By Bill Sutton, Executive Director
In this issue of ATF, I’d like to bring more visibility to the structure and the people behind what we call the Sacred Fire Community Organization. But first, I want to share some of the highlights of what’s been going recently in the Sacred Fire world.
Since we last spoke, we’ve had two Grandfather Fires in California — one in Santa Monica and one at Mt Tamalpaïs, our annual Fire in the United Kingdom, the first ever Grandfather Fire in Olympia, Washington and the historic Story of Tobacco Fire in Pennsylvania.
In April, David Wiley held an exploratory Ukilái Men’s Retreat in Kinloch Rannoch, Scotland, next to the sacred mountain Schiehallion, referred to as “the center of gravity.” In October, Sherry will be holding an Ukalai Women’s Retreat in Carrollton, Georgia. Sherry and Annie King also just led our first training for holders of Women’s fires. We look forward to holding a similar training for holders of Men’s fires in the near future.
In May I relished an opportunity to “jump into the fire” with the firekeepers at the Dancing with Emotions workshop outside of Olympia, Washington. Dancing with Emotions is one of the core elements of our continuing firekeeper training, which was developed in collaboration with senior trainers from the Global Process Institute. In our recent Dancing with Emotions training in the UK, we opened the first two days to the public, followed by a deeper one-day dive for firekeepers. We hope to repeat this format soon in the United States and Australia as well.
Voices of Wisdom, a program of the Sacred Fire Foundation that brings indigenous elders to speak at local Sacred Fire Community hamlets, just completed two very successful programs in Asheville, North Carolina, and at the Blue Deer Center featuring Mohawk elder Diane Longboat, Dakota elder Wanbdi Wakita and Oglala Lakota elder Charlene O’Rourke. They are currently planning another Voices of Wisdom in Toronto for the Fall.
With the news brief out of the way, here’s the meat of what I’d like to talk about this issue.
So what is it you are the Executive Director of and what does it have to do with me?
I’ve heard that some people feel in the dark about what’s been going on with the community organization, and even as I write this, I’m aware that some of you are probably asking, “What community organization?” For the benefit of both newcomers to the community and for those who’ve been around a while, I’d like to provide a brief overview or what we are and what we’re currently up to. I’ll do my best to keep this short so it remains bite-sized, enjoyable reading.
Let’s start with some basics.
So why do we need a community organization? The fires and the community arose so organically. Isn’t creating some kind of formal structure just bowing to the corporate paradigm?
Grandfather has a big vision — I mean really big — for us to bring needed help to the world, and there are certain things that simply cannot be done at the local level. To fulfill His vision, we need to have a clear articulation of what we are saying and how we appear to the world, a training for firekeepers, general guidelines for community boundaries, programs to help people understand more deeply what we’re about, and a way of dealing with the legal and financial world. There are certain things that we all benefit from when they are done once on behalf of everyone. And there are certain realities we have to deal with in the modern world that can only be addressed by our being an established, reputable nonprofit organization.
So you might be saying, “Okay. That makes sense. But do we have to become — gods forbid — ‘corporate’? Does this mean we’re implementing a “top down hierarchy” and all the bad things that come with that?
As with anything in today’s world, there needs to be a legal structure to relate to the world at large. But this structure does not need to dictate how we define our internal realities. So we’ve developed a structure to work with the world and also a slightly different way of describing our structure for us to use internally that fits more in line with how WE wish to work with each other.
Our structure is very simple. We have a Leadership Guidance Group composed of individuals who have the experience needed to provide good counsel at this stage of our growth, make good decisions and who have demonstrated deep commitment to the community. And we have a Community Service Team who coordinates and implements the various things we are doing in the world — such as training firekeepers, providing programs around Life Cycle Living, and promoting our presence in the world.
In the outer, legal world, the Leadership Guidance Group is called the board of trustees, and the Community Service Team would be known as the operations team, or area heads — in our case, of Firekeeping, Lifeways, Outreach and Events. This group is overseen by the Executive Director, whose job is to hold the vision and responsibility of coordinating the various moving parts, and who reports to the Leadership Guidance Group.
At this point you’re probably asking, “Yeah, but who are those people?” So here you go!
Leadership Guidance Group
David Wiley, Interim Chair
David is the carrier of the map of where we’re going, and he has an amazing toolbox of organizational experience from his earlier days as a management consultant. He is being shared with us for a limited time by the Sacred Fire Foundation to help us get things going, and has helped us greatly in getting aligned with Grandfather’s vision for where we’re going.
Susan Skinner, Treasurer
Susan has been with us as an executive director of the organization from the very start of the community organization. She is the protectress of the finances and the legal structure, and almost single handedly (with the help of lawyers and accountants) brought our nonprofit status into being.
Karen Fernandez, Secretary and Director of Development
Karen was the inspiration behind the original community marketplace and worked to help raise the funds to buy the Blue Deer Center. She’s held a variety of professional fundraising positions, and brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit administration to the team.
Roger Menadue, without portfolio
Roger has an earthy, hands-on approach to community development and knows what it means to bootstrap a business from nothing. He has a wise, loving vision for the community, and being Australian, brings a multinational perspective to our work.
Community Service Team
We have a phased strategy for getting the structure in place that Grandfather is guiding us to build. During this first phase of our work, we are focusing on 3 areas: Firekeeping, Lifeways, and Outreach. Because of the large number of public Grandfather Fires, we are also including a Central Events Coordinator in the service team. In the future, this will become more of a full-fledged department.
Bill Sutton, Executive Director
For the past 30 years, I’ve worked as an administrator in Shambhala and in the communications and technology fields. Throughout my life, I’ve been very aware of the effect — both good and bad — that leaders, technology and communications can have on our world, and long to bring about a greater spirit of genuine community and connection to our people.
Annie King, Director of Firekeeping
Annie is our Fire Chief, providing nurturing leadership to the firekeepers and their education, and support for a variety of community issues that arise around the fire.
Sherry Boatright, Director of Lifeways
Sherry oversees the rolling out of Lifeways, a series of programs, initiations and explorations related to what Grandfather has called Life Cycle Living. These programs provide a needed complement to the connection work we do at Fires, supporting our movement through our lives and our ability to tap into the gifts and work with the challenges of each phase of life.
Dave Wiley, Director of Outreach
[Now some of you may be thinking, isn’t he the chairman of the board? Let me introduce you to a little convention we have. David = David Wiley who’s an elder shaman, through whom Grandfather speaks and who is our interim Chair; Dave = David Wiley Jr., his son, who is the head of Outreach. ]
Dave oversees the communications work we do to let our community and the greater world know about Fire and our various offerings. This includes everything from program publicity to our web site, our Around the Fire newsletter and some other exciting things we’ll be rolling out shortly.
Jeff Bartlett, Central Events Coordinator
Jeff oversees logistics for our events, including Grandfather Fires and other programs. This includes supporting the local hamlets with preparation and event execution, working with budgets and registration, and acting as a repository of shared learning.
I’ll go deeper into people working for the community organization in a near future article. But next time, I plan to share some really exciting news with you about some things that have been in the works for some time. So please stay tuned.