Rev. Jan Avende’s Responses – VAD Candidate
Hi y’all. I’m running for Vice Arch Druid in the 2018 ADF Election this year. Many folks have asked questions of the candidates, and I’ve answered all the ones I’ve seen below. I also welcome more questions, and will update this post as necessary to address them. Email me at rev.jan.avende at gmail.com, so your questions don’t get lost.
Rev. Jan Avende has been a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin since 2009, where she serves as an ADF Consecrated Priest and Initiate. She is a talented Bard, Liturgist, and Spiritworker, who is active as a member in many of ADFs subgroups.She is also Preceptor of the Initiate Path and Magicians’ Guild. She uses her talents as a certified teacher to aid in mentoring folk, building resources for pagan families, and making the details of Our Druidry more accessible to all. Mostly, Jan enjoys writing rituals and prayers on request, being a sounding board to help others work through struggles, and talking with others about how they practice Our Druidry. Rev. Avende works out of Three Cranes Grove, ADF in Columbus, OH, serving her local community by running High Days, moon rituals, and specialty rites, as well as providing pastoral care and assisting in the day to day running of the grove. She has begun broadening her service to meet the needs of the wider ADF community, working to build a strong online community that any can feel a part of, no matter their physical location or ability to travel. As VAD, she would like to continue to work towards helping people feel more connected with the organization, work to ensure transparency in the Mother Grove’s decision making process, and be a compassionate point of contact for all members of ADF.
What sort of Vision do you bring to the table for the future of ADF?
I would like to see ADF continue to move along into the 21st century. This means more opportunities to build an online community, particularly for our solitaries, including more rituals and workshops available online for those who don’t have a grove and/or can’t make it to festivals. Some additional ways I see us moving forward would involve a larger presence on social media in an official capacity, taking advantage of the multimedia skills our members bring to the organization, and encouraging volunteer involvement in many forms from our members across the globe.
Are there any *specific* problems or goals that you want to tackle? How do you hope to address those problems/goals?
I think we have an issue with consolidation of power within ADF as a whole, which is leading to burnout, the ball getting dropped on important issues, and people feeling as though they aren’t welcome to volunteer. I would like to work on recruiting more folks to serve in various positions across the organization and empowering them to do those jobs. This empowering can be done through encouraging them that they are a good fit for that particular job, providing any necessary training, and mentoring them as they begin in the job. You can read more about my thoughts on mentoring, which is one of my vocations, here: https://hellenicdruid.com/2016/05/11/lets-talk-vocation-mentoring/
If you win the position you are running for, what will be the biggest obstacle you will have to overcome? How do you plan to do so?
I think the biggest obstacle is changing the culture of the organization to encourage involvement from new folks. Both in leadership positions and in our online community. We have so many people with so many varied talents that aren’t being seen or heard. Part of the change that can make this happen is detailed in my response regarding volunteer recruitment. As far as involvement from more folks in our online community, I think the Hearthkeeper Path that has been talked about is a good start, and I’d like to see that move forward and be implemented. I would also like to see more resources provided for our solitaries and small groves that allow them to participate virtually in many of the same types of things that those who are in larger groves do. I have tried to provide opportunities for our online community to grow and be vibrant by facilitating things like the #prayeraday challenge, Winter Solstice Spiral Liturgy, and the #DailyShrine challenge.
Volunteer recruitment and burnout are big problems. Do you have any plans to address either of those issues?
One of the key pieces of solid leadership is the ability to delegate and empower those volunteers. I think one of the reasons we in ADF have a hard time recruiting volunteers is that there is too much micro-managing. We need to recognize that the folks who volunteer for things have a passion, and it is our job as leaders to empower them to move that passion for the organization forward. By empowering volunteers, we will get more folks willing to participate. By having more volunteers, delegating responsibilities, and spreading out the workload to many different people, instead of keeping all the jobs within one small group of people, we will help avoid burnout. Volunteer retention is another issue related to this, and I think we need to have a solid future plan and professional development that involves training new leaders to take over some of the more complex jobs, as well as mentoring for all new leaders so that they feel confident in their ability and in their position.
What special skills would you bring to the position?
I am a certified high school teacher by trade, and as such have knowledge an experience in mentoring and facilitating discussions, as well as building rapport among working groups of people. These are all skills that I feel are especially important to have on a Board of Directors. My work in teaching also reflects my passion for promoting accessibility in our materials, as well as making sure we have materials geared towards children and families. On the religious side of things, I am a talented bard, liturgist, and spiritworker. These are useful skills for the VAD to have because they can leverage those skills to the benefit of the folk who may come to them for help in those particular areas.
How will you contribute to building a culture of consent in ADF?
