by Sarah Heartsong, TOLIS Main Sanctuary Servant
When I first started work on founding the TOLIS I thought I was starting a church that would be tied in with the Land Sanctuary that I'd always wanted to own and run as an independent Naturecentric priestess. After the IRS read what I wrote on our 501(C)(3) application the agent asked me, "Are you sure you are a church, not an association?" I hadn't thought about it but, yes, when I envisioned the TOLIS, I saw a supportive network of diverse individuals and groups of Naturecenteric spiritual traditions, connecting for our mutual benefit. It was clear once I really thought about it, I wasn't founding a "church" that I was founding an "association".
While in leadership positions, such as the Council Chair, Long Range Planning Committee Chair, Religious Education Chair, Sunday Worship Chair, with an organized church (Unitarian Universalist), I received some wonderful trainings in lay leadership. I also got schooled "hard core" in life in an interfaith community brought together by commonly held values. It also provided me the pleasure of serving as the UU church's Campus Ministry Coordinator, which put me on the New Mexico State University's Interfaith Council (IFC).
On the NMSU IFC I learned how delightful it was to get together with other faith leaders to share Wisdom. Each had their perspective, which we honored. This was shown in how we rotated doing the opening and closing "prayers/meditations/words" from our particular faith tradition for each meeting. We agreed to adjust quietly, softly within ourselves whatever needed to be changed to fit us best if there was something said or done that wasn't a part of our particular belief system. We surely had very different perspectives, yet we had a purpose.
We helped each other to better serve the students by being stronger together. We reminded the NMSU staff and faculty that students have spiritual needs they need to address. We also invited an NMSU rep to our meetings so they got to inform us of things happening on campus that might affect our congregants. We had a stronger voice with the faculty together and this mutual value of supporting the spiritual lives of the students of NMSU pulled us together as an interfaith professional community.
This experience combined with many years of going to Neopagan gatherings and events compelled me to start the TOLIS. This led to the creation of the TOLIS Council, which is basically a leadership council of our association where we can network and learn about how to be the best priest/ess, clergy, rabbi, teacher, healer, reader, minister, or whatever your particular Path calls its leaders, we can be. It's where we can find out what others are doing in different parts of the country, what works and what folks found doesn't work. This can be a place to provide a wealth of support and a host of opportunities for both faith leaders and the communities they support and bring the Wisdom shared back to.
Usually associations have a big annual gathering where people from all over the place can come to share workshops, new ideas, meet new colleagues and friends, deepen and grow. I knew that when the TOLIS got to a certain size we needed to start our Council and it hadn't happened until the pandemic hit. I knew I needed to do something more than what I was already doing with my business and settling and building our Land Sanctuary. It was time for the Leadership Summit to call the leaders to us.
We needed something to get busy spiritual leaders to look our direction. It needed to be compelling and Call them. Leadership training and sharing wisdom through a networked association can be powerful. So, I enrolled my dear friend, colleague, former student of mine, Joshua Rex, who was wise in the ways of Zoom meeting to help me. He sees the value in connecting with other leaders and the mutual support we're calling to us with the TOLIS. He helped me to see that we are making what we want and need for ourselves. He helped me to Call together the first TOLIS Leadership Summit in July of 2020.
This Summit kick started our TOLIS Council in 2020 when everyone learned to meet at a distance with the use of video conferencing. We met three times Oct 2020 to Spring 2021 and our meetings consisted of a leadership Teachings and getting to know one another so we can best serve our Naturecentric spiritual communities. We had people joining us from all 4 time zones. We're from Buddhist, Wiccan, Druidic, metaphysical/nondenominational, and Christian communities, among others and many of us are truly interfaith ourselves. We all center our faith, our beliefs, our practice in Nature.
Michael Dowd led me to an epiphany when I saw him in person a while back. He pointed out that never before in human history have we had a common creation story. Up until this point in time cultures would tell their "how the world came to be" story in relation to their particular place in the world. Their ecology informed their stories and so we had many, many tales of creation. Now we have a common creation story that is held by people in every culture, in every religion, all over the world. Never before have we had this. This story is the scientific understanding of the physical creation of our Natural Universe. He said that each religion is going to have to come to terms with this story because it's a force that cannot be stopped, and it is interesting to see if they will do so or struggle in opposition to it.
So, I see this universal creation story as something that gives me hope. I see it as a unifier of people. We have a common creation. We have a common universe that is special, it creates nestations of reality, from the biggest to the smallest and there is creation happening at every level from minute to stellar. So, I say "Naturecentric", rather than "Earth-Based", for I would love to connect and weave a web between leaders who understand this and are working for the betterment of our experienced Life here on our Planet, our Mother/Lover Earth and in our Universe.
Please come to part or all of our TOLIS Leadership Summit scheduled for July 16, 17 and 18th. We will meet online and in person with our local peeps if possible, Zooming together to the Summit. We will meet with other leaders who understand the Sacred is within all things Nature made and who honor the Lands upon which we live, faithful to our Earth, our Solar System, our Galaxy... We will learn how to become better at being ourselves as the type of spiritual leader we happen to be. We will meet some super amazing people who will share stories, Wisdom, love and laughter and tons of stuff to feed the busy leader who needs to stop and reconnect and refill. Will you join us?