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Thoughts on Professional Pagan Clergy

Author: Rev. Ryan Adams
Posted: June 24th. 2007
Times Viewed: 3,944

A minister is a person with a highly specialized job. This should be apparent by looking at a few of the differing titles carried by those in the ministry. The Catholics have Priests, Protestants have their Pastors and Jews have a Rabbi.

The Priest acts as an intercessor, bridging the gap between man and God through the exercise of Holy Sacraments and execution of liturgical duties.

A Pastor acts as their namesake would indicate, leading their flock of worshipers through the muddy fields of doctrinal differences in an attempt to live a righteous life.

After the destruction of the Temple, Jews left their Priesthood behind and entered into the Rabbinical period where Rabbi’s (teachers) came to prominence, teaching their fellow Jews not how to worship but how to think about Sacred Texts and Divine Responsibilities.

So here we have an Intercessor, a Sheppard and a Teacher; three different roles, yet each is a minister. The reason minister is such a universal term is that, despite the neat categories that these different clergy can be divided into based upon title, there is a large amount of overlap.

Enter the concept of Wiccan Clergy. Wicca is often called a “Religion of the Priesthood.” This is because each individual person acts as his or her own Priest, Pastor and Rabbi. Every Wiccan has the authority to stand in the sacred Circle and invoke the Gods as a Priest would. In keeping with the “high-choice ethic” expressed in the Wiccan Rede each Wiccan also acts as Pastor, using experience and discernment to guide themselves through the ethical traps life often presents.

Due to Wicca’s nature as a mystery religion, each student is also their own Rabbi, responsible for their own learning, even if they do have an external teacher. Priest. Pastor. Rabbi. Alone among the Pagan traditions, Wicca requires its members to explore all three of these roles. Because of this some have come to consider Wicca to be a religious order within the larger Pagan community. At any large multi-traditional gathering Wiccans are those most likely to be leading group worship events.

Public rituals will most often follow a Wiccan format. Most of the technical jargon used to describe modern, polytheistic mystery faiths is rooted in the Wiccan paradigm just as most ecumenical jargon used within the Judeo-Christian community is Christian in nature.

For mainstream religions, the paths to clergy are many and varied. In the more charismatic faiths the only requirement for someone to become a Pastor is for them to be “called by God.” The validity of that call is measured by the person’s ability to inspire feelings of Divine connection, their ability to motivate a congregation, their perceived sincerity and the example of their life choices.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the historic, liturgical faiths. In these a person seeking to be a Priest must dedicate years of their lives to academic and liturgical study. The faith, history, languages, ethics, group dynamics and much more are studied. The prospective Priest must visit congregations and study under the tutelage of experienced clergy before they can receive ordination. The rite of ordination itself carries power, as the new Priest is accepted into communion with the Church and those who came before.

From that moment on the Priest is empowered to act as an intercessor on behalf of the faithful, facilitating the sacraments required for successful and holy worship experiences.

The majority of mainstream clergy fall somewhere in the middle of these two examples.

They answer a calling or a need for someone to fill the role of cleric. Some study is required (most often a BA or M Div) as well as time spent working with congregations in order to develop the pastoral skills necessary to successfully lead a congregation.

Until recently the Wiccan and Pagan community has embraced a process similar to that used by the charismatics in the above example. Since Wiccan covens typically number no more than 13 and can be as small as 3 it made sense for the person who felt called to lead and was able to engender the feelings of Sacred Space to take on that role. When it became apparent that someone was not a capable leader the situation resolved itself fairly quickly and quietly, once again because of the small number of people served by the person.

In the last 20 years however, this situation has changed. An explosive growth of the Pagan community has taken place, made possible by the easy access to information provided first by electronic bulletin boards, then the internet and large book chains.

Where as before the majority of Wiccans and Pagans gained their knowledge through an initial encounter with a group, now the majority of Wiccans and Pagans discovered the faith on their own and operated that way. This state of affairs remained the norm for about 10 years, with the number of solitary religionist growing but still few enough in number that it was geographically not feasible for them to congregate.

Starting around 1995 this changed once again. Paganism as a whole and Wicca in particular began to gain public notice. Now people who had been quietly worshipping on their own for years began to seek others. Public groups began to form for the first time since the mid 1970’s with the stated purpose of education and public outreach. It was in this setting that Pagans began to seriously debate the need for professional (paid or unpaid) clergy.

As stated before, Wicca is considered a religion of the clergy. Those who argued against the need for professional clergy used this as the basis of their position, coupled with a fear that professional clergy would lead first to organization and finally to the dogmatization of the faith.

Those in support of professional clergy cited the inadequacy of coven training for those operating in an inter-traditional and/or interfaith setting.

What’s more, once a person starts to act as a minister in a public setting there are expectations as to what that person can and cannot do based upon the publics ingrained knowledge of the Priest, Pastor and Rabbi roles.

In this situation serious conflicts can arise do to a lack of training and experience in the areas of pastoral counseling, privileged communication, conflict resolution, inter-faith dialogue, grief and bereavement.

