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Morgan Ravenwood


Pagan Clergy: What Qualifications
and Credentials Should They Possess?
By Morgan Ravenwood

With Paganism (and Wicca in particular) being the fastest growing religion today, it’s no wonder that the need for qualified clergy members of ALL Pagan denominations is also growing.  But this produces a new dilemma: what sort of qualifications are needed (or should be) before one can call oneself a clergy person?  This issue has been coming up enough on the Internet of late so as to merit an in-depth examination.  As examples I have used excerpts from many opinions that came to light on this issue in an online Pagan Clergy group I belong to.  

One poster thinks she has it all figured out: 

“I got a ULC (Universal Life Church) ordination 3 years ago not as a joke, but as a way to be legal clergy for those in need. That is why I'm on this list -- I consider myself to be Pagan clergy now.”  

However, anyone who knows anything about the ULC knows that, while it serves a purpose in affording an “official” ordination of sorts to people who wish to be able to perform legal marriages (and ULC ordination is by no means legal in all 50 states), there are no requirements whatsoever to obtain ordination through them.  

This was my reply to that lady:  

“You know, I’d be the last one to diss ULC because I too am “ordained” through them—but let’s face it, it hardly qualifies one to bear the title of “clergy” since we could even ordain our cats and dogs if we wanted to.  A piece of paper---from ANY organization---or even a person dressed up in an impressive robe with a bunch of highfalutin titles---do not a High Priestess make.  But practice, experience and practical application---that of ministering to others---DO (not to mention the Goddess and God Themselves!)   I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d want someone whose sole claim to the title of clergy was a two-cent certificate he printed off his home computer performing MY nuptials!” 

Believe it or not, there were some indignant replies from others who saw nothing wrong with the above scenario since their ULC ordination is their own main qualification!  My answer to them is to get over themselves---and get real.  But it gets even better.  Here’s another idea propounded by someone with even less demanding standards:  

“(Name deleted) indicated that there may be some who feel that they are not worthy to be clergy. If you have a "call" (this is an all encompassing term to me meaning…chosen by deity), have a feeling you should be---or "Hey,  Moonpuppy is no longer able to be HPs.  You are maiden, it is your turn"..(in other words how you came to the title) to be in clergy you have a "right" to call yourself clergy and anyone who tells you different has security issues. I have met VERY few people who willingly take on the title "Clergy" and not "deserve it" in some manner. I have met some people whose ability to lead I question, however most of them still care deeply for the people they lead. Time and your group (if you have one) will show your true colors. People who just want to be "High and mighty, all powerful, purple robed poo bah's" do not last long in the grand scheme of things.”   

Wow.  So then I can just call myself something to make it so?  In that case---ALL HAIL THE QUEEN!  (Or not!)   On the other hand, there are many successful and knowledgeable High Priestesses and Priests who indeed have earned their titles by word and deed and perform their clergy duties in an exemplary manner without possessing “official” degree initiations. 

Some more suggestions: 

“I would also add ‘Experience.’  To become comfortable being a clergy member you need to do it!!!!... Clergy persons need the experience not only in their trad or magical path but also as ministers to the community...That is why I encourage my students to do volunteer or community service during their training....It promotes a realistic picture of just what a clergyperson does every day...”    

There would certainly seem to be some merit in this; most covens I know of do indeed perform community service—usually with all members participating. 

Another came from a person who seems to have some grasp: 

“One of the things people are very quick to accuse Pagan clergy of is being uneducated, illiterate theologically, and having gotten their "ordinations" without serious study. A course in philosophy, some training in Biblical exigetics and comparative theology along with gnosis about texts we do not use are to me basics of claiming to be a clergyperson.” 

 I agree with this, and I’ll even go one better: training in sociology and psychology can give one great insight into human behavior, not to mention practical experience in counseling others. 

Someone else mentioned that being a clergyperson is no sinecure: 

“I've found that being clergy means you get calls in the middle of the night from someone in crisis who needs someone to talk to.  It means giving up enormous amounts of your personal and family time for clergy work.  It means showing up before anyone else to set up ritual and staying later to clean up.  It means that when someone in your coven/church/circle/grove drops the ball on a project or gets sick at the last minute, you are responsible for keeping things going.  Being "clergy" is not a title.  Being clergy is dedicating yourself to service.  When I look at my bracelet, it reminds me that I have sworn an oath to service and am "bonded" so to speak.” 

