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Cherry Hill Seminary

School is one of my biggest passions. I love it! Maybe it is because I’m dedicated to Athena, but I’ve been in school almost continuously since I was five. Education is important to me, but it also took me awhile to figure out what I was put on this earth for. I’m big on training and professionalism, which doesn’t bode well in Paganism, honestly. I dreamed of working in academia as someone who studied Paganism as a legitimate spiritual community and a source of knowledge. I wanted to professionalize our clergy so the community would have some real resources at their disposal, and could keep up with other religions. In particular, I wanted to see Pagan Chaplains in the military.

This all started about five years ago, when I began my graduate program in teaching. I was already dissatisfied with the program and wanted to do something else in my life besides be a glorified babysitter and secretary. I looked to being a military chaplain, which requires, typically, a Masters in Divinity, ordination, and “ecclesiastical approval” from a church body. Already there were a lot of challenges to that laundry list of requirements, the hardest being the MDiv degree.

Imagine spending 70-90 semester hours in a religion that is not yours! I spent 3 credits in a fundamentalist Christian MDiv program before I figured out I wasn’t going to fit in, be comfortable, or graduate with a good GPA. I desperately wanted one of our own.

The seminary I work with, Woolston-Steen, doesn’t have an interest in getting accredited by the people the military would require (which seems fair, it’s their school!). But it means that their advanced degrees don’t mean anything outside of the religious community. Now that would be fine if we had more infrastructure like Pagan hospitals and churches where you could be sure to recoup your education investment and have a career. But we don’t. We live in the mainstream culture.

Recently, Cherry Hill Seminary, an online theological school for Pagans run out of South Carolina has decided to live in the mainstream culture. They are seeking accreditation through the Association of Theological Schools, which would mean that a degree from there would be considered legitimate in “the real world”. Accreditation is a long process, and should take 2-3 years if they keep at it, and it seems like they are well underway. And if the ATS doesn’t like the concessions they’ve made, then they’ll have to face M. Macha Nightmare! Good luck to them! She’s fierce! And she’s the head of the board of directors.

Accreditation by the ATS means

  • You can get a job in an academic institute of higher learning
  • You can work as a hospital chaplain
  • You can work as a military chaplain
  • …or a prison chaplain
  • You can put it on a professional resume or CV
  • You can start your own church (well, you could have done that before, but this makes it easier to get grants and stuff like that)
  • Who knows! Only the future graduates can show us what it means. I plan on opening a counseling practice catered to Pagans and doing academic research and book writing. A professional Pagan degree would help with all of that.

A few short years ago, the idea of a professional pagan ministry was unthinkable. Our elders have been working hard to serve the community, but often unnoticed beyond those that are close to them. As practitioners, we don’t always have people to turn to in times of crisis, and even those we turn to may not have the training to really help us. Yada yada, I’ve talked about this before.  But this is the exact goal of Cherry Hill–not to train more Witches (though there are some very good and very interesting schools out there) but to professionalize those who want to dedicate more of themselves to the service of others.

The faculty they have teaching are typically professionals with advanced MA or Doctorate degrees in their fields. They have spent their careers balancing the needs of Pagans with the demands of their professions. Judy Harrow is a professional counselor (and I absolutely admire her career), Brenden Meyers is a Ph.D and the author of A Pagan Testament (one of my new favorite books for research), and Michael York who is a professor of religion (you may remember his book). They have teachers who are Druids, Dianics, Solitary Practitioners, and Pagans from all walks of life. They have professors with backgrounds as diverse as law, education, pastoral counseling, comparative religion…just the stuff we need for a first generation of professional pagan clergy.

M. Macha Nightmare at the Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Last year, at the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, I had the pleasure of reading two of my papers (which I don’t think I’ve posted here yet!). The best part of the conference was meeting Nightmare and her students from Cherry Hill. Two or three had papers to present, and I was incredibly pleased at the quality of the scholarship. It was a diverse group of topics and very well researched. (You can read my summary of the conference here and here). Now, with the addition of promised accreditation, and a track record of actually doing what they say they are going to do, I think I’ll put some of my money where my mouth is, and get that MDiv that I wanted all those years ago. The sky is the limit!

  1. January 17, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    What an inspiring column, Jamie! Thank you for these kind words. We certainly are working hard to give our students what they’ve asked for. One correction is that, while we hope someday we can successfully apply to ATS for accreditation, there are no immediate plans to do so. We determined a while back that DETC was the most appropriate organization for our distance ed-based program. With luck, that accreditation will then give us better leverage to be accepted into the more narrowly-defined ATS (their membership states they are for Christian and Jewish organizations). Meanwhile, you make some very good points about the importance of solid education. And, by the way, I love school, too, and keep a little bust of Athena over my desk!

  1. January 19, 2010 at 12:25 pm
  2. January 19, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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