Things No One Told You About Being a Priest

There are a lot of things about being a priest that aren’t in any of the training, and that you really only learn or experience once you’re on that path.  This is an ever-evolving list of things that have surprised me, that I’ve learned and experienced, and that I’ve reflected on since becoming clergy.  They’re not really organized in any particular order.  Perhaps at some point I’ll organize them, or write more deeply about some of them.  I have bolded a few of the more important ones, or at least the ones that I keep coming back to.

If you are thinking about the clergy path, or are already on it (at whatever point in your journey you may  be), please, feel free to reach out to me.  I know that I process best when I have conversations with others, and like talking about these issues.  So, no need to feel shy about it.  Reflecting like this is part of growing and learning.

  • Clergy work is lonely.  Intensely lonely.  That wall of loneliness that kind of creeps up around you, even in places you didn’t think would have it.  You slowly shift towards a more introverted personality style. 
  • People you’ve known for a long while and the change in the way they react to and interact with you.
  • The expectation (however well founded it may be) that you’ll raise your children pagan
  • The assumption and expectation that you prefer the term Priestess, when in fact Priest feels much more comfortable
  • The comments made (both from insiders and outsiders) that you control how your congregation acts and thinks (what the hell?!)
  • My stole is heavy.  In a way that I can feel when I put it on.
  • Getting asked if the reason you don’t drink (or don’t drink often) is because you’re a priest. (And being grumpy that the very fact that that person thought to ask and make a judgement based on that means that the answer is partially yes)
  • The ownership that others think you have over rituals and liturgy (though I’ve experienced this from both sides, actually)
  • I answer my phone more often now.
  • Being lumped in with all ADF clergy, and occasionally with all pagan clergy in general
  • I’ve been both pleasantly surprised (and disgusted) that none of the folk and only other clergy have made mention of my being (too) young.
  • Sometimes feeling as though I’m resented for now having the “Rev” title
  • The hundreds of small sacrifices of family and friend time you make. How the responsibilities eat their way in small but noticeable ways. 
  • Community members will come to you and say something along the lines of “if/when I die, I’ve given my Significant Other your contact information and told them I want you to perform my funeral.”
  • Being asked “will you make sure (the rest of) my offering gets burned?” or “I can’t be there, can you make an offering for me?”
  • Being asked if you will provide personalized training for someone.
  • Having your extrovert-priest-self mistaken for personal social self, and folks getting upset when you’re less social with them: aka: taking it personally when you’re not actually their best friend, but rather are just kind and personable with most everyone
  • There are no books written for pagan clergy to help with a lot of the issues we seem to encounter
  • I am less confident in my liturgical & ritual skills now than I was before ordination.  These higher expectations (real & imagined) that I now have to live up to.  And the trust (from the folk) that I will live up to it.  Like there wasn’t as much riding on success vs failure before.  There is this trust that I won’t mess something up, that things will go as planned, that folks will get the feels they want to feel from a rite/from me.
  • women as clergy and the issues that brings
    • raising a family while a priest
    • books for spouses of female clergy
  • how to navigate the larger religious world without an M.Div./chaplaincy (hospitals, prisons, military, etc)
  • As female clergy, if a request from the folk involves kids: congratulations, it’s probably you who’s getting the call. Whether it’s baby blessing, mother blessing, child’s rite of passage, pregnancy, miscarriage, or stillbirth funeral. 
  • (6 months in) I’ve now done more funerals/memorials since having my stole than I have anything else…. including high day rites… I hope it balances out…
  • The fact that all the training does not actually seem to prepare you for the day to day bits of being a priest. You can cite facts and procedures, but the actual doing and priesting, the interactions wth your folk, and the Work. None of that is covered in the training, so you better have been doing the work before hand or you’ll feel like you’re drowning. 
  • Having your Significant Other mention how you’re now working two jobs (you day job and your job as a priest) and realizing they’re right. (Or three, or four…)
  • Having to really step up your game for setting boundaries, time management, and saying no.
  • The feeling of nervousness the first time another priest asks you to do something big ritual-wise for them like a rite of passage.
  • The drive to be constantly creating materials that others can use on their path. How very much of your life and your vocation can be defined and focused by your oath(s): serve the folk & lead others to the flame. 
  • feeling so incredibly lucky that I have a local priest as a friend and mentor.
  • I’m tired of writing liturgy for funerals. (But I’m glad I can and am someone my Folk feel like they can come to for that). The mix of emotions there is complex and odd.
  • It’s our own practice that lets us keep our center and be able to do the hard stuff.  “Keep your own flame bright, or you cannot show others its light.”
  • Occasionally getting grilled on my knowledge of liturgy, lore, and other religious things.  It feels like when you say you’re a gamer, and suddenly everyone has to ask you all these obscure questions to make you “prove” that you are, only in this case its with religion and having to prove knowledge of lore, theology, and personal devotion and practice.
