The Nature Church: A Place for All Pagans

Our Druid grove has recently become involved in a really exciting (and daunting) project that could provide a real boon to all Pagans here in western Massachusetts — and all down the Atlantic Coast of North America, for that matter.

ire2For the most part, the Pagan community here in western Mass can be described as reasonably large, out in the open, and close-knit. But no one knows how many Pagans here are practicing alone, eschewing contact with the rest of us, for whatever reason. And there could be entire communities of Pagans that keep themselves to themselves and never reach out to the larger community.

A Natural Enclave

The Nature Church was that kind of community. Founded in the 1970’s by a close group of friends, it grew slowly, not seeking out or advertising for new members and not communicating with other Pagans nearby — not out of enmity, but simply because the community was whole as it was.

The Church, which is a recognized non-profit organization, owns 2.6 acres of land, the focus of the Church’s activities for thirty years. Here the members gathered on full moons and celebrated their community; here they came together on feast days to worship together and share a meal. They had no dogma: while in general the congregation followed the Celtic Pagan path, there were members of Abrahamic religions as well, — polytheists and monotheists, God worshippers and Goddess worshippers. All were welcome, and all were committed to developing a personal, individual relationship with Spirit.

The Church property is mostly forested, but includes an organic garden, a dilapidated shack (de rigueur on land that was once farmed), a sauna, a barn, and the charred remnants of the meeting house, which was destroyed by arson at Imbolc this year.

Fire at Imbolc

In September of 2006, the last of the original church founders died, and the community decided to start a new chapter in the life of the church by starting to reach out to the larger Pagan community. Efforts in this area were going well at first, with a well-attended Samhain and an even-better-attended open house in January. Then the meeting house was burned to the ground.

The Church’s land was donated by one of the founders upon his death, but a clause was included that his daugher would recieve the land if the Church had ceased to exist. The daughter, convinced that the land should be hers, hid in the woods near the meeting house on the evening of Februrary first, waiting for it to be vacant. The church elders suspected that something was amiss, and had the meeting house under almost constant guard; but on this evening they left the building for ten minutes.

When the church elder came back, the community’s meeting house was already beyond saving.

The woman was caught within an hour. As she was brought into custody, she was heard to say, “The land is mine now, right?”

Giving to Receive

Now, outreach became even more vital. The elders of the Church decided to plan a new Pagan center that would benefit the entire local community.

In the words of the current High Priest, Robert St. Cyr:

We have the opportunity to build a new, more functional
structure, and we have something that most groups don’t have – Pagan-owned land. We welcome all elders and clergy in the region to join us in our mission.

The benefits to all parties would be many. First, it would ensure the survival of the Nature Church, because the local community would have a stake in the Church’s survival. The energy, resources and expertise of the entire community could be brought to bear in both rebuilding and reviving the Church and enjoying the facilities for teaching and for community celebrations.

Second, the Church will be responsive to the needs of the local community because the leaders of the community will be our partners and co-facilitators.

Third, bringing in local clergy as our partners gives all of us the opportunity to learn from each other about the various groups’ beliefs, ceremonies and traditions, and fosters a sense of community in our region.

There are other opportunities, as well, which come from the very simple but very powerful fact of having Pagan-owned land available for the whole community. For example, the east coast of the United States has no Pagan cemetaries whatsoever — there is only one such cemetary in the whole country, and it’s in California. Having Pagan-owned land here in the center of western Massachusetts, where all stripes of Pagans are welcome, is bound to further foster our collective sense of unity and community. And there are any number of Pagan groups in New England who would love to have access to freely available land for gatherings, celebrations, and retreats of all sorts.

We (our grove, and our family) are excited about this opportunity to snatch joy and community out of the jaws of destruction. It seems that the gods are with us in this endeavor, as well; the following is from Ellen Hopman’s recent update on Church events:

A month or so ago we found one page from Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon. It was all that remained of the Church copy of that book. It was black around the edges but intact. I read the page to see what it was about. It spoke of The Church of All Worlds. We sent the page to Margot.

Yesterday we found another page from the same book. It too is charred around the edges. It also is about The Church of All Worlds and Oberon Zell. I plan to mail that page to Oberon. Margot and Oberon (via Green Egg) have both been very supportive of our plight and I feel the Gods have been speaking to us through these discoveries…

The Church needs a great deal of help — mostly financial, to help pay for the new meeting house, but it also needs willing hands and hearts for gardening, building, and connecting. I’m adding a page on this site devoted to it, and I’ll be updating it regularly, and letting you know how we get on. And if you feel moved to help as well — in any way — don’t hesitate to let me know using my contact form, and I’ll hook you right in!

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Comments

  1. David McIntosh says:

    What a coincidence…that’s the same part of the book I’m currently reading.

  2. Jeff Lilly says:

    That’s extremely cool, David.

    (I haven’t read the book…) *blush*

  3. David McIntosh says:

    And you call yourself a Pagan…(self-righteous sneer).

    It’s really quite interesting, even though I’m not involved in Paganism. It reads like a sociology textbook, if that kind of thing tickles your fancy.

    If I was still considering school in Amherst (the one that rejected me, lol), I might be able to help you. Unfortunately, I’m still down here in the Church of God Vatican, and when I go back to school this fall it will be in Chicago.

  4. Wish I could help, but I’m fiancially committed to Four Quarters Farm in Artemas, PA. I hope your endeavors are as fruitful as 4QF — it’s inspiring.

    http://www.4qf.org/

  5. Jeff Lilly says:

    Wow, Anne — that place DOES look awesome! If we still lived down near DC, we would definitely check it out. Good on them, and on you!

  6. Jeff: did the daughter become an arsonist just to “get the land”?

    Anne: I agree with Jeff: it does look awesome.

    Jeff: Road trip!

  7. Jeff Lilly says:

    Nio, sorry — I should have been more clear. Yes, my understanding is that she admitted to the police that she thought that if the Nature Church ceased to exist, the land would revert to her ownership. She apparently thought this meant that destroying the meeting house would be sufficient, but of course the actual situation is that the chruch would have to cease to exist as a legal entity.

  8. This entire situation is so distressing. But community is something that exists independent of any building or material possession.

    I hope that Willow receives lots of donations for the church.

    Thanks for this Jeff.

    Blessings,

    Vera Nadine

Trackbacks

  1. […] On a semi-related note, I was doing my morning blog crawl when I ended up over at Druid’s Journal. Jeff wrote about The Nature Church: A Place for All Pagans. I was a little confused about the nature of the fire so I wrote a comment asking him to clarify and that’s when I saw Anne’s comment where she pointed to a site called Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary. I would so love to have a place like this in the Lakes Region. « My Sister’s Keeper   […]

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