As heartfelt as it is, this is still more of a job description than a list of the qualifications that one should possess to BE a clergyperson (though it’s certainly thought-provoking for “wannabe” High Priestesses and Priests!)  Physical and mental stamina, lots of free time and good organizational skills are all admirable qualities, but they are by no means the main requirements for clergy work. 

The best response I’ve seen to date was this, so this will be the last quote:

“But the problem arises when people believe their own PR. I have personal experience with people who obtain a ULC or other paper ordination, and with NO OTHER TRAINING than that consider themselves to be clergy and require or expect or demand the percs, if any, and the respect and position in local community, that is held by the trained and experienced clergy of other denominations or of trained and experienced Witches and Pagans whether covened or solitary, traditionally trained or eclectic . With this I have a serious ethical issue. A person can be seen to be a wedding officiant or able to perform another rite of passage for which "legal" ordination or sanction is required, without having the right to call hirself a Priest, or Priestess, a clergywoman or man, an Elder or minister. Such designations require study, training, experience, and humility. And it is seeing unethical Pagan ULC ordained people laying claim to these additional titles and attributes that they do not in fact possess that causes many both in and out of Paganism to disdain all other claims made by Pagani who choose to call themselves clergy without having the right so to do. Let's admit that the ULC ordination serves a useful purpose in making it possible for people to perform marriages and other rites that require some piece of paper not issued by the faith body but by the state. And let's further state that this is ALL such pieces of paper qualify one to do.”

While one of the best advantages of Paganism is that it is by nature individualistic, this is also at times one of its biggest drawbacks, as Lady Maeve Rhea mentioned in “Handfasted and Heartjoined” as well as myself in my earlier article, “The Pagan Aversion to Organization.” This is especially so with regard to the clergy issue.  In the same message thread that I mentioned, I contributed a post to the effect that since there is no “universal” ordination or standards for Pagan clergy, one could have been a High Priest or Priestess of one tradition for years and then joined a new tradition that would completely disregard this background and make the person start all over as a neophyte (don’t laugh, it happened to me!)  In my case, I felt that this was unfair and would be tedious waste of time for me, so I dropped out of the group.  But in hindsight, I can almost see their logic: with no universally recognized credentials to view as proof, they had no way of knowing how advanced I was in my studies.

The fact that there are no standards in place for clergy designation also opens up a lot of gullible people to potential fraud and victimization by so-called “clergy” members who would use the “clergy” label to their own advantage.  The gods know that this has certainly been done enough by certain Christian “clergy” members as well as some unscrupulous Pagans representing themselves as clergy just to victimize teenagers.   With this in mind, it seems a shame that there can’t be some sort of basic standards for clergy designation that at least most of the larger traditions would agree to recognize—and follow.  True, the Covenant of the Goddess has its own requirements that a person must fulfill before they can achieve clergy designation, but these requirements certainly aren’t recognized by every Pagan tradition and their stringency is discouraging to a lot of covens and solitary seekers alike.   

If this could be changed, then we would need to work on what “basic” clergy credentials might consist of.  Perhaps these could follow along some of the same lines as those of the larger traditions (in all denominations).  It almost seems to be an
industry standard” among these (even the online seminaries) that a person should undergo at least three years of degree training before she or he is considered to be qualified to teach and act as a High Priestess or High Priest—i.e., clergy. The reasons for this are self-evident and obviously, this formula works, but what about some of the more eclectic paths?  Can there ever be a set of inter-traditional qualifications that can be accepted among the majority of them?  I think that the answer to this is “yes,” but it will take work and cooperation to achieve.  To my knowledge there has never been an interdenominational Pagan conference held during which such issues as clergy qualifications were addressed (if I’m wrong, please let me know!) but I’d sure like to see it happen.  Surely the efforts put into such an event would reap the rewards of greater understanding, cooperation and ultimately, enhanced recognition and esteem by other faith communities as well as the Pagan community for those who choose to serve the gods by serving other Pagans in a ministerial capacity.

Morgan Ravenwood  HPs, Desert Moon Circle  Lake Havasu City, AZ