Cicyfarth and four other members of the White Hawthorne Protogrove talk over food at a restaurant in downtown Columbia, planning their ritual to recognize the spring equinox.
These five have been meeting periodically for sandwiches and fellowship for nearly half a year. They are neo-druids, people who draw on a multitude of pantheons to find positive ethics, natural harmony, and spiritual connection. Since the fall of 2012, Cicyfarth and the others have been fighting to become a church.
At this point, White Hawthorn is a protogrove – basically, "like a baby church," Cicyfarth said. In forming a protogrove, a small group comes together, then tries to establish something more lasting.
White Hawthorne was born the day of the Autumn Equinox. Amber Bates said when the small group gathered to celebrate, she knew they would be able to create a community.
"When we went to the ritual we just all clicked really good," she said. "I mean, we were finishing each other’s jokes kind of. It was just really nice."
The group members get along on a personal level, but they have to jump several other hurtles before they can move from a protogrove to a fully-chartered grove, allowing them non-profit status through the government. On the agenda for the next few months are electing officers, establishing bylaws and planning high day rituals. Cicyfarth said he’s happy with their progress so far, and he thinks they’ll be able to finish the steps by next fall.
"We’ve existed as a protogrove for not even a year," he said. "It’s kind of exciting that it’s grown so effectively so quickly."
Part of White Hawthorne’s mission is not just to gain recognition by the government, but also by the community at large. The group participates in quarterly community service projects, and their rituals are always open to anyone who wishes to join. Bates said things like this allow them to help other understand their beliefs.
"We want this to be public," she said. "We want this to be an education for everyone around here, so anyone who does not mean us harm can come to it."
Despite all the goals they’ve set for themselves, Bates says she never forgets what the heart of White Hawthorne is about — sharing fellowship and establishing a spiritual home.
"We’re enjoying ourselves. That’s all it is," she said. "We have fun with this, and we’re serious about what we do, but if you take life too seriously about anything . . . I think you’re wasting your time.
This story was produced in partnership with Columbia Faith and Values. Listen for our weekly updates on Saturday mornings around 8:30.