The Day The Heathens Built A Chapel

The burly, bearded, leather wearing Heathens didn’t quite know what to make of Sister Who, but that didn’t stop them from helping build her Interfaith Chapel.

Sister Who squinted as she gave the instructions for how to put which pole into which joint, and when she did her fake eyelashes fluttered like plastic butterflies. Every piece of her chain-link chapel was numbered, Sister Who explained, and alignment was key. If they didn’t go in just right they would bind.

Her voice was low and cello-like.

I looked at the brute of Heathens and I presumed that they were no stranger to construction. They’d built a thing or two in their time. A house, maybe. Or a battle fort, more like. These men grew shoulders two hands wide, and more than one of them carried a Leatherman on their belt. They were men who looked very much like men, unlike Sister Who, who did not.

But the brute took the instructions quietly, and didn’t make a fuss when everything collapsed a little halfway through the erection of the bell tower. They let Sister Who explain her number system without interruption, as she impressed upon them the need to return the alan wrench to it’s proper place after the screws were tightened, and they were patient and careful in the placement of each purple, spray-painted bar.

The Heathens were nothing but respectful to the Sister Who.

Nuns in Drag

What is totally and completely “other” to mainstream society can be no big for Pagans. Witches, Druids, and long bearded Heathens move in and about the Pagan Pride Fest environment with comfort and ease in cloaks and kilts, adorned with pewter hammers and pentacles, staffs in hand, bodies tattooed and glittered, and there is a level of acceptance that one doesn’t find in “normal” society. Pagans have created a new set of norms, which, if they were to become too rigid or backed by dogma, could easily lead to a king of Pagan mainstreaming. But for now, it seems, at least in Denver, the “live and let live” mentality is still alive and kicking.

Sister Who, a gay man and former body builder, who dresses in a black nun outfit and builds an interfaith chapel open to freaks of all make and model, could be considered the liminal among the fringe. She is the person at the Pagan festival who inspires curiosity and wonder in the Witch.

What is that all about, I was asked.

That’s Sister Who, I said, as if we all should already be aware of her.

There is great value in being a representative of the liminal. We forget that sometimes in our quest to attain greater acceptance in society, or protection under the law.

We’re just like you, we exclaim.

But it would be hard for some of us to look at Sister Who and make that statement.

The person who is willing to be the clown, willing to be slightly absurd in the face of oppressive hegemony, teaches us lessons about our own desire to restrict or bind the self-expression of others. We flinch at the sight of their strangeness, and in that moment we have an opportunity to better understand the reaction of the people who flinch at the sight of us.

A Druid Said WHAT?

I overheard a discussion at this Saturday’s Front Range Pagan Pride in which an ADF Druid exclaimed that Wicca was just wrong. I didn’t catch all of the details, but I know Gerald Gardener came up – something about historical inaccuracies (an issue that many of my ADF brethren take up with revivalists traditions).

I thought to myself, even Pagans are susceptible to self-righteousness. People subjected to societal bigotry can become bigots; Women can wield power like misogynists and alienate men as they attempt to empower women; Gays can stereotype Straights or be hateful towards Transgendered people; any of us who have been “othered” possess a distinct knowledge of how to “other.” We’ve watched people build a wall to keep us out, and now, on the outskirts, we build a wall to keep ourselves protected.

But Sister Who sat in a chapel where the walls were see-through. Everyone was welcome there. No one was wrong. All were blessed.

Thank The Heathens

The Heathens led the closing ritual of the Front Range Pagan Pride event. The blot stirred up the winds of Odin, and we each were blessed with the sanctified water. Sister Who stood a few people down from me, and I wondered if the leader of the rite would flinch before shaking his bit of branch her way.

He didn’t.

She was one of them – one of us – paying respect to the Gods, paying respect to one another. She, and all of us standing in circle together were an example how Pagan Pride events can be great. We come together with the opportunity to celebrate our differences, our “other-ness.” We give one another a chance to build someone else’s temple, to worship someone else’s deity, and to do so with the grace of a Sacred Clown.

"In service to the personal and spiritual growth of others" – Sister Who

Have you ever been to an interfaith gathering where you experienced either a real sense of coming together, or an undercurrent of alienation? If so, tell me about your experiences in the comment section. And if you’d like to extend the conversation even further, share this post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.






23 responses to “The Day The Heathens Built A Chapel”

  1. […] headed by Joy Phelan, local coordinator of Front Range Pagan Pride (an event which I blogged about here), who also founded the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans chapter (CUUPS) at Jefferson […]

  2. William E. Ashton, II Avatar
    William E. Ashton, II

    As an ADf druid for over a decade, I’d like to reopen the discussion surrounding the statement made by another ADF member. For as much history, archaeology, and polytheism reconstructionalist and revivalist groups engage in, I’m surprised to see how little inter-religious dialogue, pastoral counseling, and general religious ecumenism is studied or practiced in paganism. 

    The ADF, like many other international pagan organizations, offers very easy membership, however, it’s up to the individual to take ownership of their path. This particular ADF-er may have come from a poor experience within a wiccan circle, abuse in an early home life preventing openness and needing more rigid structure… who knows. 

    If we remember that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are terms from dualistic practices (read as: heaven/hell, black/white, etc…). If we go through our pagan lives only seeing the world as one of only two possibilities, we leave out all other colors and realms… if there were only heaven and hell, how do we explain our belief in the 9 realms of Norse folklore, or a myriad of colors; not just black and white? 

