Call of the Clergy
So you’re standing in line at the post office and you’re cell phone goes off. You don’t recognize the number on the caller ID. Who could it be? You ask yourself. But your intuition tells you to answer it, because it’s the call you’ve been waiting for. . .
It’s the Gods. You’ve been recruited and they want you to help. They want you to become clergy.
Few of us get The Call. It’s subtle. It requires a high sense of ethics, a thorough understanding of your religion, philosophies and rituals, and a desire—nay, a calling—to help other people to the best of your ability. Perhaps, most importantly, it requires a true dedication and devotion to the All Mighty.
If you were Christian, you would know exactly what to do: you’d tell your priest, he’d get all excited. Then you’d be whisked away to seminary school where you learn all about how to run a church, how to pastor, how to give services, philosophies and ethics, comparative religion, your sacred stories, your legal duties, your religious duties…the list goes on. By the time you come out of seminary, you are extremely educated, given a post, and you begin your life of service to the community, never working a regular job again.
If you were Buddhist, you would join the monastery, shave your head, and take a vow of poverty. You would be subjected to the rigorous and harsh life of a monk: early to rise, long meditations, ascetic dietary limitations, meditation, community service, more meditation, and so on until you achieve Enlightenment.
It’s the same story if you’re Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or Fundamentalist—whatever.
But that’s not you. You’re Pagan. We don’t have priests or seminaries or monasteries.
Or do we? The world is changing, my friend. This generation of Pagans has more opportunities available to them than ever before. Most of us are no longer in the broom-closet because there are organizations set up to protect us, and there are long-established churches of various Pagan traditions. But perhaps most importantly, for the first time, what we really need is Pagan clergy. We need those experts who are trained to help us in times of spiritual crisis, to look to when we need guidance, and to help us along the path.
There are several ways of going about becoming clergy. Much of it depends upon your lifestyle, talents and goals. Think about your level of dedication and drive: are you willing to put your entire life in service to the Gods? Or do you have bills to pay?
This is step one. There are many organizations of varying quality that are able and willing to train you. Like many church denominations, they train and ordain clergy based upon their own practices, and often their degrees don’t mean anything beyond their own tradition. This is perfect if you want to dedicate your service to a specific group of people. But there are other organizations that are getting state approval for their seminary programs, which gives your seminary degree clout beyond the religious world—something you could definitely put on your resume. You could always do it on your own: get a degree in philosophy, comparative religion, psychology or other related fields, and try to focus it to your branch of Paganism. But getting that higher quality clergy training is becoming more important if you plan on living in the real world.
Here are just a handful of Pagan Seminaries:
Length of Program: 1 year accelerated
You must hold at least a B.A. in your chosen field and be able to attend classes in New York City. Although they have correspondence courses, they do not seem to be as thorough as their classroom assignments. Upon completion of work, you will be ordained as an Interfaith Minister, and may add “Reverend” to your title. This is perfect for someone who already has a high standing within their own system of Paganism, as it fills in the gaps of education and rounds out the study for clergy.
Length of Program: 2-4 years
Located in the state of Vermont, this thorough graduate-level course is not currently accredited, but their program is among the most rigorous for Pagan clergy. Their staff includes Judy Harrow and M. Macha Nightmare, who write profusely for the Pagan community, and most of the faculty holds advanced degrees in their specialties. Nearly their entire curriculum is online, but they require students to attend two intensives on campus before they graduate.
Length of Program: 3+years
The program here is basically by witches, for witches, with a focus on Celtic, Faery and Eclectic traditions. The tuition is sensible, and their entirely online program makes it extremely accessible, though you must spend at least a year and a day on each degree. Consider this your standard coven training, which would allow you to go out and competently start a coven in your area, but if you want training on counseling and church business, you might have to get additional training elsewhere.
Length of Program: 1 year and a day – 3 years and 3 days
This is a school for women-born-women only, in Z. Budapest’s feminist Dianic Wicca tradition. The program requires attendance in online classrooms, and a few live intensives. Students are prepared to minister, perform ritual, keep tradition and records in the Dianic tradition.
Length of Program: 1-3 years
Yes, it’s that Harvard. While they don’t specialize in Pagan studies (or, indeed, teach any courses about them at all), you won’t get a more academically rigorous religious education anywhere—if you can cough up the money to live in Boston, Massachusetts and the $20,000+ per year tuition. I don’t think anyone has tried to study Paganism in their Divinity programs, so you’d have to talk to the dean about it, but their website insists it can be done. For most programs, a B.A. is a prerequisite, and they all require extensive field study and a thesis.
