On June 30th Circle Sanctuary issued a statement in response to the early closure of their largest event, the Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) due to flash flooding. Besides other measures “Circle Sanctuary is offering a gift to all 2015 PSG paid registrants who request it — a $100 certificate ($50 for minors aged 12-17) that can be used toward any Circle Sanctuary event, including future PSGs, through June 21, 2020. This is a gesture of commitment to our community, to do what we can to promote healing. Please understand that this is a gift, not a refund or compensation for any loss.” The early closure was the first in 35 years of PSG, and the Circle community has rallied in support of the organization, and for the healing of those most effected by the waters and trauma of the flooding.
I spoke with Bob Paxton, Circle web and email administrator, an ordained Circle Sanctuary minister for seven years, current PSG assistant manager, and a Circle Sanctuary land maintenance volunteer each week.
N: What went into the decision to offer this gift?
Bob: After we unloaded the truck and started to think about things going forward we as an executive committee met, and had a long in person conference and tried to figure out what the best way forward would be, not just for Circle Sanctuary but for the PSG community as a whole. There were things that we knew we would do as church relative to the community, such as mobilizing our ministers to provide spiritual counseling. When people come to PSG they bring a years worth of spiritual work they intend to get done. To a substantial degree that work was short circuited by events.
There was a need for energy work and spiritual healing, and so we put out a call to the community to send in requests that they had We held full moon, our regular circle, and had it focused on healing and recovery from the events at PSG. There was a healing altar and about three dozen people in attendance, and we did an energy working to bring peace and solace to those effected.
Thirdly we decide because so many had lost so much during PSG, not just physical loss but the opportunity to do the work that happens there, to give a gift to the community for those who felt they needed it, a certificate toward admission to future Circle Sanctuary events. Good for not only for PSG but for future events on Circle Sanctuary land.
Why is a gift appropriate?
Bob: There are two sides of that. A refund is an actual return of money. You gave us X number of dollars, we are giving you X number of dollars back. The reality is that PSG is Circle Sanctuary’s single largest fund-raiser, but Circle is pretty well diversified in activity to bring in funds year around. As we looked at the numbers we saw that we could not give a refund of any sort without severely impacting the work that Circle Sanctuary does for the community year around. There are people who approach the entry fee to PSG as a simple purchase. Most events have a calamity befall it do not provide refunds because of an act of nature. An act of nature occurred that rendered the PSG site as unsafe for occupancy so we elected to close the gathering early. The gift certificate is a gesture to help people severely effected by the flooding to come to future events.
N: Does this meet your mission as a church and non-profit better than refund?
Bob: Absolutely! There are some people who only participate in Circle Sanctuary through the event PSG, and only see that role. We have people who are paid staff doing church work on behalf for thousands of people throughout the year. We provide those services year around, and we need to keep those services in operation. A gift certificate allows us to do that, a refund would hamper our future activities as a church.
N: How will this effect Circle Sanctuary financially?
Bob: It is too early to tell. Our intuition is that with the numbers that apply, it will be a hardship but not something we cannot overcome with a little bit of thought and work. This will impact Circle Sanctuary but we are confident that with our diverse income stream, and with the numbers of our community who are not accepting this gift, and the extended redemption period, spread over five years, in the end it will not be a severe financial impact.
N: How will administering this program impact the staff.?
Bob: It will take work to track and administer this, mostly shouldered by volunteers. I personally am not a paid staff member. I work as a volunteer and have already logged about 30 hours in this week in establishing the database and tracking system for this program. There will be increased volunteer hours to fulfill, track, and implement this, but this won’t affect Circle Sanctuary financially.
N: Do you hope this solution will be modeled by other churches and non profits?
Bob: Every organization is different as to what they could do in this situation. We are learning how to cope and deal with this kind of situation, This is what other organizations may be able to take out of this. We now understand in a very visceral sense how the advance climatological situation for an event can impact what happens later. We will be looking very carefully at how to mitigate those risks, what site requirements do we look for before placing ourselves at a site. What do we need to assess for Circle Sanctuary land to accommodate any problems with water may we have in offering local events. All these learnings will be integrated into our organizational knowledge. We hope other groups will seriously consider putting advance planning and thought into these factors. Not many Pagan organizations have the resources to offer what we have, and also do what we did on site. We hope that by offering people more opportunity to engage in community and thereby work within the Circle Sanctuary community, in the long run the financial loss will be canceled out, if not more so.
N: Can this site or layout be improved to provide a continued home for PSG?
Bob: Certainly it is possible, but it would require some investment. Whether this makes sense for Stone House Farm or PSG is very premature to assess. Changing the site layout and camping areas would have an environmental impact on the site and I would never advocate another land owner doing that without serious consideration of the impact.
N: How is this affecting your community?
Bob: The opening of the heart that occurred during this act of nature is very good sign of the health of the community that came together. They put in the work to put aside their own difficulty and dismay to open their hearts to others. That opening of the heart is really the core of the community that we are trying to build here. I have great confidence that it will see us through.