What I Expect from My Church

(Originally published in Oak Leaves 2, April 1997)

As the NeoPagan community grows and matures, the expectations change. Fifty years ago, Witchcraft (Gardnerian type) was an extremely secretive religion. At present, there are numerous public contact points and a few Wiccan and other Pagan groups holding public religious services. In another fifty years the expectations will have again changed. Most likely many NeoPagan groups will be offering religious meetings that anybody can attend. Not only will anybody be allowed to attend, but the group will offer most of the activities and services that current mainstream churches offer. To fulfill all of these commitments, these NeoPagan groups are going to have to raise money and have full-time paid NeoPagan clergy. As an active member, fifty years from now, of my local NeoPagan church, I'm going to expect certain things from my now-mainstream NeoPagan religious organization.

I'm going to expect religious meetings. I'll expect that the rituals will start on time, and happen on a regular and recurring basis. This could be every Saturday night, or every new and full moon, as long as it is regular. I should be able to predict when the ritual will be without having to get on a mailing list or call the priest each time. I'll expect a regular place to worship, not hiring a different hall each meeting, or a different person's house. The ritual could be inside or outside, but each outside ritual is on the same piece of land, and inside rituals in the same building. Nor will my home be the expected meeting place for routine public worship, despite having the largest yard, largest living room or a swimming pool. How the ritual is done, or its style is very important. The style of the ritual is in a large part based upon the religions cosmology. The clergy need to have been primarily trained to do the rituals of the church to which they have been assigned, hired by or founded. If I want Wiccan ritual, I'll join a church whose focus is Wicca, like Earth-Spirit Community. If I want Druid ritual, I'll join ADF or NRDNA. I don't mind if the clergy can do other ritual, but the training program that produced them for this job should focus on the religion of the church that pays them.

I'm going to expect religious training for myself and my kids. My children need to be taught how we worship, and to a lesser extent, why we worship the way we do. The organization should provide the materials, resources and lesson plans for the program. I have no problem paying for my kids to attend, but I shouldn't have to buy every reusable textbook that my kids will use only once. My schedule is very busy, so my kids should be able to be attend classes, without me staying with them. Adult courses should be offered so I can learn more about my religion, but not with the exclusive goal of becoming clergy.

I expect the clergy person(s) to either lead, organize or do various rites of passage for me and my family. When a child is born, I expect a saining ritual. This might be in my house or at the local Grove. Of course I'll provide a feast or party afterwards. I expect help in doing or planning a coming of age ritual as the kids become adults. If it is appropriate, the priest might do the coming of age ceremony. When the kids get married, I expect the priest/ess to perform the marriage in the Grove, (assuming the kids want it and are members). The marriage should be legally binding as done by the clergy person(s) and not have to be re-done by a town clerk. When a member of the Grove dies, I expect the priest or priestess to know and perform the appropriate funerary rites.

I expect the clergy to be well trained to help me in time of spiritual or emotional crisis. When a family member, friend or Grove member dies, I expect help in working through my grief. I expect help in dealing with other short term emotional problems. If it is going to be a long term therapy commitment, I'll see a full time therapist, or pay extra to the priest or priestess (who hopefully also accepts insurance). If my Pagan brother-in-law is in jail, I expect that the local Druid clergy person will visit him and help him, just as any other mainstream clergyman would.

The priest or priestess has to be able to supervise volunteers. The volunteers can do most of the work, but it is up to the clergy person to ensure that projects get completed. She might reasonably delegate specific projects to members, but the priest or priestess still has to check on them.

I expect the clergy person to be a decent administrator, or the Grove to have a non-clergy office manager/treasurer. This person needs to be able to present a budget to the Grove and then stick to the budget. She has to be able to balance a checkbook and pay the bills in a timely fashion. Her other jobs might include printing newsletters and ordering supplies.