    Something to think about

  3. Karoline Avatar

    This article makes my pagan heart swell with pride.  I know the heathens you speak of, and I’m also familiar with some of Sister Who’s work.  It was a guilty pleasure to catch her programs and just sit there nodding and saying “YES!” over and over to the television.  Sometimes our opinions diverge, naturally, but it just makes me all the more enthralled.  I’m sad I missed the chance to see m’lady in person, but I’m sure our paths will cross someday. 

    Thank you for sharing this.  And thank you for being a part of such an important part of Colorado!

  4. Bookhousegal Avatar

    Speaking of ‘who,’   who was she and where and in what context that she wanted a ‘chapel’   built?  

    Was this in some interfaith place with Heathens or some such?

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment! You can learn more at Sister Who by checking out her website, In short, she’s a “Sacred Clown” who seeks to bring people together in her “interfaith chapel” for fellowship.

      My post was about an experience I had at the Front Range Pagan Pride event in Denver. It was an interfaith event, in a way, as members of many traditions gathered. Perhaps “intra-faith” would better describe it.

  5. Wes Isley Avatar
    Wes Isley

    Just when I think I have it all figured out, I come across people like Sister Who–and I am humbled once again.

  6. Emily Townsend Avatar
    Emily Townsend

    There’s that famous parable about four different blind men being shown four different parts of the elephant.  Each of them when asked to describe their experience of an elephant insisted their part was the correct interpretation – be it tail, ear, trunk, whatever.   Maybe we can all change the tendency to think that our own experience is the right one by accepting any and all belief systems.
    We all see the world through our own personal prism – reflecting and refracting Truth through our own lives. . . . making lovely variety and infinite absolutes.
    Thanks for your post!  (and so sorry I missed Pagan Pride Day . . . . Next Year!)

  7. Pamela Avatar

    I love my community. It is that acceptance that I cherish. So it pains me to hear anyone, of any path, speaking derogatorily of any other path. Please let us teach tolerance.

  8. Heathenray Avatar

    Speaking as one of the leather clad Heathens,it was good to see Sister Who join in the closing rites. She was as respectful to us as we were to her and I personally would love having further discussions with such an enigmatic person. Hail the Pagans! 

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Hail, indeed!!

      I’m so glad to read your comment. It warms my heart, honestly. With as much antagonism as there is in the world, it feels good to be a part of a community of people who understand the value of mutual respect.

      I’m sure Sister Who would love to talk with you! Perhaps you’ll find her at our next big gathering.

      Bright blessings to you!

  9.  Avatar

    I’d like to defer to Thomas Jefferson, because he says it far more eloquently than I can:

    But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for this, Eran.

  10. Kristen Sherman Avatar

    I wish I would have come earlier in the day so that I could get a chance to meet you.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Hopefully at the next gathering, Kristen! Pleasure to have met you here online!

  11. Silver N Avatar
    Silver N

    Beautifully stated. I was there and it was wonderful. Sister Who was a gentle spirit among all of us. The positive energy and love was amazing and I am so glad I went. It is one of the few times I have been totally comfortable with being openinly Pagan.
    ~Blessings to All

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Silver. I’m glad you were able to make it to Front Range Pagan Pride, and I’m especially glad that you had that experience of openness.

      Bright blessings to you.

  12. druidlady Avatar

    Great post.  That said, I think we do need to accept that sometimes people are wrong.  I think, as I believe you do, that a general statement that an entire religion is wrong is very small-minded and disrespectful.  But I mean…  if a Wiccan person says that the ancient Celts  all did X when research seems to say they did not…well, then I think it’s ok to say a particular claim is wrong.  But, the ADF Druid in your post needs to learn the difference between authenticity and validity.  There’s something valuable in each.  As an ADF Druid, I’m saddened to read about what you overheard… 

    Anyway, this event sounds great and Sister Who is a lovely person.  I would love to meet her! 

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      You bring up a very interesting subject, DL — the difference between authenticity and validity. That’s got my mind racing… perhaps a blog post on that soon!

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Blessings to you!

    2. SisterWho Avatar

      Thank you for your comments, which bring to mind the importance of distinguishing between claims and persons.  I persist in my belief that persons are not wrong; they may be broken, confused, uneducated, undeveloped, and immature, but they are not inherently wrong to simply be who and what they are and to exercise their choices and beliefs in whatever ways they do.  There is, however, an admittedly fine line between choosing to act in a certain way and making a claim that the way one acts has a verifiable historical or theological connection.  I am not synonymous with what I believe any more than I am synonymous with what I do.  I am a human being.  A point of growth at the heart of this issue would be careful examination of upon what any particular claim is based, to which each is allowed to respond either “I do not find that convincing” or conversely “that makes sense to me.”   The essential dynamic is to sustain the dialogue, specifically because there is so very much we can learn from each other by doing so.  I reiterate, however, that respectful dialogue requires us to discuss the claims, the ideas, and the issues rather than the ever-evolving person who at least momentarily espouses them.

  13. Sarenth Avatar

    What an awesome story of people of Pagan faiths coming together.  Thank you Mr. Bishop.  It warmed my heart.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Sarenth. I appreciate you letting me know that you enjoyed the post. Bright blessings to you.

  14. Joseph Nichter Avatar
    Joseph Nichter

    This was my first visit to your blog, but not my last. Great post!

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Joseph. I’m glad the post resonated with you, and I hope to hear more of your voice on future (or past) posts!