, Islam is not a part of my community. It certainly exists in my broader tapestry of faith, but it's not my community.
Breaking community down I could only come up with 3.5 different types of Pagan community. The first one is the most obvious, it's the people you see almost every day, it's your immediate circle of family, friends, and faith practitioners. In Lansing Ari and I had an amazing Pagan community around us. Now we all didn't worship the same anymore, but the bonds of friendship were still there, and when we fell down, those people were there to pick us up, and we tried to return the favor. To me that's community, it's flesh and blood, and real. It's not an abstract, or a hope, it's something that either exists or doesn't.
The second type of Pagan community is more transient, but real enough, and that's festival community. Go to a large Pagan Festival and you'll see 1000 people build an intentional community. It's true that not everyone there is going to be my best friend, but at least we all are generally working towards the same goal: to create a time and place for spiritual growth and transformation. Also, my experiences at Pagan Festivals tend to be positive, and the majority of the people there are great, and nice, and would give you the shirt of their backs or their last beer in the cooler. I wouldn't expect my friends from Festival(s) to come running to my aid out here in California, but if I was there, I know that they would be around for me.
The third type of Pagan community is a little harder to write about, a little more abstract, and it deals with our specific Pagan Paths. If you are a Gardnerian and move around the country, it's likely that you'll meet other guards and be accepted. If you are a member of ADF (A Druid Fellowship), and you move, you'll probably be welcomed by other Druids in your new area. When we enter a specific tradition, we tend to be looked at as "brothers" and "sisters" in that faith community. If I was ever in dire need and that news was shared with the Pagans I'm involved with throughout the country, even the world, I like to think that prayers and money would be sent to me. That's community, picking you up when you fall down.
The fourth type of Pagan Community, I could only count as a "half." Probably because of my age, but I think there's some truth in it too. I happily have a ton of friends on facebook, most of them are people I've met, some of them are simply people one or two steps away from me. I tend to read them all and comment on them all. I feel close to a few of those people I don't know in "real life" due to their frequency of posting. We share an online community, and an interest in each other. When I update my facebook status with "I'm having a bad day" they respond and try to pick me up with happy comments. Would I expect those people to be at my funeral or to sit with Ari at the hospital if something bad happened to me? No, that's why it's only a half, but a half is always better than none.
Immediately after giving my answer, the next two people on the panel stole it, and used the "pick you up" line. I was intensely happy about that. I feel as if community should be built slowly. I know many people out there have these crazy dreams about uniting all the Pagans and putting something together a little more concrete than our current web full of many holes, but I don't see it ever working that way. Start small and start in your own backyard. If your circle isn't all it can be, then you need to start building your immediate community. Once that happens the rest will follow, mostly.
Community is the people you rely upon to get through life, not some faceless idea whose connection is only abstract.