As a new person in the SCA, it’s often easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. The “old hands” keep using unfamiliar jargon you don’t understand, meetings are planned for places and homes you have never seen, meetings and events seem very busy, and yet there’s nothing for the new person to do, and most of all, everyone else seems to know each other already, and to have little time to coach the new people on the weird and wacky ways of the SCA. No wonder some people feel discouraged and left out!
Please do not despair! There are many things that a new person can do for themselves to get started within their local group. While it’s true that the older members should hopefully be helping the newer members, sometimes that isn’t working, for some reason or another, and if you, as the new person, wants to get involved, you may have to take some initiative.
A very wise friend once made this analogy: the shire is like a merry-go-round. A lot of things are happening, and they’re all very fun, but the merry-go-round can’t stop completely to take on new riders. It just keeps on going round and round, and if you want to get on, you need to start running a little alongside it, and jump on. Perhaps if you shout to someone who’s on the merrygo-round, they can give you a hand up, but the whole machine won’t come to a full stop. Similarly, the shire isn’t always going to be able to stop as a whole group in order to fully integrate new members, and the whirlwind of activities isn’t likely to slow down for any reason, but there are things a new person can do to help themselves get a hand up into things.
Use the available resources
There is a wide variety of informational resources on the SCA and medieval history, available on the Internet, and even in our own Shire. The more you investigate what you’re trying to understand, the better off you’ll be. The main SCA web page has many many links to help you. The Knowne World Handbook is very useful to beginners and there should be a copy available for loan locally. As soon as you are willing, get a membership so you can subscribe to your own copies of the Pikestaff, the Kingdom on-line newsletter, and possibly Tournaments Illuminated.
Locally, it’s a very good idea to belong to the shire’s Facebook Group and the email list. Between these, you will be able to connect to local folks and hear about what’s happening on the local level in the immediate future.
It’s also important that new people remember to utilize the officers who are in a position to help them. The Chatelaine is the usual title for the officer in charge of helping acquaint newcomers with the SCA. This person will be able to help answer any questions, direct you to other help if necessary, and in general is your first guide to the SCA and the shire. They will have loaner costumes and possibly other equipment to help new people make it through the first few months of joining. The Seneschal of the shire, as chapter president, can also serve as a resource in general. And if a new person is interested in combat, for instance, the Marshal will be glad to help them. That’s why they took on the office, after all. If you have an interest but don’t know which officer can help you with it, ask the Chatelaine or Seneschal. They’ll guide you to the right person. This leads me to my next point…
Though it may seem unfair, the newcomer just can’t be shy about asking questions. No one here is psychic, and no one will have a clue that you’re confused if you don’t let us know. For instance, it’s possible that when I mentioned Pikestaff and Tournaments Illuminated, you didn’t know what they are (regional and corporate newsletters). It’s very hard to know just how much to explain, and sometimes in the rush of things the oldtimers err on the side of…no explanation at all. Don’t be afraid to stop the action for a minute to ask a question. If you don’t want to stop the whole group, pull someone aside and ask for a private tutorial. You can even ask for someone to hang out with you at your first few meetings and events, to explain things as they happen. Remember, every single person in the SCA has at one time been as confused as you about all of this – until they had someone explain things to them.
Attend Meetings, Workshops, and Events
it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that if you want to get involved, you have to come to some of the activities. All are welcome to all shire activities – specific invitations may not happen. But any meeting or workshop that is announced at the shire business meeting or in the newsletter is open to anyone who is interested. We’re often terribly glad to get people who are interested in attending, but again, no one is psychic. It’s very hard to guess whether a new person needs coaxing to come to the Cook’s Guild meeting, is not remotely interested in cooking, or is even trying to decide if they’re interested in this SCA stuff after all. No one wants to seem pushy, and sometimes it seems more practical to let the new person take the initiative in expressing their areas of interest.
So if you hear of something that interests you, speak up! Let the organizer or Chatelaine know you’d like to participate. Especially if you’re new to the mundane area, get good directions, and the host’s phone number, so you have an easier time getting to the workshop. If you can, it’s not a bad idea to get a ride with someone who already knows the location. Make sure you understand what the activities planned are, and that you have the supplies you’ll need, or can borrow them if needed.
This leads into another point, which is that one of the best ways to meet people, learn jargon, stay busy, get involved, and become part of the overall group, is to VOLUNTEER. It’s true that sometimes the oldtimers may seem as though they have a special bond that they don’t share with new people; this is human nature, and comes from sharing experiences and emotions over time. The fastest way to become part of that same feeling is to join in the work and camaraderie that created it in the first place.
There’s no lack of places that a new person can volunteer. At an event, try to help with set-up, clean-up, or in the kitchen. No one needs special training to wash dishes or chop vegetables, and yet you’ll be in the thick of things. Try to avoid volunteering for something like parking lot duty, which will leave you mostly alone for your shift. You want to be with people for your first few events, not isolated! The fighting area is a great place to volunteer – they often need people to carry water to the fighters, messages for the heralds and ministers running the tournament, or other errands of various kinds. You can offer to keep the gatekeeper and/or reservations clerk company for a shift; even though you might not be ready to run the troll table yourself, you can learn a lot about the SCA and Scadians just by sitting at the gate for an hour!
Outside of an event, volunteering is still a good way to become involved. There is always a lot of cooking to be done in the two weeks before an event. Pre-event cooking sessions are a ton of work – but they’re very fun, too, and extremely satisfying to participate in. There are often other preparations for events, such as making signs, equipment, and so forth. If you’re interested in a particular field or office, offer to help the officer – you’ll learn about the office, and meet more people as you do so. Just be sure not to volunteer for more responsibility than you’re ready for!
Most of this may seem like common sense, but it’s worth reiterating. We old-timers should be doing our best to make new people feel welcome and at ease, but sometimes even our best intentions are not enough to ensure that. Believe me, the shire does want newcomers. Each of us “old hands” joined the SCA at least in part because we wanted to meet people with common interests: that would be you! Additionally, new blood and fresh perspectives are what keep a local group going in the long run; no matter how wonderful the founding members of a group are, if the group hasn’t gained new members in its first five years, it’s not doing well.
So come, read up, ask questions, don’t be afraid to bother people, volunteer – and most of all, join the fun! The Knowne World is waiting for you!