Serving as an ordained minister for a several years now, I have found it necessary to form my own moral matrix of beliefs and practices. The one-size-fits-most rule does not work in life when dealing with the myriad paths and traditions here in the Pagan and alternative worlds of spirituality.
Two years ago, I committed to teaching an outer court grove. During the Year and a Day studies, conversations arose about what the basics of being clergy are. This cause me to challenge the commonly held standards, and question who and what cultures codified them?
Cherry Hill Seminary, and other groups strive to serve as the established model arbiters of this. But they are not the only route to being living, practicing, clergy. More importantly, they do not represent me. Academic training is marvelous, but it does not invalidate the experiences and education of on the ground application of the skill sets needed in non-rarified spaces.
Authors such as Belladonna LaVeau broach the subject in published works. Her “Awakening Spirit: WISE Seminary, First Year Certification for Wiccan Clergy” serves as one of the standards for the new generations.
But what of the non-affiliated among us? What standards do we choose ? How does one be a “clergy alone”?
My first attempt to name my standards resulted in this list. In may of these, I highly recommend that those who have the feeling that they are not sufficiently prepped in certain areas to take additional classes and training. Many are free or low cost. Some are available through grants. Continuing education is an integral part of life long development for ministry.
1. You should have at least attained the age of 21. Why? Because you sometimes need to be able to enter a bar and pick up your damn covener/parishioner from the damned floor and take them to the car. You should also be able to have discernment and wisdom so that you can make the decision whether or not to take a person to the hospital or other care facility.
2. You should also be able to enter into contracts and be able to understand them. You should also be able to compose correspondence, serve as a character reference for those in your care, and be able to testify if called on.
3. You should know the laws on Confession. And be able to use them to protect yourself and your client. This is in reference to the protections afforded and the responsibilities. This is the rite of the seal of the confession for a Pagan minister/priest.
4. You should know the laws on Mandatory Reporting of information to the civil authorities in your state. In many states, by being an ordained minister, you are required by law to report harm, intent to harm, and abuse. In different nations, so when traveling it is critical to know the laws of the land in which you practice. Persons who fall under these laws are
- Child care providers
- Clergy, although Clergy-penitent privileged communication is exempt in some areas.
- Counselors and other Mental health professionals
- Medical examiners and coroners
- Health care providers
- Police and other law enforcement officers
- School teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, principals and other school personnel
- Social workers
- Abortion clinic staff (in some states)
- Family Life Educators
5. You should know the laws and requirements governing marriages and weddings in your state and for other countries. Also, you should know the requirements to officiate a marriage for someone who has divorced and what paperwork you need.
6. You should know the protocols, rules, and laws on Hospice, Medical Advocacy, Medical Directives, DNR orders, and rudimentary statutory will forms so that you may aid your client to get these resources.*
7. You should know the laws on Birth, Paternity, Foster Care, Kinship Programs, and Adoption so that you refer to sources of information and advocacy for your clients.*
8. You should know the laws on Prison Ministry, even if you do not do this service, and update your knowledge of Prison Chaplain requirements in your state.*
9. You should know the laws on Burial Rites, and have a resource guide for those making end of life decisions.*
10. You should have at least a rudimentary knowledge on Substance Abuse Education and Treatment Programs. Even better, at least some training in this area.*
11. You should have access to mental health service providers, and be experienced enough to know when SOMEONE’S PROBLEMS LIE OUTSIDE OF YOUR SCOPE OF LAY SPIRITUAL COUNSELING. You should know the laws on referring someone for treatment.
12. You have studied, or at least familiarized yourself with the basics of, military chaplaincy and the rights of the people of your faith group
13. You have earned the respect of you, yourself, and others in your peer group as someone who is of good character and consistency*
14. You have cultivated the qualities of leadership in yourself and can undertake hard decisions with fairness and firmness, yet be able to temper them with mercy and discernment
15. If you are of a martial bent, you have the mettle and the character befitting a spiritual leader, and a channel of inspiration and bravery in battle
16. You act as a Judge in the community, impartial and fair, with Wisdom
17. You should have a set of basic rituals on hand. This is to include ritual music, chants, and songs.
These include occasions, but not limited to, the following:
- I. Wiccaning/Baptism/Initiation
- II. Wedding/Handfasting/Commitment Ceremony
- III. Divorce/HandParting Ceremony
- IV. Memorial Services
- V. Funeral Service/Rites
- VI. House Blessings
- VII. Blessing a Person
- VIII. Rites of Passage Ceremonies
- IX. Saging/Croning
- X. Warrior Rites
- XI. Queening/Fathering
- XII. Surgical/Medical Pre Prayers
Rev. Terrie Brookins pointed out to me something critical when she proofed this. You should also be able to WRITE rituals as well. If you don’t know how, try to learn. If you just cannot, then find a great ritual writer. Why?
since not everything is readily available on Google and often times, clergy members are on the spot, in the woods, with no cell signal.
