Functions of Pagan Clergy/Leaders
One of the workshops I attended at Paganicon was about Pagan Clergy and Eldercare. This included discussion of the role of clergy in taking care of elders, and and taking care of elders who are clergy while while respecting their roles. It was touched upon briefly that this was originally not the role of a clergy-person, but the job of family members. The problem as one person mentioned is that modern families are very scattered and disconnected. Anyway, point being we often have to rely on chosen families- particularly since many of us with alternative spiritual views and gender/sexual identities have been rejected or alienated from our families of birth. We didn’t discuss much how or why care-taking of elderly, sick, disabled, poor and homeless people had become considered clergy duties- though I talked more with one of the participants afterwards about healer/shaman/medicine man type roles, I tried connecting these ideas with Christian influences on social ministry but that part of the conversation didn’t seem to go anywhere.
The theme for March on the Patheos Pagan channel is “What Will Paganism Look Like in 50 years?” I really have trouble seeing 10 years ahead let alone 50 (my being only 32 probably doesn’t help) But I would like to explore the roles and functions of Pagan clergy and leadership. There is a lot of tension between the desire for personal spiritual autonomy and resistance to institution-building on the one hand, and desire for church-like institutional and clergy functions on the other. There is also tension between ancient models of priesthood and modern usually mainline Protestant influenced models. I think something could be learned from both, in order to find ways of fitting alternative values into post-modern society. The important thing to remember is that just as there is no one “Paganism” there is no one Pagan clergy model. Instead we have a broad range of functions that cannot be filled by one person. Many if not most of these functions can in fact be done by intermediate level practitioners of a given tradition who may or may not be clergy, and some of them can be secular jobs than can also serve in spiritual capacities. We need to consider that mainstream churches are having trouble supporting themselves, as fewer people attend church. Many churches rent space to other religious groups and non-profits. Many clergy people work full-time for low pay, or officially part-time while doing lots of work “off the clock”. We also need to work towards an economy that allows for more life-work balance. If the kinks in the Affordable Care Act get worked out, and the minimum wage gets raised, that will make it much easier for committed volunteers, artists and others to combine their passions with part-time work.
Some solitaries or peer/egalitarian led groups won’t see a need for clergy or lay leader roles. That is fine! These are all options, not requirements. Brainstorm yourself and feel free to add! I will likely go into more depth about them in other posts. First I list functions that we definitely think of as clergy, then I go into others.
Temple Priest/ess: Serves primarily deity rather than community- or serves community via connection to deity. Lives in temple full or part-time, performs offerings, ceremonies, tends images, symbols or perhaps animals and plants that are sacred to deity. Performs ceremonies for community on temple grounds, may interpret messages from god or act as oracle. This is an ancient model– particularly relevant to Kemetic, Canaanite, Hellenic and Roman reconstructionists. In days of yore, these priests would be supported by the community- with taxes and tributes. As you can see this would be very difficult to revive in a modern context.
Celebrant– from baby blessings to weddings, to funerals (in some combo: at minimum they marry people) Many pagan celebrants are flexible about what religions they are willing to work with- often performing interfaith weddings.
Institutional Chaplain: Military, College/University, Hospital, Prison– this person may be a volunteer or have a formal paid chaplaincy position. Typically they will serve a broad range of pagans and spiritual practitioners. They may teach classes or do presentations, help with holiday celebrations and perform rites of passage and provide counseling, and end-of-life support. In prisons or elsewhere in the legal system they advocate for prisoner’s religious rights.
Priest/ess of mystery tradition– initiates and teaches members tradition. Wicca and other initiatory witchcraft, as well as mysteries of a particular deity in polytheistic religions (Dionysos, Isis etc) Serves that specific subset, not so much larger community. This is one of several clergy functions which are more similar to an abbot/abbess than the leader of a congregation.
