The Closing of a Pagan Community Center

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Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), recently announced their imminent closure, a decision that came in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz has just posted a lengthy and informative exploration of exactly what happened, talking with several individuals involved in running the center.

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

“At 6:25 pm (April 25th) the Executive Director dissolved the board of directors,” reads the last entry in the minutes of the final board meeting of Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota. A few days later, on Beltane, Executive Director Teisha Magee sent out an email saying the center closes May 31st.

“Why is Sacred Paths Center closing?” is a question asked by Twin Cities Pagans after reading the announcement.  That question is quickly followed by, “What can we learn from their experience?” by Pagan organizations such as Solar Cross Temple in San Francisco and the Open Hearth Foundation community center in Washington DC.  PNC-Minnesota spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor, looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Teisha Magee to answer those questions.

In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional, the finances were in disarray, the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income after  two years of  road construction right outside their door didn’t help matters.

The entire article is essential reading for anyone curious as to how this closure came about, and a lesson for anyone thinking of opening their own community center. You may also want to read JRob Zetelumen’s obituary for the center, which looks at its accomplishments and historical importance.

The Sacred Paths Center opened for business Friday February 13th, 2009 and celebrated its grand opening Friday March 13, 2009. Within weeks, on Saturday April 4, 2009, the SPC began fulfilling its commitment to the community by hosting a fundraiser for local Elder Ken Ra who was facing financial crisis after a kidney failure, with a significant mass of the community coming together to support one of its own. It has since hosted countless rituals and community gatherings.

Although the SPC was not the first Pagan community center in the nation, or even locally, it’s closing leaves The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC as having the only Pagan community center in the nation.

The previous local community center was The New Alexandria Library. The New Alexandria Library opened in September of 2000 as a subscription library. It was a subsidiary of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Its stated purpose was “to create an archive that preserves our Pagan history, culture, and heritage, to ensure community access to hard-to-find and out-of-print materials, to provide access to a wide range of information and training materials, and to serve as a center of studies and research for scholars of Neo-Paganism.” The library quickly became a center for Paganistani activity. For financial reasons, the library closed its doors in July 2004.

The SPC was a direct successor of Evenstar Books, opened in 1979 by Loui Piper, which was a center of Pagan activity for almost 30 years. In 1991 Loui Pieper founded the Evenstar School of Sacred Paths and in October 1992 it received federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. After Piper’s retirement, Magee continued running the shop. Within a month of Evenstar closing, January 24, 2009, the SPC was opened around the corner, in its 5000 square foot facility after soliciting enough memberships and donations to be able to sign a lease, in the middle of a recession.

Considering how few Pagan community centers there currently are, the closing of Sacred Paths Center is an event that reverberates far wider than Minnesota. It is my hope that this closure will provide both inspiration and education to others looking to start similar initiatives where they live. With most Pagans rejecting a congregational model of worship, and due to the broad theological diversity under the umbrella of “modern Paganism,” multi-faith/tradition community centers may be one of the few viable communal physical spaces we can work towards. With the recent opening of The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC (which recently debuted its own library), and with several other groups looking into creating a permanent or semi-permanent physical meeting space, the “community center” experiment is still ongoing.