What is Ministry?
Ministry is a word often rejected by Pagans. It is seen in our Christonormative western culture as being solely related to members of the Christian clergy. Yet the term “ministry” and “minister” comes from the Latin for “servant.” We see echoes of this original use in European government offices.
We see it also in religious parlance. Clergymembers and laity alike often use the phrase “my ministry.” We see it used in reference to writing, music, sewing, and all manner of acts of service to the church and community. Because this is its true meaning. Service.
What is a Pagan Minister
If ministers are servants to their community, then Pagans too engage in ministry, and those who do so can (and should) be styled as ministers. Pagans who serve as clergy do everything from officiate to teach to research to coordinate. These are all ministries. When a person educated in their religion and connected to their community are ordained to engage in service to that community they are a minister. The only question left is how they train for that ministry and how they engage in that ministry.
To quote Dr. Sam Webster
“Ministry is fundamentally about serving the ‘congregation’ in contrast to being primarily about serving the Gods, as in Priesthood… The result is a professional servant of the religious population or ‘congregation’ who is knowledgeable and skilled in liturgy, institutional and community development, and pastoral care, as well as sensitive to the critical or ‘prophetic’ leadership role they are in.”
My training in Community Ministry comes from Cherry Hill Seminary (more in the About Me page) which focuses on community, theology, ritual/liturgy development, spiritual/pastoral care, and interfaith communication.
I sought out this training because my local community consists of a large number of Solitary Practitioners. Helen Berger reports that well over 3/4 of Pagans are solitary and do not have regular group. My experience agrees with this assessment, as the majority of Pagans I meet say they have no group. Strikingly, many of them say they also have no idea where to find good resources. New Pagans are lost in a sea of 101 books with no basis to compare which ones are decent or not.
These are my primary ministry. The Solitaries. The lost Pagans.
And these Solitary Practitioners still want holidays, they still want fellowship, they are still reaching out for advice. They just don’t know where to reach out to. Solitary Practitioners are the future of Paganism (in fairness, they are the present of Paganism as well). The days of the Coven initiation are unfortunately gone, and even if all these Solitary Practitioners decided they wanted Coven initiation the demand outstrips the supply.
In a Pagan context: defining what a minister actually does will require us to go back to ancient practices. As we are a continuation or revival of early polytheistic priesthoods we should look at what they did to understand our own role.
In ancient Greece and Rome we know that most adherents of the polytheism of the age did not worship in formal “churches” or attend “temples” (those being reserved for priestly duties and for the Mystery traditions) but instead worshiped at home altars dedicated to household gods (or lares). That meant their priests were not meant to be the sole spiritual authorities in the lives of Hellenic Greeks or of Pagan Romans but instead were guides, showing them how to offer proper sacrifices to their own chosen gods. Priests performed this function (as well as others such as the cleansings, lustratio, of homes after childbirths) for their community, then the rest of their time was spent between Mysteries to the gods (developing a direct relationship with their deity), public sacrifices, and creating talismans and charms for clients (as seen in the Greek Magical Papyri).
Modern Pagan priests should perform the same functions. Firstly, they should practice the mysteries, learning to connect to their deities. Secondly, they should perform public sacrifices, hosting or leading rituals for their community as a whole at Sabbats and for rites of passages. Thirdly, they should guide their community, being a gentle council and teaching those who worship at their household altars how to sacrifice to those gods who might not be the same gods the priest personally is dedicated to (I will discuss this more later on). But in the modern age Pagan priests have a fourth duty which is almost more important. As we do not live in an age where our polytheism (or nature worship, or ancestor veneration, etc) is the norm, a modern Pagan priest must also be a minister for our culture and faith. They must be a public presence, allowing more non-Pagans to see that we exist and to see that we are their neighbors and friends. A Pagan minister must be a leader of our community as well as spokesperson for our culture.
It is this last duty that I feel is one we must rise to in light of the current cultural age. It is vital to the health of our community and to the health of those outside of our community because the newest generations now heavily identify as “Spiritual but not Religious” (27% according to Pew), and these SBNR folks may never have been exposed to the Pagan culture which could be the faith they’ve been looking for (though of course, not necessarily). I have met many of these SBNR people who practice Tarot, candle magic, moon veneration, and other hallmarks of Pagan practice. While this is by no means a majority, these folks may never even know of Pagan practice without Pagan ministers actively being a public presence and offering guidance or simple visibility.
In order to fulfill all these functions a Pagan Priest / Minister must be many things. They must be a scholar of religions, learning as many practices as possible to be a proper guide to the personal spiritual path of any who may need that guidance. They must be a dedicant to their own gods, performing the mysteries of old and being a strong spiritual force to aid in the cleansing of homes and the spiritual training of fellow practitioners. They must be a counselor, learning to listen to the needs of their fellow Pagans without offering correction or change but rather understanding and sympathy, as many Pagans have nowhere to go with their spiritual troubles. They must be a professional presence, representing our culture at all times, and doing their best to allow our best face to show so that others may find the path they might otherwise have never known existed. And they must be universalists, serving as spiritual council for members of many different paths and traditions who might have no priest of their own gods to go to but still requiring the mentorship and leadership of a minister.
Rev. Deoin Cleveland, CMC