  • When people you’ve known for quite a while, certainly longer than you’ve been a priest, ask for (leadership) advice, starting with the phrase “so, because you’re trained for this…”
  • The first time you get paid for doing clergy work
  • Who is the priest for the priest? I guess we must serve each other. And allow our folk to support us when other clergy cannot. 
  • I think tonight (Imbolc 2016) may be the very first time I’ve truly (like actually truly in totality) felt the “you’re /my/ priest” from the clergy side of the equation. Like people feel like I’m /their/ priest. I… It’s kinda weird. Its heavy.  There’s stuff I could mess up, really mess up, on all kinds of levels.
  • Something about being out here outside the building where we’ve held ritual, lighting a sacred fire and burning all the offerings after a ritual while most others are socializing at the potluck, people come to talk to you. About all kinds of stuff.  Lots of “….Do you have a minute?”
  • conversations with people who are considering becoming clergy.   I didn’t think I’d be talking to anyone this soon about their vocation, their ministry, their Why they want to do the priest thing… Which kind of ties into the “I figured anyone who would have those questions would want to talk to Michael” The “wait, what? What do you mean I’m /your/ priest?”
  • When you’re doing introductions to new folks and you think it just means names, so you say “Hi, I’m ___.” And then several others in your grove add on “she’s one of our priests.”
    • You can call yourself whatever you want, it’s what others call you that matters
  • encouraging folk who have been told they were doing something wrong with their practice that they in fact are doing exactly what they need to if it working for them. And don’t they dare let anyone tell them they’re practicing their devotion wrong.
  • The (mostly unspoken) expectation that you will be totally mentally stable all the time. And finding that when you are going through crisis your own support network is way way way smaller. For the most part the laity don’t want to feel like you’re not stable, and the other clergy don’t think you’re capable of representing them well if you’re in crisis (and some didn’t think you could handle it emotionally anyways…)
  • You are more likely to discover which people consider you their Priest in times of tragedy than in times of joy.
  • When you go to a social gathering that you thought was going to be mostly people who didn’t know you as Priest, and then the awkwardness that happens when there are people there who only know you as Priest.
  • having atheist friends and acquaintances come to you for advice/counsel because they’ve been watching the clergy work you’ve been doing from the sidelines.
  • Remembering the real Work always helps.  Love the Earth.  Serve the Folk.  Honor the Gods.  Following that drive and passion and vocation will renew your drive and passion and vocation
  • Doing a ritual for the first time with nearly all new grove members, and the awkwardness that they expect you to handle most of ritual, and they don’t seem to want to speak at all. They trust you.
  • Having in depth conversations with folks about their spirituality, and knowing that you’ve made a difference for them. 
  • The sheer number of conversations with my folk that now begin with “So you’re a priest…” and then request advice, or knowledge, or even just listening.
  • Conversations with people facing death never go how you expect them to.
  • How attached I am to my “sacred tuft” (the spot where the hair I cut at ordination is growing back in)
  • (Spring Equinox 2016) Going through pictures from our recent rites, I finally don’t feel like I look weird with my stole on.
  • The joy you experience having in-depth conversations about liturgy, ritual mechanics, and the magic of the Work.
  • Being more nervous leading rituals now that you are a priest than you ever were before you were ordained. 
  • Leading a ritual where a large number of new folks got up to do parts (or old members doing new parts) for the first time, and being so proud of how well they did and how well the energy was raised and the ritual flowed.  Seeing folks you’ve had a part in mentoring grow into their roles and blossom in their own Work.
  • Never having really liked that some people use the title of Rev. for power or influence, and being pleasantly surprised at how that title has aided me immensely in the Work I was already doing serving my Folk.
  • Being the Priest for another Priest.  The first time that relationship flips with someone who has always been a counselor and priest to you, and you are the one being counselor and priest.
  • training becomes ongoing, self-directed, and on the job
  • relationships – congregational disapproval, stresses of work
  • leadership roles become intrinsic or more visible
  • lifestyle balance becomes important – engage in your hobbies; have other circles of friends
  • No one wrote us any books for this
  • Who counsels the counselor?
    • importance of having someone to go to – spouse, another clergy person
    • internal counselor
  • Clergy always held to a higher standard
  • you don’t get to pick your congregation
  • confidentiality is hard, especially for small congregations
  • job apps don’t seek this kind of experience
  • It’s a business: Planning – all important
    • income/expenses
    • product packaging
  • sometimes people leave
  • sometimes you are disappointed
  • sometimes they expect you to fix problems that they won’t tell you what they are
  • pressure to “act like clergy”
    • pray about problems/don’t drink
    • avoid depression
    • humility
    • temper
    • sexual morality
  • Not all skittles and beer
    • funerals
    • executions (prison ministry)
  • Boundary issues, spouses and second-class-ness
    • clergy 24/7? Can I call at 2am?
    • What is personal property and church property?
      • Clergy home? – used for church functions…
      • Clergy person? – when is he accessible?

