I’ve got a workshop I do from time to time on why groups fail. One of the things I talk about is group stability. What makes a group hold together, and what makes it fall apart.
There are lots of articles and lists out there that tell you what sort of things to look out for when choosing a Pagan group to work with. The Coven Abuse Self Help Index (CASHI) and the Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame are the two most frequently referenced.
One thing I’ve noticed a lot on this subject that doesn’t seem to be in either of those documents is that the leadership (be it rotating elected leaders, or a dedicated High Priest and/or High Priestess) need to follow the things they’ve said the group will do. That is, the group needs a mission statement that guides decisions and it needs leaders who do what they say they are going to do. If not, you should consider avoiding the group, because otherwise you will be caught up in their drama
I really believe that groups need a statement of what they are and what they’re doing. Without that purpose, what’s the point of the group existing? Furthermore, the purpose needs to be the driving force behind the group’s choices – are you really doing what the group is meant to do, or are you pulling it off course.
Leaders who change the direction of the group without input of those that are supposed to have input are bad leaders. Frankly, changing the direction of the group without consulting most of the group, whether or not they are in the chain of command, is bad leadership.
Leaders need to lead. If they drop things in someone else’s lap (rather than delegating appropriately), they can’t complain about the way the job gets done later. If you’re teaching people to lead, teach by example, and by giving them small opportunities first, then bigger ones, rather than throwing them into the deep end of the pool and hoping they make it back out.
If a group has guidelines on advancement, they should be followed. Playing favorites isn’t a good way for a group to be stable, it just breeds resentment. Worse, initiating people just so they’ll stay in the group, even when they aren’t ready, does no one any favors – not the initiate, and not those already initiated into the group. If attendance is required, then it’s required, unless there are other provisions for make-ups. Without consistency here, the group has no assurances that its initiates are actually all at the same level, or all capable of the work presented for a given event.
I have no problem with occasional exceptions to the rules, when every decision is an exception, the rules are meaningless. If the rules are meaningless, why are there rules to begin with? And if there are no rules, what’s the point of the group? And isn’t that the whole point of group stability