Saturday, March 25, 2023

Town Hall Questions: Rev. Melissa Ashton, NOD Candidate 2023

Hello, readers! I am running for Non-Officer Director for the ADF Mother Grove, and I thought you would be interested in my candidate questions. Feel free to reach out, if you'd like to discuss any of these! Blessings of the season be with you and yours.

1.    What vision do you see for the future of ADF, and what efforts do you plan to do to make that happen?

My vision for ADF is tied heavily to the work I am already doing. We need to update many of our documents and source materials to modernize. Improving our “boring parts” makes the interactive parts more engaging. I plan to continue my work with the organizational review committee, and being elected as NOD will allow me to further promote the improvements and innovations we are proposing in a wider scope. We are currently working on the training programs as they are migrated to the learning management system, and this new technology provides a myriad of opportunities for updating to educational best practices for adult learners including multimedia formats and resource materials beyond books and reading lists. Infusing Our Druidry with innovation, technology, and flexibility for ease of growth and building relevance in our modern society must be a priority.

Beyond this work, I have a passion for building relationships not only among ADF members and with the Kindreds, but also in our communities: local, national, and international. Not only with other pagans, but with other religions, and like-minded folks, and I would love to see more of this work done at an organizational level.

2.    If you are elected to your position, what is the first change you want to work toward on behalf of our members?

I don’t have a specific change in mind to be “first.” As mentioned above, the organizational review committee has identified a series of areas that need attention, and I would be happy to work toward implementing any of them. If I were to make a guess as to what would be the most impactful to the membership at large, I would advocate for the document control system. This would afford us a central repository for all policies, official documents, flyers, templates, letterhead, trifold informational pamphlets, etc. These could be accessed readily by all ADF members with version control, tracked changes, and approval records. This might seem like another “boring part” to most people, but it is the boring parts that keep an organization of our size operating smoothly. When the boring parts are out of order, the more engaging parts will often suffer.

3.    Serving on the Mother Grove is a huge commitment of time and energy. How will you fit your potential Mother Grove role into your life? (Note: if your position is not associated with the Mother Grove, you can skip this question.)

I have plenty of time for this. I work dayshift, Mon-Fri, and have quite a bit of career privilege that enables me to take time off and flex my work hours, if necessary. My work-life balance is well-protected, and I have the bandwidth for the commitment. My youngest son is also graduating high school, and the first thing that comes to mind regarding what to do with my time is to give it to ADF.

4.    If elected, do you have a willingness to serve your entire term, or if you are not elected, do you intend to remain as a member?

Haha, this wouldn’t be the first election I’ve lost! I am an ADF member and have no intention of changing that. If elected, I plan to serve my entire term, and if not elected, I plan to continue with the work I do for the org.

5.    Given the position you are running for, what efforts are you planning to do to promote transparency in your work?

I do hope we continue frequent town halls or other avenues for member facetime with the Mother Grove. Maybe periodic update articles submitted to Oak Leaves or the MG Blog when the new website goes live. I think the membership would appreciate more narrative updates regarding what we are doing and how that’s going.

6.    How quickly do you believe it reasonable to answer emails or some other form of messaging (not accounting for family emergencies, ritual prep, scheduled time away, or something else unexpected) on behalf of our membership?

Important or pressing matters should be answered within 12-24 hours. Non-pressing issues should expect a response within 24-72 hours. If we were to consider implementing even more professional habits, I would advocate for all incoming messages to be confirmed as received with an expected turnaround time for a full response to the content.

7.    Given the amount of qualified possible volunteers within our community, what thoughts do you have to more actively engage them?

Community engagement is an important part of growth and stability. I would love to see us revamp the appointment process and allow folks the opportunity to explore options of giving back to the org through their talents and time.

8.    What are your thoughts on promoting outreach within the Pagan community?

I am 100% an advocate for community outreach to the greater community. We should have members on the boards for as many Pagan Pride Days as possible. We should be involved in planning and hosting non-ADF festivals and events, attending other group’s high days and special events like Witches Ball, and even send a delegate to the Parliament of World Religions. Why not excellence?

