I remember looking around before the service at World AIDS Day and seeing my fellow clergypersons milling about, chatting, and generally being social. I was the only person in the room off in the corner working hard to nail down my part of the service. That was a frightening experience.
I felt at the time like I was the only person who hadn't studied enough to be confident in his words, or to speak clearly, or to convey his meaning. I felt like everyone else there was so darn comfortable with what they were doing, so well-practiced and rehearsed. I really felt like a child who has been asked to sing a silly song among adults. My words were even printed in the program, so there was no way I could ad-lib if I decided to let the moment take me. It was the most strictly ordered ritual I had ever participated in, and ever have since, with one exception recently.
Then the WAD service began, and I watched a couple of people speak. The first few speakers were polished, and I knew I had to nail my part. I walked forth and read it with conviction, fumbling one word out of about two hundred total (though I was apparently the only one who noticed), and spoke with as much force and courage as I could muster. I sat down, generally fretting over the fumbled word and started shaking like a leaf until I could meet seamus_mcnasty and shawneen_bear and ask them their opinion.
As I waited, though, I watched the other speakers. Some speakers were very good, while others were . . . not so good. Some turned their moment at the podium into pure commercialism, speaking more about their church than about their message. I recognized that day that I was not the only clergyperson or lay reader who experienced stage fright.
After the service, I received a number of compliments on my delivery and performance. It felt good to hear that, because I am never very sure of my own ability to properly represent Neo-Paganism or Druidry when I speak among persons of diverse faith.
Having a chance to actively work toward planning the Pride service from this past weekend, however, things were a bit different. Rather than being a "token non-Christian," I was fortunate to have another Pagan there, this one from Green Faerie Grove, which made two voices for Paganism in the midst of a small sea of majority religions. Instead of being shuffled into the service with a part already written that needed to be re-edited to be even a half-truth, I was given the opportunity to not only speak from the heart, but to speak the last words of the service.
I spent time again that morning, while others in the service spent time socializing or trying to organize photos, to work out what I wanted to say. I approached trees and placed my hand on them, feeling the rough bark. I knelt to the ground and felt the grass and the dirt. I listened as closely as I could to the Mother.
I watched the entire service. Some presenters were good, some alright. None were bad. But I still felt that same oppressive feeling: I have to represent, and I have to do it well. I listened to readings from the Bible and things written by Humanists. I heard Buddhist chants and music that was catchy and spirit-lifting. And here I was with no words in my head except a general awareness of the Earth Mother.
When it was my turn, I spoke something like this (this is as I remember it, and nowhere near entirely correct. . I'm hoping that a couple of revisions will make it truer to my words that day):
"I am Rev. Michael J Dangler, of Three Cranes Grove, ADF, a local Druid fellowship. We have always felt it was important to celebrate Pride, for we are all Children of the Earth Mother. Whether we believe were formed from clay and given life by the breath of a deity; made up of the elements of the periodic table; or born directly from the Mother herself, we all share our one Earth Mother. As we prepare to depart, we will ask for blessings from our Earth Mother this day. Thank you for coming to this service, and thank the organizers for holding it. It is our tradition, though you need not follow it, to kneel and touch the ground as we call out to the Earth."
Earth Mother, your children call out to you.
You uphold us as we move through life, with each step we take.
Let every step we take upon you today in pride and unity
Be a step toward justice, understanding, and love.
Let us follow the footsteps of our Ancestors
Who blazed trails long before us and fought for what was right.
Let us hear the blessings of the Nature Spirits
Who play among the trees and upon the wind.
And let us go forth with the strength of the Shining Ones
The deities we follow and love.
Earth Mother, mighty Kindreds,
Bless our steps this day, and uphold us even in adversity.
Children of the Earth,
Go in peace and blessings:
This service is ended.
seamus_mcnasty and I had a conversation later on about why I feel the way I do around interfaith events. A lot of it has to do with a strong desire to prove that Paganism is worth inviting into interfaith events: no matter how much I may dislike it, each time I step in front of a mixed crowd, I am representing our religion to everyone there. I am very aware of that fact, and my natural stage fright and disinclination to speak for any other person at all starts to take over. This is probably why I appear so "together" at these interfaith things: I'm so very aware of how much responsibility gets placed upon me, and how ill-prepared I often feel to live up to that level of responsibility.
In the end, seamus_mcnasty said something that I really took to heart: we in ADF (and Cranes in particular) are not people who are inclined to rest on our laurels. We are always looking to better ourselves, probably because we see just how far we have to go. Zeno's Frog is apt here, for no matter how far we have gone, there is still just a bit further to get.
I suppose that's why I spend my "free" time studying, and why I cut into things I really want to do for ADF: there's just so much further to go. I haven't even scratched the surface. . .
The comment about "resting on our laurels" reminded me of something more, too, and (I think) made our Sunday ritual better. But you'll have to wait until later for that story.