9 thoughts on “Things No One Told You About Being a Priest

  1. This happens for every Priestly path. It isn’t solely ADF Priests. I have been taken aback by several of these myself.

    You might be able to add: “Oh, you’re a Priest. Wait, your credentials are ULC so that doesn’t really count.” to the list. It is rather offensive for all the work that has been done and the roles I have performed for people. It is also offensive to the people that have been served by someone with those credentials. Essentially, Priesthood is a bond of trust that is established between the individual acting as priest and the folk. Once you don this mantel of trust it IS a huge weight.

    Yes, you (priests in general) do tend to go a bit more introverted. The problem with that is sometimes it gives the impression of being inaccessible. It’s a never ending battle between privacy/personal life for yourself and being available for those that need you.

    • That is a good one to add. I will maintain again and again that anyone serving in that spiritual leader role is going to feel a lot of these. And that the real Work is what is important. If you’re doing that, if you’re honoring the gods and serving the folk, then that is what matters. The rest is gravy.

    • I think that being a Clergy person and your experiences whether new or old are often more unique than you know. It is difficult to say that while you feel a certain way that all others do as well. Supporting each other as people and Clergy should be at the forefront of our work; however, supporting does not mean always ‘agreeing with’ another. Not to detracted at all from Jan’s experiences as a Clergy person, but to perhaps give another perspective of what this is like…I will share my experiences as well that others might benefit.

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      I have never felt lonely as a Clergy person. I continually have spiritual, social and other opportunities for interaction with others…to learn and grow from interactions with them as they learn and grow from interactions with me. Additionally, the Kindred are an enormous force in my life and a constant presence to consult and interact with for guidance and wisdom when the going gets tough. The going is going to get tough at times, but this is not unique to the vocation of Clergy. It is present in any vocation that is service oriented.

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      I have experienced little of this either. My vocation changed…I didn’t.. at least the core of who and what I am didn’t change. I have never lost friends because I was a Clergy person or not gained new friends because of this. I sometimes am hurt by anti-clergy statements and accusations about the Clergy as a whole from folks who refuse to see me as an individual and those whose have never even met me that make unfair judgments based on my vocation.

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      I am the mother of 4 children and of these children two identify as Pagan and two do not. I have never felt that I was expected by anyone to raise my children in any particular way. I live my Pagan life and my children were raised in a Pagan household; however, they have always been free to think for themselves, choose for themselves and be anything that they want…including whatever religion they want if that is what makes them happy. What is right for me is not necessarily right for someone else, even my children. I raised them to be loving, kind, accepting and open minded. How can I as a parent close my mind and not be accepting of their right to choose.

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      People will always make assumptions and some of these will be based in stereotypes. I also am female and prefer the term Priest to Priestess, but once again. I am going to call myself and see myself as I want. What others do or think doesn’t really upset me like that. They can assume, but I usually will consider how important is this really to me and labels just really aren’t so I just move on.