Length of Program: 2-4 years
Completely online holistic learning center, the UU has open enrollment, meaning you can start a class whenever you want, learn at your own pace, and at whatever time of day you choose. They have classes in normal things, like business, but also classes like drug-herb interaction, natural animal medicine, and spiritual coaching. They also have the LightHaven Seminary which offers advanced degrees and certifications in topics of interest to Pagans, though you might want to rearrange some of the curriculum to get the most out of the UU experience.
Length of Program: 2-4 years
Accreditation: Yes and no. They can grant Ministry degrees.
Created by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church to serve the Pagan community, this is currently a classroom based school in Washington state, although they are working on getting online curriculum. Woolston-Steen holds their students to high academic standards, and is only for those willing to put in the serious time and energy required. Students work closely with their mentor to integrate the lessons into their personal practices, and upper level students are required to be relatively active within the church performing rituals and helping the administration. At higher levels, the students become the teachers. The history of the ATC is covered and ordination is of their tradition, though the seminary is focused on more general Wiccan and Pagan practices.
Make it Work!
Ok, so getting trained is one thing, but what do you do then? How do you pay back those massive student loans? If you were Christian, you’d be handed a Pastorship where you will make your living wage, often living free on the church property. Not us, though, we’ve got to get actual jobs.
If you ask anyone you consider Pagan clergy, nearly all of them will tell you they still keep their day jobs. I can name on one hand the number of Pagans I know who are able to devote completely to their chosen religion. Most of the teachers running the seminary programs are psychologists, educators and healers.
Here is a short list of potential employment for Pagan clergy:
The Military Pagan Network claims that there are over 4,000 Pagans serving right now in the armed forces, almost half of them are Wiccan. They have a whopping zero chaplains. Studies indicate that there are more Pagan then even Buddhist or Hindu soldiers, yet they have chaplains to support them (well, not very many, but more than us!). This is probably the most stable way to make money (lots!) as clergy. Chaplains are responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of ALL of the soldiers in their unit. They travel with them, get to know them, and try to keep up morale. They perform weddings, funerals and other religious rituals within their tradition, and set up appointments for visiting Rabbis, Fathers and Reverends for other denominations. They currently require at least a Masters Degree in Ministry, Religion or Divinity from an accredited school. The catch is that the school must be accredited by a specific accreditation institute, to which none of the afore-mentioned Pagan seminaries currently belong. However, the rules are being challenged by several non-mainstream religions, and changes are happening quickly.
Write about your subject, your experiences and your knowledge. Write an advanced book on Pagan philosophy, or on solving problems in a coven, or rituals for the sick…whatever, just add some quality knowledge to the market place. We are always complaining about the profusion of Pagan 101 books, but I suspect there aren’t very many authors qualified to write about more difficult subjects. Lots of people make money writing books.
Your job is to be spiritual advisor to those in the hospital 24/7, often counseling families, giving lectures to staff, and supporting any who come to you. Many of these positions are not paid, but some hospitals offer salaried positions. They will require you get at least a Masters from an accredited seminary, and some of them require that you believe in Jesus Christ. These are coveted positions precisely because they are paid, but they are also very difficult because of the nearness of death. Most hospitals will train their chaplains, though you might have to financially support yourself through that time.
Forget the real world! Join a commune or one of the (rare) Pagan monasteries and live a life of quiet contemplation and hard work. You won’t need a seminary degree to get in, but you will need to surrender all of your worldly possessions.
Check your state laws to see if you can get ordained where you live. Officiates are hired to perform weddings and funerals, and often do premarital and grief counseling. Places like theknot.com and others contain databases where hundreds of couples search for officiates every day. You might have to get a business license to promote yourself if it is outside the limits of a recognized church organization.
How are your divination skills? Maybe it’s time to get out there and charge money for your expert knowledge of the tarot, runes or oracle, and your knowledge of psychology and counseling/pastoral skills will make your readings all the better. Most likely, you’d be in business for yourself, so make sure you are smart about it and get the proper licenses: most states consider you an entertainer, not a spiritual counselor, and you can get in big trouble for “fortune telling” in some areas.
Forget the clergy! Become a teacher instead! Many in the community teach classes, go on lecture tours and write articles. Teaching Pagan subjects allows you to serve the Gods, and, in many ways, your students become your flock. A public school won’t be allowed to pay you for your seminary degrees, so you’ll have to go through mainstream channels to get your certification, but you might talk them into giving you some credit for all those counseling classes you took. Or start taking students in your area and revive that old tradition of learning from a person, not out of a book.
Overall, Pagan clergy is in its infancy. It is up to us who receive The Call to forge our own paths, create new opportunities and serve the Gods. You can help these organizations by giving them your feedback, using their resources, and of course, spending your money with them. So the next time the Gods call, you’ll have a little more information and can make the best choices in walking your path.