Counselor/Spiritual Director/Therapist– offers spiritual and ethical counseling, and possibly mental health counseling if they are (hopefully) trained in it. An increasing number of Pagans are getting licensure as professional therapists- some of them are doing this to further their skills as a clergy, and being able to pursue their vocation (in part) as a paid profession. Others are not clergy, but want there to be more Pagan-friendly therapists available. I think we need to seriously consider how much overlap is appropriate between these different roles. A Spiritual Director is another specific role that some Pagans are seeking training in- from what I understand is a spiritual counselor/mentor with some training in religion and psychology but is not a therapist.
Social Outreach Ministry/Activism– could be done by clergy or layperson. Among Christians this sort of work sometimes has an ulterior motive of spreading the Gospel, among Pagans it’s mostly a focus of helping people- broader community or Pagans specifically. Volunteering or doing paid work in mainstream organizations or for pagan-run ones to assist members of society who are vulnerable/oppressed or have other special needs: low-income and/or homeless people, people with disabilities, elderly, mentally ill people, LGBT people, veterans and military families. Many of these efforts are in part interfaith.
Meditation/Yoga/Tai Chi’i (etc.) Instructor– this is another function that could be a clergy role in an Eastern or New Age religion by itself or part of a Pagan clergy person’s calling. Martial arts is also kind of similar. This person will probably be professionally trained and paid.
Leader of public/celebratory group– leads, organizes rituals and possibly otherwise administrates a group that is public or semi-public, exoteric (not a mystery tradition) as a result, probably not initiatory or focused on heavy magic or energy workings. Examples: CUUPs chapters, open circles, college student groups.
Healer– Could have training as an energy healer (Reiki etc) professional or amateur herbalist. I also know a zillion Pagan massage therapists. Might work with spirits in a shaman equivalent role. Usually I see clergy who are healers as part of their role, rather than healers who are seen as clergy because they are healers. Typically charges for services but still needs a day job- unless their type of healing is more “mainstream” like massage therapy, chiropractor or even a nurse or doctor.
Seer/Diviner/Psychic– Like Healer, may be part of a clergy role, but is often a vocation unto itself. Even more so than a healer, probably needs a day job- though some professional astrologers and feng shui consultants may be able to make a living.
Bard/Musician/Poet/Comedian– Not typically thought of as a clergy role, but it is a very important function to Druids. Whether providing music for rituals, entertainment at festivals, or privately writing devotional poetry, the bardic arts are key. Bards performing at Pagan events should get paid. We take our artists for granted far too much. And you can debate all you want about paying for spiritual teaching, but it someone is training you musically you should be paying them. Note: I mean this as formal gigs not “open mike night”.
Organizer of Pagan Networking group– local Meetup, coffee/pub moot at an more informal level, or a Pagan Pride event at a more complex level.
Scholar/Historian/Theologian/Philosopher someone who studies religion, history, magic etc. whether as a professional academic or not, and shares their knowledge and ideas with writing, public presentations- as one time workshops or ongoing classes online or offline. Most people who do this even as authors need another source of income.
Support Group Leader/Sponsor– There are also increasing numbers of Pagan Twelve-Step type support groups for addiction problems, and support groups for various illnesses and disabilities are forming as well. A support group leader may or may not be a professional, but a sponsor is meant to be a peer who is further along in their path of recovery who serves as a mentor and supporter of a person who is newer to recovery.
Naturalist/Environmental Activist– this person focuses on their personal and/or societal connections to nature- they may work closely with nature spirits, garden, farm, raise animals, explore and learn about nature and engage in environmental activism/advocacy. A person could serve this function in many secular jobs: park/forest ranger, veterinarian, biologist or other natural scientist, environmental lobbyist.
Mediator/Interfaith Diplomat– this person helps resolve conflicts (non-legal) among Pagans or between Pagans and other cultural or religious groups. They may be involved in interfaith, anti-racism, or anti-domestic violence work. Or this person might actually be a lawyer or legal assistant and help Pagans with legal problems.
Funeral Director/Hospice Worker– this person works with the dead or the dying in variety of roles- helping them be comfortable on their journey to the other side, comforting them and their kith & kin. Preparing the body for burial or cremation, arranging funerals and memorials. Tending gravesites, and making offerings to the dead, perhaps communicating with them, and leading or participating in Samhain, Dia de los Muertos and similar celebrations.