One of the biggest things that ADF struggles with on an organizational level is the issue of “assumptive consent,” meaning that rather than asking for “positive consent” it is assumes that a certain behavior is or is not okay based on a number of factors, such as what was okay in the past or for someone else, or what a person thinks another can or cannot handle. I saw this issue several years ago, and proactively took the Cherry Hill Pagan Consent Culture course that other leaders are taking now in response to the accusations against Isaac Bonewits. I think it is important that we are proactive in these issues. One way I am currently being proactive is by developing with the other Initiate Council Officers some guidelines regarding our initiation practices to ensure that the mystery of the Ordeal is maintained along with the Candidates personal sovereignty.
Were it up to you, where would you take this organization 5 years from now, and how would you get us there?
I would like to see us move in the direction of becoming more like a professional non-profit organization. I think the SWOT analysis that is supposed to be happening is a step in the right direction, and I have high hopes that it will get us moving. While I don’t personally have the skills to move us towards a professional non-profit organization, I do know people in the organization who do have these skills in their own professional lives. Part of my skill set is organizing the many moving parts of an organization so that those with the skills are put in a position where they can best use them to the benefit of the organization.
What other roles have you held within the organization, and what have you done while in them?
I am currently the Preceptor of the Magicians Guild, and have revised the first circle for that study program to be more in line with an ADF style of magic. I am also currently the Preceptor for the Initiate’s Program. In that position I am currently working with a team to revise the first circle of that program to make it better match what initiates do, better prepare students for initiation, and clearly differentiate it from the clergy path. I have also assigned and empowered a Mentor Coordinator to ensure that our initiate students feel supported as they work through this program. Other positions I have held in the past include Heartland Regional Druid, Bardic Guild Chief, Seers Guild Scribe, Three Cranes Grove Scribe, and Hellenic Kin Preceptor. I stepped down from those positions partly because I think we have too many people in multiple positions and partly because it is important to encourage fresh leadership to take a position and make it their own. If elected as Vice Archdruid I plan to step down from my position as Magicians Guild Preceptor to allow someone with more time to step into that position, as well as ensure that I myself am not holding too many positions at once.
How will you encourage ways of making ADF accessible to children (with parental consent, of course)?
One of the ways I’ve been working on making ADF accessible for children within my own grove is by helping facilitate learning opportunities and rituals for children. They are our future and it is imperative to involve them in what we do. I think there are many groves and families doing excellent things with their kids, and it is a matter of compiling this kind of work and making it easily accessible on the ADF website. I will work with the Parenting SIG coordinator to help get this information compiled and available. It is also a personal goal of mine to finish the book I’ve been working on relating to involving children in ritual and our religious community. I would also like to explore and problem solve the issue of family memberships.
What does the VAD job description mean to you and how would you fulfill the duties of VAD?
The job of VAD is to act as a delegate for the AD. This means I would ideally be taking some of the weight off of the AD so they can focus on some more of the public facing jobs while I ,as VAD, would able to do things like chair various committees and oversee various subgroups in order to keep them informed of what the Mother Grove is doing, and pass along any of their concerns to the Mother Grove.
Lately, ADF has been rocked by several ‘scandals’ for lack of a better word, and frankly, the MG has floundered. From appointing people to making statements without complete information, these sorts of things are damaging to the organization. If elected, how would you go about navigating the issues facing the organization around bringing more transparency to processes while still responding to crisis in a timely manner?
I think the first step in navigating the issues and statements that the organization makes would be determining when to make statements. The driving reason for making a statement should be because it affects our membership. This can mean making sure that we are making statements that reaffirm the safety our members, especially our marginalized members, should feel when they come to the community of our church. This means when attacks happen to people, communities, and the environment, we should be present to reaffirm our stance on these issues, and condemn the actions of others where necessary. We must also be timely in statements that are made. This will likely mean appointing someone who can make the decisions to make a statement and what to say with minimal oversight. Like all our volunteers, we need to empower them. In this case that means making sure they can make initial statements without being weighed down by bureaucracy. The Mother Grove as a whole can make follow up statements if necessary as a whole, but the initial statement needs to be timely, ideally the same day that any incidents happen or come to light. We have many groves and individuals who are making their own statements, and many of them wish they could share the official statement from their church rather than having the burden of creating their own.
How do you view environmental issues within the context of ADF? What, if any, goals do you have to change the current actions or lack of actions currently present within ADF?
I think that as neopagan organization the explicitly honors the Earth Mother in every rite, we need to be more aware of and active in making our stance known on environmental issue. My grove has made an environmental statement that is affirming of our beliefs regarding the sanctity of the earth, and our obligation as stewards of the earth, and I would like to see the Mother Grove take up that statement and adjust its wording to reflect the international nature of our organization.
How do you view the role of solitary members within ADF and how do you anticipate that role will change over the course of your proposed term?
Solitary members make up more than half of our membership, and are the backbone of the organization. When I wrote a Unity Ritual, I specifically divided it up by region so that solitaries would be acknowledged in every place they are present within the world. Solitaries are the seeds and roots that our Groves grow out of, and their support is imperative to the growth of the organization. I want to push for the Hearthkeeper program to be approved by the Mother Grove and provide support materials for our solitaries to lead the way in that program. I think we need more ways to make folks feel attached to the ADF as a whole, and believe providing options for having a solitary practice recognized by the organization is a needed step.
