Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Raising the Bar

So my hero Heather Deirdre Awen, has a blog of her own, and last week she sent me a heads up on her post about the failings of Pagan Clergy. Her post really hits home for me both as a Pagan and as a chaplain. She makes very good points and supports them with direct personal experiences, to which I can relate as I'm sure we all can.

I have had my experiences with grand poo bah high priestess, their online temples of the sacred stars and twinkles. I myself have been warmly invited into a group, then attacked, chastised and ridiculed for have an opinion. An Egyptian Wicca HP once asked me to introduce myself, and after I did she told that Egyptian Wicca was an ancient mystery school from which all traditions had emerged, including Freemasonry. She said her tradition, unlike the "Indian stuff" I had been "dabbling in" delves deep into the mysteries of the earth, which was sacred, in case I didn't know, then she called me young Padawon. I did a special adoration to the Lord and Lady years later when she was a student in the class I was lecturing at Fresno State University.

Anyways, I think the problem is that Paganism in general is all encompassing and inclusive. Which for the most part is a strength. But unfortunately it attracts people for many of the wrong reasons. The one that's most relevant here is the ego gratification of titles like High Priest.

My last post I mentioned that there were a handful of Pagan prison chaplains here in California a few years ago, and I was told that at this point I am the only one left. I wrote about the conspiracy theory they all shared, and Heathers post brings up other issues like how to dress. The prison system doesn't have too terrible of a dress code for visitors, the biggest thing is no jeans, because that's what the inmates are wearing. But bear in mind that this is a state facility, so there is some sense of an implied standard. So again I see it as a simple matter of common sense, or so you would think. I have personally seen a Pagan chaplain show up to a prison dressed as though he just came from a Reconnaissance Fair. WTF?

For the past three years, when I visit any institution, anywhere, as a chaplain, I DRESS like a chaplain. In fact I am always mistaken for the Catholic chaplain because that's how I dress, that's how I look and that's how I act. Ergo, that's how I am treated.

A few years ago at that same Pantheacon, during a cherry hill intensive, we were talking about Pagan clergy and someone said she had a problem with us using "their" terms and titles, like priest, reverend and chaplain. She said that it took away from the "mystique" of our path. To which I feverishly disagreed. I use congregation instead of coven, and religious service instead of ritual. Am I lying? No, I'm just using words their more comfortable with. But more importantly I have a serious problem with the need, use and emphasis of Mystique in any religious form of Paganism. Mystique is a substitute for substance! The more smoke and mirrors, robes and titles you need to be a high priest the less you have to offer as clergy.

I have been approached by members of my Coven, our church, my prison ministry, and random people with many of the serious life altering challenges that life can throw at you. I immediately realized that I was not qualified. So I went back to school, and I'm still there, and I'll be here until I am.

1. Be humbly aware of your limitations! "I don't know" are not bad words! Its important to remind them that I am not a trained or qualified counselor or therapist. I recommend that they call someone who is, there are lots of hot lines they can call.

Last week I was interview by a reporter from a local paper, and am looking forward to seeing how I am reflected. One of the things I hope she quotes me on is beliefs. Because as clergy, is not about our beliefs, it about the beliefs of those we serve.

2. You have no authority over anyone, you are a servant to everyone! As a Minority Faith Chaplain, I serve all kinds. each in a different way. For some I do nothing but show up, because they can't do their own ritual without supervision, so sometimes the greatest service I can be is by just showing and and shutting up.


Hmmm boy that's the big one isn't it? So I'm a third degree high priest, am I qualified? So I have a degree in religious studies, am I qualified? What if I wave a degree in psychology? How bout now? Qualifications of Pagan clergy has always been a double edged sword, anyone can argue either side of anyone's clergy resume and never get anywhere. I often get asked this question, sometimes people have a genuine interest, others are looking for a chink in your armor. So I usually answer them with another question, "What qualifications should I have?"

If you were to ask me, I would say read the book "The Circle Within" by Dianne Sylvan. She wrote one of my top three books on Wicca. In it she listed the qualities or qualifications that we should strive for. So many times when I am asked, I often say that the qualifications I hope I am developing are:


I think as long as we strive to inculcate these graces, we'll keep the bar up there were it need to be. Blessed Be.


Norma said...

Love it. You have an excellent point about terminology. Some people choose a Wiccan or Pagan or Magick path because they are acting 'against' a different belief system or rejecting a system that is mainstream. That is by no means true for all of course, but I've seen it happen pretty often (the whole "WE are so much different/better/wiser than THEY are" about fill in the blank religion that is mainstream). People who are heavily invested in being different, for whatever reason, are the same ones that I have found object to using more commonly understood terms.

Connie said...

These are guidelines that clergy for any/all clergy to keep close to their hearts. You've got your head on straight :) and those you serve are blessed to have you!

Heather Awen said...

Hi! I didn't know I was mentioned. Blush. Yes, "I don't know" is the greatest thing a person can say when they do not know. That way no vulnerable person takes in some untrue stuff. My Mom is an Episcopalian Priest (the Christians who like us LOL) and I watch her - She listens a lot, she restores people's sense of being inheriantly good, she goes with them to the hospital, she stands by them. I like that. She also is connected to social services. When I was a 1-900 psychis, I did a lot of social work, getting people to open the phone book and find domestic violence shelters, credit coounsellors, stuff like that. I gather brochures for everything from stroke survivor support groups to free acupuncture for returning veterans to Medicare helplines. Because I never know as a psychic what someone in the future might be dealing with. (Wait, does that mean I suck as psychic? LOL) Most big towns now have a 211 hotline. The main thing is not abandon people when you are serving as part of their support team. And Harm None! Which means any NuAge-y blame the victim stuff is a no go.
Hope your 2011 is blessed and that you remember that the work you do creates beauty for us all.