Because the paid clergy question is only going to get bigger

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Now that Cherry Hill Seminary has found its feet, the neopagan community is soon going to have something it never had before: some standard of measurement (of whatever quality and accuracy) for a person’s qualifications as a priest/priestess/clergy member. Wild Hunt blog awhile back ran a fundraising post on behalf of Cherry Hill, and the circles of people who go and obtain training through this program are getting ever-closer to me. This means that in the future, we will have clergy options that have not had to go the Unitarian or Universal Life Church route; we will have at hand trained clergy available to minister to the growing population of neopagan faiths.

Which re-opens a door that’s been fiddled at since long before I was Wiccan:
Are we going to pay these people? Should we pay them?

My short answer to this is yes: spiritual services are services the same as they would be in any other industry. Given sufficient personal funds, I pay a lawyer to help me handle my government needs, I hire a tailor to hem my pants, I hire an accountant to do my taxes. (These are all when I can afford them.)  Certainly I could perform spiritual services for myself, but just like my skill at pants hemming isn’t as good as a practiced professional, that exorcism or wedding or what-have-you is best left to a person actually trained to counsel, explore and heal the spirit.

My long answer to this may well be too long to fit in a blog post, and I may just have to flag this as one of those topics that someday merits an essay from me. The foundations of my arguments are as follows:

1. Quality education is never cheap. It comes at personal sacrifice, and the nature of being clergy involves continuous personal sacrifice. It should not mean poverty.

2. Poverty vows don’t come from a healthy place, and in many ways are a nod to religions that those of us who converted post-childhood are trying to leave the worst of behind.

3. Cultural legitimacy matters; while secrecy and living on the fringe is certainly romantic, staying in the shadows creates problems as much as it solves them. In the US freedom is a dance of eternal vigilance, and secrecy where secrets help nothing has only made the freedom we’re supposed to have protected even more limited, and created more of a fight. This last one is a larger arena of which paid clergy is only a small part.

The question will be coming, and sooner than a lot of people may be prepared for: what do our clergy specifically do for the neopagan community, and how do we compensate them for their value?


  1. Pitch313

    We have no other model for sustaining the skillful or the touched by the gods in our communities than money. Money is the agent of any and all transaction or exchange.

    So I’m resigned to the development of a catgory of “paid Pagan clergy.”

    But I don’t think that “paid Pagan clergy” rings true for the heart metal of many Pagan trads. And I don’t think that “Pagan clergy” ought to be a career.

  2. davea0511

    I guess it’s where you put your heart.

    If having clergy that are highly educated in the things of the world is important to you then perhaps paid clergy is best. If you think it’s important to specify one individual to administer to the spiritual needs of everyone else, rather than equally sharing that responsibility among all members then perhaps paid clergy is best. If being recognized among non-believers as having a certain level of financially produced legitimacy is important to you then perhaps paid clergy is best.

    None of those things are important to me. That’s perhaps one of the reasons I belong to a spiritual organization that has no paid clergy (except for modest living stipends for the highest leadership that must devote all their time – it’s like 0.01% of the membership). In fact, the organization I belong to is one of the most financially sound precisely because donations go to projects rather than pocketbooks.

    The great thing about no paid clergy is that 1) not motivated to play to the pocketbooks of the members – this keeps things pure, 2) sharing spiritually administrative responsibilities is richly rewarding for all participants, 3) you must abandon all thought of acceptance by paid-clergy organizations … this is actually a good thing to gain the confidence that you don’t need acceptance among non-believers in order to be a good neighbor with them. It’s best to win their approval by your acts of kindness and mutual well-being rather than by other means.


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