There is no one right or wrong way to develop a Grove. There are probably things that work better in one part of the country than in another, and things that suit one Grove Organizer better than another. This article reviews some of the things that worked well for Shining Lakes Grove, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Rev. John "Fox" Adelmann and I founded Shining Lakes Protogrove in March of 1994. Fox always wanted to lead a neopagan group, and his move to liberal Ann Arbor helped to crystalize his dream. We started by choosing a name that had local significance (although we didn't realize what the acronym would be until later!), and performed several ADF-style rituals on our own or with friends to become familiar with the cosmology. Very shortly after that, as a result of my visibility on alt.pagan, a pagan at my office approached me and we convinced him to join ADF, and become our third member. In May of 94 we were granted our provisional Grove charter.
One of the first things we did was write by-laws. These were modeled on Stone Creed Grove's by-laws. In the interest of accessibility, all events were free, with the exception our favorite activity -- hottubbing! We raise money using raffles. There were some commitments we made right from the start, and we have kept those commitments no matter how hard it was at times. We performed an advertised public ritual at each of the eight high days. If we advertised an event, we showed up to it, even if we were the only ones (and this happened several times in the beginning).
We were open about our path both within the pagan community and outside it (although we did use spirit names and a P. O. Box address to start with, but very shortly thereafter we did not keep either our names or address secret). We promoted our events in pagan and non-pagan venues, believing that we should draw from both communities. We made a very strong and lasting commitment to fostering open and honest communication within the Grove, along with an awareness of group dynamics. We hold regular workshops to teach grove members these techniques, and hold people responsible for using them. Finally, we had a broad vision of an established church, serving our people and acting as a focus for our community for many years to come. As a corollary, we specifically decided to be open to all who were interested.
There are no initiation requirements (other than the yearly $13 membership fee), and we committed to working with all who showed interest. That said, though, we did focus on a somewhat older audience, and one interested in intellectual pursuits. This was not initially deliberate - those are the sort of people Fox and I are, and so we naturally attracted more of the same. It worked very well, though, as this tended to be a more stable segment of the community in this college town. One of our challenges was to help people feel part of a group, and for this we created grove necklaces. Each person who joins receives a necklace that has beads added to it with every passing year, and every additional activity or post the person holds. The necklaces have been very successful, with people regularly wearing them in public, and showing off their beads.
Some of our subsequent actions also helped our continued development. From the very beginning, we published a calendar sheet listing our events. This calendar was produced and mailed free to anyone who signed up on our mailing list (circulation averages 200). It also included listings of other pagan-friendly events in the area, as a service to other local groups, which fostered goodwill in the community. We also publish a quarterly journal which features articles and artwork from our members. The journal is free to members, and $5/year to non-members.
We conduct regular 'Grove Intensives', which are members-only sessions dedicated to open communication and resolution of issues. As a result of one of these sessions, Fox realized that we were concentrating too heavily on secular matters, and were neglecting the spiritual growth of the group. The result was the creation of An Bruane, a spirituality group dedicated to exploring, defining and deepening our Grove's cosmology. It has been through a couple of incarnations, and has contributed greatly to the spirituality of the grove.
There were some other elements that I think served us particularly well. Fox has an incredible store of energy, and is truly and deeply committed to the welfare of the Grove. This means that he often puts the needs of the grove and its members ahead of his own, and always makes time for members of the community.
He sees himself in the role of pastor, or minister, and acts accordingly, offering counseling services, performing handfastings, weddings and sainings, coming to people's aid in times of trouble, and serving as a liaison with other religious organizations in our area. His level of commitment and his enthusiasm are fundamental to the success of the group, and are contagious to the rest of us. His management style has also helped keep the group stable. He provides strong leadership, encouraging others to take on positions of responsibility as he comes to believe that they understand his vision for the future. This approach has created a unified and consistent leadership council that fully supports him and his efforts.
Shining Lakes Grove has come a long way in the two years since our inception. With 48+ ADF members and an additional 30 local members, we are larger than many Christian congregations. We have weathered our formation, and continue to change. We have many places to go from here. With continued growth will come the challenge of remaining responsive to individual members while serving the community as a whole with all its many needs. With the continued dedication and enthusiasm of our members, we hope to emerge stronger and ever more committed to our path.