Four ADF priests abruptly resign citing spiritual abuse, cronyism, sexism, and racism

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TWH – Since November 1, four priests and one initiate have resigned from Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF). The organization is a well-known Pagan church “based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship.” All the resignations were from women.

The organization currently has about 34 ordained priests who serve as clergy to the ADF community. There are approximately 22 other initiates in the Initiates program. The resignations represent over 10% of the currently ordained clergy.

The resignations began on November 1, 2019, with Sara Blackwelder, Laura “Snow” Fuller, Melissa Hill, and Nancy McAndrew, as well as initiate Diane “Emerald” Bronowicz Egelhoff.

Blackwelder notes in a public statement that it was an “agonizing decision, one that I have been weighing for years. But I feel that it is appropriate at this time. There comes a point in every relationship that you either grow together or apart. I have grown apart from ADF. I do not feel that it is growing in the same direction that I am at this point and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I do not agree with the direction that leadership has taken on many issues, so for these unreconcilable differences I take my leave.”

Fuller wrote in her public statement that “ADF is not a healthy organization and it doesn’t encourage healthy relationships on many levels. The examples of this more than outweigh the attempts to fix its problems. Over the last four years, I have seen the same thing over and over, with the promise to do better and then no actual follow through.”

Fuller added, “ADF has potential, but I don’t see it ever reaching it and so I am not going to continue pouring heart and energy into what feels like a lost cause. Perhaps that telling moment was when Isaac, the deceased founder, was accused of pedophilia. Instead of taking a stand and acknowledging a problem, the organization went into immediate CYA mode.”

Hill followed Blackwelder’s and Fuller’s resignations noting, “Inspired by Sara Blackwelder and Snow Fuller, I also have decided that it is for the best for me to not renew my clergy credentials and to let my ADF membership lapse. I’ve been a member of ADF for a decade now and I have come to understand that my values do not align with the reality of the leadership of ADF. I find it ironic that the virtues of Druidry, including integrity and courage are inspiring me to leave ADF.”

The resignations were then followed by a series of public statements by various ADF clergy. Rev. Robert Lewis commented publicly, “I’m close to being a 5th” referring to the resignations. Lewis shared a letter he wrote and forwarded to the ADF clergy noting, “I too have to express agreement with pretty much everything *the four priests* have said. I have been with this organization for 20+ years now, and have been involved in the clergy unofficially in 2006, but officially since 2008. I cannot deny that it has shaped me somewhat, but I believe I helped shape it in return. I don’t think anyone can really question the dedication and effort I have given to the clergy and the organization as a whole.”

Lewis added, “there has been a visible attempt to consolidate power in the organization among the clergy. For a religion that had a belief that you can communicate directly with the kindred with no need to go through an intermediary, it’s surprising how little effort has been done to get the average member to do more in the organization, including running it. We have done the exact opposite with requiring two MG officers to be clergy, and not encouraging or requiring lay members take other positions…. If you look at the MG relative to the general membership, it does not look like the general membership.”

Emerald Bronowicz, the initiate who resigned, commented “By now you have likely heard that four ADF Priests have resigned in the past few days. I am writing to let you know that I am resigning as well and to explain why…I am not an ADF Priest, but that isn’t because I never wanted to be one. I first heard the call to clerical service many years ago.”  Bronowicz added, “I have spoken up previously about the spiritual abuse” and detailed the allegations closing that “Leaving ADF terrifies me. Being an ADF Druid has been part of my identity for close to two decades.”

The current Members Advocate Desiree Cook who serves on the Mother Grove, the organization governing body, as a non-officer director also commented publicly, “I’ve struggled myself recently with renewal. I’ve put it off because it fills me with dread. It breaks my heart to even think that much less put it down for everyone to read. I don’t feel my story is the same as the women that just resigned but I’ve thought of walking away too.” Cook has not resigned but expressed concerns with deep systematic issues the former clerics see in ADF.

Rev. Lauren Mart, noting that her statement was purposefully public, expressed support and sadness over the resignations. Mart, also a member of the Mother Grove as a non-officer director, wrote: “I am deeply saddened and concerned by the resignation of four of ADF’s priests in the last week. I consider these women my friends and am troubled by their words about an organization that has been so influential in my life. I will be watching this situation closely, and if you want to discuss it, I am happy to do so…. Also, as a member of the Mother Grove, I have specifically brought this to their attention already. I do not know what the resolution will be, but something this serious warrants discussion in more than just the clergy spaces.”

Echo Summer, The Social Justice Druid, consolidated and reported on the varied challenges facing ADF, listing the comments and allegations.

The resignations are the culmination of a multi-year articulation of consistent concerns raised by different individuals within ADF. The resignations allege that ADF lacks transparency and has fallen victim to cronyism, sexism, and racism. The dissenters allege that ADF fails to address both the institutional processes that have embedded cronyism, sexism, and racism within the organization as well as alleging that ADF fails to express fervent condemnation to sexism, racism, and hate crimes.

The former clergy resignations and statements of support highlight a lack of responsiveness from the Mother Grove and ADF leadership on issues such as Daniel Scott Holbrook’s arrest and conviction and allegations of child sexual abuse by ADF’s founder, Isaac Bonewits.

The concerns about ADF’s direction and leadership decision include allegations of spiritual abuse and consolidation of power by the clergy.  Recently, ADF made changes to its leadership requirements that the Archdruid and the Vice Archdruid were required to be clergy.

The ADF Mother Grove is prohibited by its procedures from public statements about investigations or complaints. However, the Mother Grove responded to the resignations with a formal statement to the membership:

To the members of ADF,

The Mother Grove is distressed by the recent resignation of four priests and a longstanding Initiate.

Reverends Sara Blackwelder, Laura “Snow” Fuller, Melissa Hill, and Nancy McAndrew, as well as initiate Diane “Emerald” Bronowicz Egelhoff have each provided a statement concerning their departure.

The Mother Grove, the Clergy Council Officers, and the Initiate’s Council are reviewing their words and taking them to heart.

All three groups will be looking over our processes, our communication styles, our commitment to each other and to the folks we serve so what we don’t lose any more talented members of our clergy or initiates. The loss of leadership is difficult for any organization but especially to one of our size. While we mourn the loss of these skilled advocates for our path, we also wish them well as they work to create new paths for themselves.

As we work through our own processes and grief, we wish to remind everyone that our Members’ Advocate is specifically there to field conversation and discussion, as well as the rest of the Mother Grove, as we know this is a troubling time for everyone in ADF. We hope that we can each provide reassurance of our own commitments to the organization as well as transparency as to our path forward in each of our separate subgroups, as well as for ADF as a whole.

 

For reference, your Mother Grove members are:

Archdruid – Rev. Jean Pagano

Vice-Archdruid – Rev. Sean Harbaugh

Secretary – Victoria Selnes

CoRD – Rev. Amber Doty

CoSD – Rev. Michael Dangler

NOD – Desiree Cook

NOD – Rev. Lauren Mart

 

The ADF Mother Grove has also attempted to address some of the concerns in prior actions.  In response to the accusations about Bonewits, all members of the Mother Grove, as well as all clergy, are required to take a third-party course on consent culture offered by Cherry Hill Seminary.  No further comments were available from the ADF Mother Grove at the time of publication.

This is a developing story that TWH will continue to follow and report new details as they become available.