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      I have experienced this and it could have been more untrue… so when this happens. I once again consider the source and how important the comment is to me and then I either address it or let it go. Things like this are always going to be said for a variety of reasons ie. Jealousy, resentment, past experiences with other religions etc.

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      What do you attribute the weight of your stole to? Mine is light, but feels sacred and is a reminder of the obligations I have accepted and of my oath. It doesn’t feel heavy really.
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      Once again…I am just me…I drink at festivals, grove events etc, but I think the important thing here is moderation and remembering that we are always representing, not only ourselves, but also our church. I don’t feel the need to adhere to mainstream morals and values here, but more the Norse sumbel rules “frith” is good and shows respect for self and others, “falling down drunk” is not good or respectful.

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      I am not sure that I understand what you mean by this point exactly. If you are talking about copy write and written material or responsibility for ritual performance? Or both?
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      I have always answered my phone a lot because I work in social services and am on call for emergencies, but I also answer my phone on a regular basis for others. I just always try to set clear boundaries and limits here. I need and want time for me also.

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      Generalizations due happen and rarely make me happy either. I like to see people as individuals instead of titles or groups. Generalization take away individuality and responsibility for ones actions at times.

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      I don’t know that chronological age has much to do with any of this accept for wisdom gained from experience. It is helpful to have lived some life and had some experiences before coming to this vocation. It helps us to be in a better position to help others.

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      By some…you are…it has a negative connotation for some people because of their experiences with mainstream religion largely. For others they resent it because they can’t legitimately use it. I usually only use it when I need to for a role I am serving in…like when signing a marriage license or posting something where it is a credential that is needed or matters, otherwise I don’t use it…but that is my personal choice. It is not because I worry about resentment or think I can’t use it.

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      It has always been hard to keep this balanced and make time for all of it, but you have to do this for other things besides your role as Clergy in life. It is about balance, moderation and limits. Also knowing what is a priority when helps and sometimes you just have to make time for family, friends and self. This is truly what keeps service oriented people from totally burning out. Time has always been precious to me and I wish I had more time…always…but I work with what I have and make the best of it. The hardest thing for me is not trying to be ‘all things to all people all the time’.

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      I am actually flattered by this. The fact that someone thought that I was the appropriate person to share this life event with them and their family is humbling…I think.

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      I have been asked this and asked this of others. To me it is just something that friends, family, grove mates etc would do for each other. In my role as a priest I might get more of these requests, but I am really not burdened by it ever.

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      Once again I see something like this as a personal choice…you certainly don’t have to…but might want to…each to their own here I believe. I have worked with others one to one, but have also had to say no because of other commitments etc.

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      I really don’t struggle with this because first, I am an introvert and secondly, how I interact with others as a priest and a person is truly one and the same. My Druidry and my priesthood are just a part of my life. It is truly something that I am all the time…so it is who I am now and fused to my identity. I am good with that.

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      There are a few books for Pagan clergy mostly dealing with congregational issues, but not all. There are also counseling and mainstream religious books that have some helpful things in them and we also have each other. If only we would learn to use this more effectively… until one of us writes an ADF Druid specific book about this.

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      Jan, I mess up lots…I often wonder if what we have planned for a high day will work, will be pleasing to the Kindred and the folk and sometimes I fail. This is okay. It is how we learn and grow. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and learn to laugh at yourself and accept failure as a real possibility. Try as you will to not make it a probability…but accept it as possible. To me if you don’t risk once in a while you sell yourself short and don’t have the chance of something truly extraordinary happening.

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      Women as clergy….I don’t ever let myself feel less than because of gender or worry that others are seeing me that way…I expect fair and equal treatment always…and won’t accept less. I would like to hear specifics about this. I have raised a family while being a priest, taken my baby to ritual, festival and all other manner of events. Some folks some of the time had negative things to say about this…but that was never my problem, but their problem from the beginning. So I really didn’t worry about it and just made sure that I was not disrupting anything for anyone else. As for books for spouse/partners of I would say “clergy in general”, I don’t know that I would look for a book, but seek communication and respect in my relationships so that I could explain and share my vocation with them and have that in turn respected.

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      We are all still working on this one. It is getting better and just being out there and visible in the larger community has helped all of us a great deal. It is not an easy acceptance in some places, but it is certainly getting better.