Given the decentralized and independent nature of Wiccan and Paganism, there has not nor is there ever likely to be a universal solution to this debate. What has happened is that those in favor of professional clergy have taken steps in that direction and, true to their arguments, those who have received this advanced training in the secular sphere are indeed rising to prominence within interfaith settings. To cite current headlines, the approval of a Pagan tombstone by the V.A., the ability of Pagans to worship on military installations and the inclusion of Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, Druid, Pagan and Shaman as religious identification codes within the Department of Defense personnel system were all accomplished through the efforts of Clergy and staff in the three largest professionally organized Wiccan bodies in the U.S. (the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, the Sacred Well Congregation and Circle Sanctuary) .

At this point I want to make a distinction between Professional clergy and Legal clergy. The legal clergy status of a person varies state to state based upon local laws.

Superceding these laws is the federal distinction that anyone named and certified as clergy by a 501c3 tax-exempt church organization is recognized as clergy in all 50 states. With minor variations as to how they report themselves to the state, such individuals are able to perform legal marriages, allowed access to hospitals to visit the sick and dying, can act as volunteer prison chaplains and are allowed to claim expenditures associated with their clerical duties as tax exempt. They are not however, automatically considered professional clergy.

What makes a professional Pagan minister varies depending on the accrediting agency. Typically this person will have gone through the same religious training as the lay members of their tradition. Within a Wiccan organization with a degree structure there is typically a requirement for the person to be a Second or Third degree so that they carry clerical authority within the tradition itself.

Concurrently or following this training, the person will undergo further study within fields traditionally associated with the Ministry. These have already been mentioned but for the sake of completeness the following are the typical areas of study and which require demonstrated competency:

- Leadership
- Group Dynamics
- Pastoral Counseling
- Human Growth and Development with emphasis on Death and Dying
- Interfaith Dialogue
- Legal Issues related to Clergy status
- Ministry in Specialized Settings (hospital, prison, military)

Depending on the accrediting group, further study in areas related to Paganism will also be required. These commonly include:

- Pre-Christian History
- Mythology
- Herbalism
- Various forms of divination
- Alternative Healing

This professional education is provided by the accrediting organization. The mode of this instruction varies based upon the resources and organizational structure of the groups involved. The two most prominent educational organizations for Pagan clergy are both currently Wiccan in nature.

The Woosten-Stein Wiccan Seminary is an outgrowth of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. The ATC seminary is classroom based and is intended to provide the ATC with professional clergy.

The Cherry Hill Seminary is an independent, Pan-Pagan seminary with a focus on post-graduate education. It is distance based with summer in-residence intensives required for progress.

The Sacred Well Congregation utilizes a distance learning format with online and in person components. This model was initially developed to accommodate military personnel but has lately been adapted for both US and international civilian students.

When it comes to recognition of Wiccan or Pagan clergy by the public at large there is often confusion stemming from the decentralized nature of the faiths involved. Within the Wiccan community clerical titles can vary across traditional lines and sometimes within the same tradition.

A member of the public or the media cannot always be counted upon to note the difference between the solitary Wiccan Priestess who has been a member of the faith for 4 months and the professional Wiccan Priestess who has been involved in 5 years of professional ministerial education.

While not always a reliable indicator, those who are legal clergy most often use the use of the title “Reverend”. This usually includes all professional clergy. The role of professional Pagan clergy is that of a bridge, someone who can successfully connect with solitary co-religionist, clergy of other faiths and the public at large.

Within the Pagan community the professional cleric is there to take on those duties that benefit the community when executed correctly but can cause emotional and/or spiritual harm is handled incorrectly.

Within the interfaith community the professional cleric serves as a subject matter expert, public relations officer and compassionate advocate all rolled into one. To the public at large the professional cleric is a source of information and education, putting seekers in touch with groups that may meet their needs and providing guidance to those who are at risk of getting lost on the path.

As a final point of clarification, Wicca is a religion of the Priesthood. All of its members are equally responsible for their own spiritual development. There is no requirement for anyone to be a part of a group or one of the traditionally organized Wiccan groups (with all of the training that goes with it).

Copyright: Copyright May 2007 Rev. James R. Adams


Rev. Ryan Adams

Location: Denham Springs, Louisiana

Author's Profile: To learn more about Rev. Ryan Adams - Click HERE

Bio: About the Author

Rev. Adams has been a member of the Wiccan faith for the past 12 years. During this time he has been a solitary practitioner and a member of both civilian and military Open Circles. Rev. Adams is a member of the Sacred Well Congregation of Texas and in that role has served as a Distinctive Faith Group Leader, the Assistant Director of Military Affairs (Plan and Policy) and Director of Prison Ministries. While in the US Army Rev. Adams served as a Chaplain Assistant whose duties focused on ensuring the right to free exercise of religion for his fellow soldiers. While serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry (AIRBORNE) he contributed to the single greatest change in Chaplain Corp doctrine since the second World War, redefining the role of the Unit Ministry Team within combat arms operations. Rev. Adams has spoken before several interfaith ministerial associations and has prepared a standard Power Point presentation on Wicca in the military for use by Army Chaplain’s and Commanders.

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