UMPA celebrates six years, debates a seventh

As the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance,  a federal 501c4 service corporation, prepares to celebrate their sixth anniversary at their biennial meeting this Saturday, they’re also contemplating if UMPA should disband or if it can be revived through an influx of new members and new leadership.  That question will be discussed while attendees enjoy music, food, and dancing.
In late 2006 and early 2007, when Pagans across the nation were banding together in the VA Pentacle Rights Quest, the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance (UMPA) was born in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. It’s conception was sparked by an unlikely source – a local curmudgeonly radio personality named Joe Soucheray.   In December of 2006, Soucheray was reading a news article about the Pentacle Quest on his afternoon show, Garage Logic. While he said that soldiers who gave their life for their country should get whatever they want on their headstone, he did get some mileage out of poking fun at Wiccans. He noted, jokingly, that Wiccans have a PR problem and they need to do something about it.

First, outrage swept the local Pagan community, followed shortly by thoughtful discussion.  “Soucheray was right, we should be doing more,” said Nels Linde, UMPA’s former chairman. “We have a PR problem in that we tend to be quiet people. We don’t get out there and say who we are or what we do. People think we’re out dancing in the woods in robes.”

Nels Linde and Judy Olson (among others) used their years of experience in group leadership and UMPA was born. According to the group’s website, “Our immediate activities focused on this issue, culminating in the Pentacle Rights Ritual at the Minnesota State Capital, in a blizzard on Febuary 24th, 2007. In a short 40 days we organized, produced an informative color brochure, made press contacts, and secured the Capital grounds for the event.”

The ritual, which included the formation of a human pentacle, was well (and favorably) covered by local andnon-local press.  After the VA settled the lawsuit and approved the Pentacle as Gravemarker for Wiccan Veterans, UMPA took up other projects.

UMPA Officer Bress Nicneven says, “We’re still sending solider packages to the middle east, from donations by patrons from Magus Books.  We still clean a stretch of I-35 E twice a year. We do ‘Meals on Wheels’ to the elderly during the holidays – annually. And feed the homeless when we have enough volunteers available.” Nicnven says UMPA is a relevant organization and he’s “excited about the potential that is UMPA, in the months and years to come.”

The organization notes that while over 300 people have been involved with UMPA over the past six years, membership has dwindled and that is prompting leadership to ask members and the community, “… does this mean UMPA is no longer needed? We don’t know. This is an opportunity gather for a great meal, entertainment, and to join in and discuss the future of UMPA; either find some new leadership and participation, or dissolve the organization and pass on any funds raised to another non-profit.”

The festivities this Saturday kick off with a tribal dance performance by Kamala Chaand at 4:15 followed directly by traditional Norse musician Kari Tauring and then the Bourgeois Bohemians, a fusion dance troupe, performs.   The Biennial UMPA meeting starts at 5.30pm where members are encouraged to add their vision for UMPA’s future and elect a new council.  Attendees are invited to enter the Best Chili and Cornbread of Paganistan contest and everyone present gets to sample the entries for dinner.  While entry to the event is free, the meal is a $5 suggested donation for non-UMPA members or free for members.  Everyone is welcome to the event.

Event information:

Saturday Feb. 9th 4-7pm
At the Living Table UCC
4001 38th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55406 – lower level
Handicapped Accessable, two blocks off Minnehaha bus line
Meal $5 by donation or free with UMPA Membership.
Choose the best Chili and Cornbread of Paganistan.
Bring your favorite Corn Bread or Chili to join in the competition (enough to feed 50 people a sample portion)
Admission is free and everyone is welcome.