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      I don’t know about that either. Raven and I did many of those things for folks together, but we also dealt with them separately as well. In my community Chris and I often work on availability and support each other in the work when one of is not available the other picks up the slack. It is an advantage to having more than one priest in a community. The folks choice sometimes plays into this as well though. Is a woman who recently had a miscarriage wanting to speak with a female just because they are female? It is probably purely a comfort issue and the ability to relate female to female than about being a priest.

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      Funny thing about that is that with my reputation and specific vocational bent towards death and dying I have actually performed more weddings than funerals probably about 3 to every 1.

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      I would encourage everyone to start slow and take on no more than you are able. You can see from what I have written so far it would be hard to anticipate just what the vocation of a priest will look like for any two individuals…are experiences are extremely different and I don’t think that is a bad thing necessarily. You can’t predict service exactly because no to people are the same and this affects not only priests, but also those we serve. A one size fits all service approach really works nowhere that truly serves people as individuals. Not in things spiritual or in the mundane.

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      This is often how it does feel and it is tiring, thankless work at times…but it has made me a better human being and I have helped many others along the way. It is most certainly not for everyone, but if at the end of my life I can look back and know that I made a difference and am better for it….it will be a life well lived.

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      This is truly key to avoiding burn out. You have to do a lot of truthful introspection, reflection and managing of your life and maintaining your person to be of any good to anyone else.

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      I think this happens for all of us and those that don’t admit that are probably lying.

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      Watch how much you take on and what is driving you? You are under no obligation to create materials for others to use, really. You have to determine the answer to the question above for yourself and for each of us the answer will be and should be different.

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      This is fortunate. When I did this I didn’t have a mentor or anyone really close to me to help. I had to figure it out on my own and hope that I was doing it right. I did make some Clergy student friends at the time, however, that fumbled their way through with me…lol. We now also have a formal mentorship program so this should help as well.

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      If you are tired of writing funeral liturgy…take a break…give yourself a break. If I push myself like that I am never happy with the end result and my written product suffers.

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      This speaks volumes for doing things to maintain your own practice, your person and your life.

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      You really don’t have to prove anything to anyone at this point. You are Clergy and should be able to do some things. I love debate, banter and the like however, so I am game for this at any time. I also don’t mind being schooled by another. I love to learn and those that test my knowledge make me grow and want to learn more.

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      Well, they should be able to and if they ask you about something you don’t have experience or training or knowledge in…there is nothing wrong with saying so and maybe doing a little digging for them to see if you can find someone else to help them that does have what they are looking for.

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      I still have a personal problem with this. I shouldn’t. I know that, but I do. I am trying to work on that.

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      I think you have provided a great answer for this question.

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      This is cool. But I do need to tell you that I have been a priest a long time and…”there’s stuff I could mess up, really mess up, on all kinds of levels”, but my intention is not to so it will be okay.

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      Folks approach and identify with who they want to and you will get use to this.
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      This is great actually.

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      Why is that? My identity, my self-concept and self-worth is not the product of what others think and call me. For me it is very much about who I want to be and what I call myself and how I present myself that is important. I want others to see me in a positive way so I work on that. Others opinions help me to adjust that image if I want and need to, but if someone thinks I am a bitch and it is one opinion that is given without valid reason, do I change who and what I am because of that…no. I don’t. I consider it and if it applies I do something with it and if it doesn’t I let it fly.

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      Well this is a double edged sword… Many things about our practice don’t have a right or wrong way to do something so unique ways of doing things are encouraged and things don’t have be done the same way to be “right’. But if someone believes that the blessing of the waters is the meditation at the front end of an ADF ritual…then they are not correct or they believe that Manannan Mac Lir is a Vedic fire deity…they are wrong. Sometimes people are wrong and we do need to tell them that. We live in a society where overall people react badly to this. It isn’t always an easy thing to do, but it isn’t helpful to condone something that is incorrect. Of course, support individuality, creativity and unique approaches wherever we can, but…

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      I am sorry that you feel this way. There is a big difference between a situation crisis and ongoing mental instability. Situation crisis comes to an end eventually, but mental instability that is ongoing and not treated is a problem when trying to consistently help others and could even lead to harming others or the person themselves. It is difficult to help someone else if you can’t find a way to help yourself or if you should be helping yourself, but instead spend all of your time and energy helping someone else. This will eventually hurt you. The folk do get uncomfortable if a leader of any kind appears to be less than strong, stable and functional…but we are human. I do try to pick my moments to not cause concern for folks that can’t handle that, but other priests certainly know what this is like.