How would you work to make ADF as respected and legitimate as any other church in the USA, and the world.
This requires a larger culture shift in society than we have control over as just a single organization. That being said, we are a public facing church, and when we do the work of our religion with sincerity and competence, and when we respond calmly to questions and news outlets in an informed way, we are working towards that social change. In the USA, we are currently recognized by the government as a legitimate church organization. I would defer to those in other countries regarding how to be recognized and make sure we’re doing what we can as an organization to support them in that goal.
In real actions, how would you, if elected, improve on the great job the MG has been doing?
I would work on recruitment of more volunteers, and work on empowering them to do their jobs. We need to trust those we appoint to do the work without micromanagement. I would also work on centralizing resources on the ADF, particularly for solitaries and families.
I would like to hear the candidates thoughts on strategic planning for ADF. Where do you see us in 10 years? 20 years? How are we going to get there? What are your goals on the MG?
Not having this skill set personally, I would work on recruitment of someone who does, and empower them to lead this kind of discussion. As far as goals, I would like to see us increase membership and believe that will center around finding ways for our solitaries to feel more affiliated with the international organization. We also need to figure out what “perks” membership brings. Currently, we have our study programs and access to resources as our main perks. The new website will improve our look to the outside world, and will improve access to resources by making them easier to find. The Hearthkeeper program will be an excellent way to tie people the organization, and make them feel a valued part.
How would you ensure fair treatment of members regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexuality, immigration status, class, or ability?
Diversity in organizations and in leadership doesn’t happen by accident. It needs to be sought out and explicitly supported. Part of ensuring fair treatment is making sure that folks can see themselves in our organization and feel accepted as they are in it. Another extremely important part is making sure that our resources and website are accessible. This means doing the background work to make sure things like multiple reading levels are supported and screen readers are useable. Accessibility benefits everyone, and especially those who need it. Finally, ensuring fair treatment means making sure that derogatory remarks are clearly unacceptable. This requires our leadership, clergy, and list/social media moderators to be aware and compassionate towards members who feel put down, and firm with members who are insensitive or inflammatory towards marginalized members.
In ADF there is a perceived or real power imbalance when it comes to clergy in the organization. While we all acknowledge the work and dedication of our priests it can sometimes feel as if non-Clergy have little say in the direction and vision of the organization. My questions for you are what do you see as the role of Clergy in ADF?
Well, the main thing clergy should be doing is serving the folk, and I think it is up to the folk in some ways how they desire that service. We are a volunteer clergy, and as such, it’s kind of like a part-time job, so time expectations should be adjusted reasonably. This mean each individual member of the clergy will serve in the way that best aligns with their vocation. For me personally, this means I do a lot of work with the study programs, having a background in education. I also do a lot of work just talking to various folks and helping them work through spiritual concerns and other issues that they come to me for. Overall, I would like to see a firm split between clergy and the lay folk, where clergy are the spiritual & educational leaders of the church, and the lay folk are the organizational leaders of the church. This would allow the laity to determine the direction of the church with advisement from the clergy, and not the other way around. Frankly, I think clergy have enough work to do without also having to run the bulk of the organization. We have tons of qualified folks who have no desire to be clergy, but would certainly benefit the organization greatly if they had a place to use their skills. I don’t know that this is a change that I can make happen, but those are my thoughts on the matter.
How do we assure that non-Clergy, especially members with experience and skills that could be useful the organization, have a voice and place within leadership?
Like my assertion above that the leadership positions should be divided so that laity is in charge of the organizational matter, I think there should positions that are reserved for the laity specifically. For example, on the MG it is currently required that the AD and VAD be clergy. I would like to see the Administrator become a much more influential position (equal to that of the AD) and be reserved for the laity. I would also like to see the NOD positions either all, or at least half, be reserved for the laity. There is currently way too much overlap in the MG and CC, which means the CC has no check on it, which is a huge problem, and not in non-profit best practices. I think we need to explicitly work on getting the laity into positions, and the way I can think to do that is by restricting positions to laity only.
What are we offering to members who are isolated and have no interest, time, and/or ability to pursue a study program?
This is one place where I think the Hearthkeeper program has a place. It simply is a way for a solitary or family grouping to affiliate themselves with the organization by keeping the 8 high days. We can support them by providing materials to give ideas and guide them, without mandating and particular way of doing things beyond basic (and possibly simplified) COoR. Study Programs aren’t the end all be all, and absolutely shouldn’t be. We are a religion, and so folks at the minimum who are part of the religion should feel supported practicing in the way that fulfills them. I think we need to provide more online options for folks who want to try building fellowship that way, as well as options for folks to affiliate in their own way that is recognized by the organization, which is where I think the Hearthkeeper program will come in.