My fellow Grove members and I expect to be kept informed about what is happening. This means regular communications. This means open records, both financial records and meeting minutes. As Grove members, we might or might not have a vote or say in how the Grove is run. We do have an expectation of knowing about decisions and why they were made.

How much input is permitted at the Grove level depends upon the type of church government chosen. There are three types of church government (that I'm aware of). The first is Episcopalian. Episcopalian government is where the clergy person is in charge of the Grove. The clergy may be hired by the Grove or be appointed by a higher national body. The second type is Presbyterian. Here, a small group of elders from the congregation run the Grove. The elders can be elected regularly, or can be appointed by any other means. They hire the minister, and can fire him or her. The third method is congregationalism. In this form, the church is run by the members of the congregation. They often form committees to research specific topics (like a minister search committee), or to handle regular activities, (such as presenting the budget for approval). The first form, Episcopalian, requires a national body to recognize local groups. The other two forms can either have a national body who approves local groups, or can have totally independent groups. Most NeoPagan groups run towards the Presbyterian model, with the Elders being selected for life by the other elders, or having founded the group.

What I Offer to My Church

As a very busy employee, I don't have a lot of time. I work long hours during the week, and have to spend at least one day during the weekend doing things around the house. I have a couple of hours most nights to do things, but can't commit to meetings in the evening. I have time to read newsletters, and write replies to my e-mail. On the other hand, I earn a decent amount of money.

I attend worship services every week, and on the High Holidays. When I attend, I like to sing. I'd be in the choir, but I can't make rehearsals unless they are right before, or right after, worship services. If the clergy person thinks I'm good enough, I'll sing or play a solo, or be lead or backup for other people, I doubt I'll ever write any songs, but if I do, I'd be honored to have them used. I won't demand that my works be used.

I willingly and joyfully participate in ritual as a member of the congregation. I consider it to be an honor to help in running a ritual. If asked or nudged, I'll occasionally lead a standard ritual. I doubt I'll have the time or knowledge to write rituals. Since our tradition encourages people to volunteer praise offerings within ritual, I'll usually have something I can recite, sing or read.

After the ritual, I'll volunteer to help with the social by providing food, preparing it and helping with the cleanup. If something has to be done around the Grove, and it won't take more than a hour or so, I'll help after the service. I would volunteer to teach the children if the Grove supplied the materials and lesson plans. Given sufficient lead time, I'll occasionally assist with field trips.

Since the Grove has a paid clergy person, I'll donate that crucial ingredient to overall success, money. I'll donate from $200 to $1,000 per year to the local and/or national organization. I could do this as a regular (weekly, monthly), annual or one-time fee. I could make those offerings at the ritual or discretely through the mail.

My children have more time than I do. I'll encourage them to participate in Grove-organized activities. These activities could include litter pickup, tree planting or other community service. If the Grove puts on a play, they'll help if they are capable.

Author's Note:

After I posted the above article to ADF-Discuss and ADF-Religion, about 100 messages were generated, almost all of them talking about paid clergy, or paid clergy vs. spending money on something else.

My responses to these discussions are:

1.) This article takes place 50+ years in the future, so issues of should we build up the organization vs. paying clergy vs. buying land should be considered to be moot -- all of them have or could be done by then. There is plenty of money, but not an unlimited amount. By definition of being mainstream, the organization is in place, and if the membership wants real estate, they have a mortgage.

2.) There is no mention of HOW the clergy will be chosen or WHO (local or Mother Grove) will control the money or where it will specifically come from. I did point out the various possibilities. I stated that the clergy will be well trained to carry out the jobs expected of them. It doesn't say HOW they will get the training. We could continue as we are (Study Plan), attach to an existing college, or start our own. Which one is done is irrelevant to the article.

3.) Most importantly, it is written from the viewpoint of a parishioner, somebody who has NEITHER the time nor desire to be clergy. This parishioner is active in the local Grove though, and is religious. This person works a 40+ hour week, 5+ days a week, year-round.

Author Information

Peter Gold

Articles by Peter Gold

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