My husband and I joined a Christian writers group many years ago. The group was known by an acronym: ECRU - Effingham Christian 'Riters United. A friend of ours started it and I can really credit him (and his very supportive wife) with giving my writing career wings. It was the first forum in which I received feedback for my writing. I've been addicted pretty much ever since.
When our friend decided to pass the baton, my husband and I took over the group. We kept the acronym, modifying it slightly to ECWU - Effingham Christian Writers United. We met at the local library except for this particular July meeting, when we hosted a cookout at our house.
Someone had inquired at the library about joining a writers group and after a brief phone conversation and directions given, we had a new visitor in our midst. We started the meeting with a prayer and began discussing various Christian writing topics.
In the middle of the meeting, our newcomer, Billie, suddenly spoke up and stated, "I'm really sorry, I didn't realize this was a Christian writers group. I'm a Wiccan. I'm actually a practicing witch."
I think at that moment, my eyes were as big as saucers. I was speechless and you know how hard that is to make happen! My tongue was in a knot. Me, not know spee-king. Yes, that's right. I couldn't speak, unsure of how to respond to that announcement. Nobody else knew what to say either. The moment hung in the air like a scene out of The Matrix, inexplicably suspended in time.
After what seemed like a thousand lifetimes (a few seconds, in reality), my husband finally cracked the egg of silence and said, "Well, that... is very interesting," and continued with the meeting as though nothing happened.
There was a huge elephant in the room who remained disguised as a deer in headlights for the duration of the meeting. Billie had a book in her hand she had written called Sister Light: Book One: of Shadows. Billie shared that she writes mystery, paranormal romance, science fiction and fantasy. She had experience with a book. She was interested in being in a community of writers. We liked her. We really liked her! We were impressed with her as a writer and as a person.
We decided we'd better burn her at the stake, though, just to be safe. It was a cookout, after all. We had people to feed! Just kidding. We actually told her we weren't allowed to play with her kind. Gotcha - kidding again! We had a great meeting and broke bread with her just like anybody else. Do you know that some groups might have asked her to leave immediately? Why, I never!
After the meeting, we spoke to Billie at length one-on-one and found her to be a lovely young woman with a true passion for writing we could appreciate and benefit from and we felt the group would benefit from her presence as well. We discussed with her a few details about protocol and set them in writing (of course) as handouts for future new members of the group.
Basically, it stated that you weren't required to be Christian to join the group, but that it would be clearly understood that we were a Christian group, that there would be prayer and talk of God, and that a Christian atmosphere and theme were to be expected. Further, there would be no religious debate, promoting other faiths, or inappropriate behavior allowed by anyone. After all, even being a Christian group, we were diverse. Would the Catholics fight with the Baptists? Nope, not on our watch.
She will now tell you that she is actually a Shamanic Priestess, but that the terms she used to describe herself to the group were the closest thing she thought we could relate to.
She could have said she was a Star Trooper and I would have been just as confused as to what had just taken place, so really, it didn't matter to me. All I knew was that there was a witch at our Christian Writers Group and it was one of the most interesting things I could never have imagined happening and we were in charge of what to do about it.
After Billie and all of our other guests were gone that day, I slumped onto the couch with my husband. I said, "Welp, this is a real 'What Would Jesus Do?' moment, isn't it?"
We knew that if we allowed Billie to remain in the group, we would be criticized by some members and that some members would likely leave the group. We also knew that if we rejected Billie, we would be crappy examples of Christians. Above all, we wanted to be loving and accepting and share our group with Billie.
We did not receive criticism per se, but we did receive some concern from some of the members. We basically responded with, "We've invited Billie to stay and don't make a big deal out of it. If anything comes up we need to address, we will handle it." Our members were cool with that. They trusted our judgment and our decision as leaders of the group and we were thankful for that. If we didn't share our faith in a positive light for her, who would?
The reaction from outsiders was the most frightening. People who weren't in our group were mortified that we would welcome her and thought we were making a terrible mistake. We felt a good deal of persecution from outsiders, who you would think would not be so opinionated, seeing that they had no stake in it. Funny that the ones who weren't in our group were the most vocal and most against the idea of having Billie remain in the group. It showed the levels of fear and how some people let it control them. We did not subscribe to any such fear and we never will.
We not only invited Billie to stay in the group, but to read some of her work at the next meeting and share with us what she knew about publishing. Billie ended up being a valued member of our group. She contributed work for meetings which was appropriate for a Christian audience. She sat quietly and respectfully during our prayer time (I admit it, I peeked to see what she was doing while we prayed), and her enthusiasm about the craft of writing was contagious. We all contracted that virus from her and were happy to receive it with open arms.
Today, you can find Billie and her many books (please note that some are adult themed material) at http://bcbrownbooks.blogspot.com/p/books.html and Billie is still my online friend, even though she has moved away and so have we and we no longer run the group. I miss chatting with her. Her bubbly personality is just infectious!
Billie has approved this posting and has agreed to do an opposite viewpoint response post for me on Everyday Underwear where she will talk about her perspective on joining the group. I can only hope that Billie benefited from us as much as we did from her. We miss you, Billie, and I look forward to introducing you and your writing to my diverse group of followers here at Everyday Underwear!