Also, be mindful of the health and safety of others during rituals and devotions. Allergies, food intolerance, food allergy, sensitivities to smoke or anointing oil ingredients, aversion to ritual components, these are all factors to weigh. Be ready to adapt, adjust, and advocate.
18. You explain what your beliefs are and some of their history.
19. You avoid shock and awe, but engage in quiet, polite, civil theological conversation in general with other ministers of their faiths about matters of spirituality and life
20. You should know the meanings behind every tool you use, every ritual, and every hand gesture you use in YOUR practices
21. You should have some sort of First Aid Training (this includes Mental First Aid)
22. You to walk into a room and hold your ground, soundly, in the face of those who would ridicule you
23. You should bring no disgrace to those who associate themselves with your ministry
24. You should bring honor to your faith, and associate nothing false
25. You advocate for the weak, no matter the faith
26. If you are of a martial bent, you stand at the forefront of social causes to the best of your ability if your conscience moves you so
27. You should have no fear, nor eat your heart, when you witness something evil or wrong and call it out
*Never hesitate to call in someone who is an expert in this area for help. And always be aware of a pro bono lawyer or legal aid office that can help here.
In addition to these, there are some experiences that make really good clergy. Not all, but at least some of these are necessary for a balanced view of life. Some experiences leave the etchings that complete our belief windows.
1. You have lost someone close to you to death
2. You have had a major medical procedure
3. You have had a brush with death
4. You have had a child
5. You have dealt with someone with a substance abuse issue OR had one yourself OR both
6. You have volunteered to help those less fortunate and/or were yourself at one point in a place to need help
7. You have attended the practices, ceremonies, and ritual services of other groups on your path and on other paths and examined them objectively
8. You have led at least one person through a personal crisis, a “dark night of the soul”, or other close emotional trauma
9. You have been in an accident
10. You experienced marriage, or a long-term relationship, where you lived with the other person
11. You completed a term of military service
12. You have someone in your circle who is in the military
When I first presented this at Michigan Pagan Fest in 2015, Figment (Michael Poe) gave the gift of his wisdom when he pointed out a critical missing quality. You have to have a sense of humor. Sacred Mirth is a part of my belief system, and it serves as a mystic’s balm to the soul.
In a look back at this, I find that it has a long way to go. It did not encompass the factors of emotional intelligence, cultural fictive kin relationships, and more. These are all things that were an integral part in my college courses in my degree pursuit for a BA in Family Life Education.
It denotes an incomplete inventory. But the list is a good way to find out lay clergy roles, vs. professional. are actually a representative of your beliefs through that office. It is a self test, and a community test that may be used to check where you are in your practice.
The plan is for an upcoming series of workshops about this topic in the community during the later. The location is Metro Detroit, however, as that is my home base area. There are brick and mortar, floating, and virtual circles, churches, and kindred here that are putting faith to work on a practical level.
For those seeking Pagan clergy here in Michigan, you are spoiled for choice. The Universal Society of Ancient Ministry offers material and food assistance through Pagans In Need, ministry services, educational scholarships, and a 13 step recovery program, as well as a resource guide.
Pagan Pathways Temple offers ministry, a gathering space, and classes. They are also the organization that has taken up the mantle of hosting the annual Pagan Pride Day celebration in Detroit. In addition to this, they are filming the series “Unveiled”.
The Michigan Council of Covens and Solitaires offers an Adopt A Family program, as well as having membership which includes clergy and educators.
And of course, there is also Crossroads Tabernacle Church, ATC. This group is responsible for many innovations and advances in Pagan Ministry. They also hold services that serve Washtenaw County, giving life to ritual solstice gatherings.
There are many more here. There are probably many where you may live. Take some time to see them. Also, here is a great site to get you started for building a chant library. Hedra’s Pagan Chant page is a valuable resource. For one person’s perspective, please enjoy the video at the bottom of this article.