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      Because this is how human beings are largely wired. Joy is a much more well accepted and easier to handle human emotion than is grief.

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      What makes this awkward? The only place that I might see experiencing this is if I am sitting in a room of Lutheran ministers at work and this were to come up..that might be awkward for a minute.

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      That’s cool.

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      Again…you have to serve from a whole place.

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      Should they not be able to? Even if you were not a priest, but a Grove leader or ritual leader new people would likely do this.

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      This is the reward in service related work.

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      This can get tiring if you don’t set limits. It is not easy, but you have to do it.

      Working with people often doesn’t go how you expect it to just in general.

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      LOL

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      Progress!

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      Personal benefit from the work!

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      This I believe is pressure you are putting on yourself…most likely unnecessarily. Why is this different than before?

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      I think this is true for anyone who has been in those roles not just priests.

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      You are always going to have those people who do this for all of the wrong reasons. I just always make sure that person isn’t me for this is really the only person that I can control.

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      It can be a bit surreal.

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      This is the way it should be.

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      All things that you need to find a way to effectively manage and it really depends on you as a person and the specific situation to find a solution that you can live with.

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      The work of personal transformation!

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      Yes it does…balance is extremely important for the long haul.

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      No one wrote us any books for this, YET.

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      Other counselors and peers…from someone who is a counselor.

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      This is extremely important and more than one person is even better.

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      What does this look like?

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      This is true of most leadership roles, but especially of Clergy.

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      Or your coworkers, boss…

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      Why…confidentiality is not hard..don’t talk about anything that is confidential and you will be fine. Accept were the law says you must. What the person that comes to does with their information and who else they share it with is really not your problem.

      I am not sure what help you are looking for or what advice or support, but this is what I have to offer from my experiences as a female Clergy person. I hope that you find something useful in what I have written.

      Yours Within the Mist,

      Carrion

  2. The closer I get to the kindred the more distant I get with people sometimes. You mention lonely and I know that path well. I have no mentor, no friend nor council. I ever so slowly work my way through course work but the clergy work I do is fulltime. Hours and hours I have spent sitting with people, talking, listening, asking questions and hopefully helping them. The amount of PMs, texts, and in person requests for healing etc I take very seriously and spend hours at my altars working for them.

    I have been asked to hospitals to perform “last rites” for people I don’t know, I have had the joy of being with people and celebrating their most cherished of moments and I have held the hands of friends as they have past over beyond the veil.

    I have answered hundreds of questions by every type of person. Stood in front of a room full of people and sat in with groups of college kids and shared with all of them a piece of me. I gladly fulfill my calling but it does change you. I assume my path is different because of the political things I have been through but I believe if you are really doing the work it will change you.

    There is a price to be paid and I really wonder if everyone who is working for a title or a shining badge understands that…blessings.

  3. I admire you even more, Jan. Seriously. I remember when we were both working on the IP at the same time, and then we had babies around the same time, and somehow you were able to accomplish clergy status! It amazes me, and I honestly sometimes feel a bit inadequate about it, but you truly inspire me. I often think of you when I’m struggling to fit in my studies. Clearly, it comes with a lot of weight… I can already relate to some of these just as a grove organizer. Those times trying to involve new, shy people, and it’s so exhausting putting so much energy into the rites… The core of my protogrove is basically family, and now the business end of it makes me feel really awkward at times… Had a miscommunication at our last business meeting. It’s all ok now, but wow… I feel like I’m learning a ton on the job. When the time is right for me to be clergy, I know my experiences as a grove organizer will help, but your wisdom here will stay with me.

    • Aww, please don’t feel inadequate! You’re doing you, and that inspires me. So much with the pagan parenting. It’s awesome. And I’m not a Grove Organizer, and that is its own type of spiritual leader work, and every other kind of work. As a GO you get the joys of being spiritual leader, business person, organizer, all of it…. Own it, because you do great at it from all that I can glean. Those experiences will continue to shape you as you continue to follow your path. Keep walking your walk, and the rest will fall into place as it should.

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