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Religion Library: Paganism


Written by: Carl McColman

To the extent that Pagan communities are self-contained and do not interact with society as a whole, clergy credentials are not a significant concern; respect for the priest or priestess within the group is usually enough of a credential. However, as the Pagan community has grown and more nature-centered clergypersons engage in "public" ministries such as performing weddings and funerals, providing pastoral counseling, prison or hospital ministry, and speaking in public settings on behalf of their religious tradition, the perceived need for clergy credentials has grown. Some national organizations, including the Covenant of the Goddess and Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, provide clergy credentials to qualified candidates. Others seek ordination through a third party, such as the Universal Life Church (ULC), Metaphysical Interfaith Church, or Universal Brotherhood. The requirements for ordination within these groups vary widely; the ULC, for example, requires little more than filling out an online form.

Pagans who wish to pursue a fully professional credential can pursue ordination through the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Association, since the UU community accepts Pagans both as members and as clergypersons. However, ordination within the UU community leads specifically to credentials as a UU minister, which means that one's identity as a Pagan becomes a descriptive quality, rather than the central defining feature, of the individual's identity as a clergyperson.

Within most groups, however, issues such as credentials or the ability to minister to non-group members is not an issue, and most Pagan clergy exercise their ministry in collaborative community with others who function as their peers, sometimes under the tutelage of one or more elders who function as mentors. This relatively informal and unstructured approach to ministry works because it diffuses power and authority among the group membership, which minimizes problems such as abuse or egotism and also enables each clergyperson to work without pay, since the responsibilities of the priesthood are shared with others.

Study Questions:
     1.    Who can be ordained as a Pagan clergy person?
     2.    Do Pagans have seminaries? How are the clergy educated?
     3.    How is initiation performed within Pagan leadership?
     4.    Why might a Unitarian Universalist ordination change a Pagan’s identity?


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