9.    There have been concerns raised related to sexist/misogynistic language, inappropriate behaviors, and challenges to inclusivity within ADF. What actions have you done within ADF or within other organizations to address these issues?

This is a hard question to answer, because this will look different based on the individual asked. As a cis-gender woman, my intersection with these important areas of concern relies on the social power allotted to me in this role. I am an active member, as best I can be, of the Chenille Canopy—a group for female-identifying ADF members. I do my best to speak up and speak out when I observe behaviors to model that in others. Inclusivity issues are also dependent upon the specific social identifier causing an individual to experience discrimination. As an able-bodied person, for example, I have attended Rev. Chelly Couvrette’s workshops designed to educate and promote accessibility for differently-abled members and guests at our fires. As someone who does not possess an ability concern, it is my role to listen and not to teach. AND, when those who are differently abled provide feedback on their needs, my responsibility is to implement changes to improve their experience and be welcome and included in Our Druidry. There is a LOT to unpack here, and this is a question that needs a panel discussion more than anything.

10. How do you envision ensuring that that ADF members--whether those in a grove or solitary, within the United States or globally--are truly represented and their concerns addressed?

Short answer? I’d love to have a representative of the Solitaries of ADF on the Mother Grove. We have a Council of Senior Druids, and the Chief of the Council has a seat at the table. Why not create a seat for a “Chief” of the Solitaries?

11. What thoughts do you have to promote Mother Grove transparency for ADF members?

Comment periods. No, seriously. I honestly don’t think transparency is the biggest issue. Transparency and communication are essential to organizational effectiveness, and most folks who are unhappy are not unhappy about a lack of transparency. They are unhappy because they feel a decision was made that affected them and they didn’t have a voice in it. If we start sharing more information about items before the Mother Grove and allow for comments prior to take votes and implementing decisions, we would see an increase in member satisfaction with Mother Grove performance. People want to be asked about things that are important to them, and they want their opinions to be heard and considered.

That being said, the easiest way to alleviate concerns of the MG hiding or withholding information is to have open meetings. These would be similar to other governmental or board meetings for churches and large organizations like ours where they allow the folk to attend the meeting and comment/ask questions during the meeting proper. The biggest change to the process other than an open venue would be an assigned time keeper and a “parking lot” for items brought forward that are not already on the agenda. Once we begin working through the parking lot, and the folk see the MG is hearing and addressing their concerns, there will be a perception of “right relationship” that currently does not exist.

12. How have you already served ADF, and how do you envision those experiences will be helpful for the entire organization?

I have been a member since 2008, serving on a variety of subgroups, committees, and on the Mother Grove itself as Members Advocate for three terms. I am a Senior Priest and an Initiate. I am a study program reviewer and mentor. I am a Master Bard and the Clergy Advisor for the Order of Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries. I am the Secretary of the Clergy Council and a member of the Organizational Review Committee. I serve Mountain Ancestors Grove in Colorado and sit on the board of Fort Collins Pagan Pride. I have previously served on the board for PFLAG Boulder County, as well. I earned my Masters in Non-Profit Management with service to ADF as my focus, and I am looking forward to using this knowledge to aid in development and organizational leadership at the board level.

I have been involved with a wide variety of diverse groups and programs, and each one has helped me to grow toward the Druid I am becoming. I know how to write technical documents and manage spreadsheets. I know how to lead rituals and workings for experienced and novice participants alike. I know how to officiate weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. I understand the differences between belonging to the Heartland of ADF where there are dense populations of pagans and belonging to the land where your grove is made of trees and no humans sharing your beliefs are anywhere to be found. I know the struggles of single mothers who want to observe the high day with a group but know their special needs child will be disruptive in a meditative od trance session so will only attend services that are family friendly and how it feels to miss out on some of those meaningful experiences. Above all, I know what it feels like to need to be heard and to have someone truly listen to you. That is what I want to bring to ADF.