Do we need ministers? Why? How do we get the job done without falling into the problems other religions have had with titled clergy?
Clergy fulfil two kinds of roles in their communities:
Since every Wiccan is a priest or priestess and fully empowered to do whatever religious observances are wanted and needed, Wicca has no need for separate religious service leaders.
The "other work" ministers do is a miscellaneous collection of jobs required by any human community. It includes:
The Covenant of Gaia is creating a training program for people interested in fulfilling these needs in our community. Our ministers are quite different from those of other religions in one very important way:
To us, "minister" is a professional certification just like "lawyer" or "doctor." It is not a religious title like priest or bishop. We chose the title "minister" because its literal meaning is "one who serves."
Some people have questioned why we need a new title when we already have "High Priestess" and "Elder." Can't the Elders do what is necessary within our community?
The answer to the first question has to do with perception. People outside the Craft have certain expectations of how ministers will act and what they can do. In general there is no such expectation about those calling themselves a High Priest, High Priestess or Elder. By using a recognised term we can smooth our relations with the outside world (for example, hospitals and courts).
Although the Covenant does not engage in it, a good example is prison ministry. The Department of Corrections wants assurance that the person who will be interacting with the prisoners is honest and a "real Minister". They are most comfortable with a structure that they recognise, which means a registered church that can vouch for the clergy. Based on the experiences of Wiccan clergy elsewhere, the warden of the specific prison may also have questions about the qualifications of the Minister and what he or she intends to do or accomplish in that prison. This is reasonable. Prisons have very real security concerns. It is easier to forbid prisoners access to possible spiritual comfort from some unknown person off the street than it is to take a chance.
In theory a HP/s, Elder or covener should should be able to fill the job, but not everyone has or is interested in getting all of the job skills. Professional training costs money. Different people have different skills and it takes training to strengthen one's weaknesses. If you needed to call someone in the community at 2 A.M. with a personal problem, can you reach certain people in your community whose opinions and abilities you respect? What if there is no person in the community with counselling skills? This is the reason crisis lines exist, but there will be no Wiccan crisis lines unless we create them.
In Wicca, the title "Priest" traditionally implies a certain degree of religious training but usually little or no secular training. "Elder" is a fuzzy term, very dependent on when, what community and what tradition. It could mean anything.
Our ministers are trained to provide resources to the Wiccan and larger community. We have a course of study laid out that should take the average candidate 3-4 years to complete. Part of that is a minimum of one year of community service such as volunteering to work on a crisis line; teaching special needs students or working in a hospice. The cost of the education will be borne largely by the candidate, not the community, because our community does not have that kind of funding.
A deep concern among many Wiccans is that having titled clergy will disempower everyone else. We require our ministers to pass on what they learn by teaching classes so that the general level of education in our community rises and does not remain concentrated in a few people. These will be classes in topics such as counselling, mediation of disputes, comparative religions or how to conduct a media interview.
Another concern is that clergy are leaders and leaders may abuse their power. We feel that true leadership is the ability to make informed, intelligent decisions and have people respect your abilities enough to follow your suggestions. It has nothing to do with "power over." In the recent news a native band in Ontario is having severe medical problems, mostly because they switched from a traditional diet to modern foods. The chief (who is almost 70 years old) didn't whine, filibuster or try to force his people to conform. He simply stated his opinion that they had to return to the old ways. Every weekend since he has gone hunting for game, trusting that if his vision is true then his tribe will follow. Every weekend more and more of his people come with him. That's leadership.
The actions and ethics of our ministers are under constant review by an Ordination Committee and the church membership.
Although our ministers are not paid, they are expected to be on 24-hour call for the community. The entry requirements are stringent and the training expensive both in time and money. What does the minister get out of it?
The minister gets the satisfaction of serving the Gods and the community. If the minister is good at her job she may also enjoy the respect of her community and her peers in other religions.
In conclusion, priests, ministers and Elders are all servants: Of the people, of the Craft and of the Gods. If we all remember this principle we won't go far wrong. They should do things that are worthy of respect and if we are very lucky some of our people may want to be like them. They should never be in a position of power over the people, the Church or the Craft.
See also our Ministerial Training page.
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