Throughout adolescence the question was “So are you going to follow in the ministerial footsteps of your parents?” The answer was “Absolutely not!” For most of my adult life, people have asked me, “When are you going to start your own group and take on the role of priestess?” My answer was a reluctant, “I don’t know. Never. I’m not ready.” In the summer of 2002 that response shifted to “Yes. Yes. I get the message. I’ll do it.”
Let me explain…
My parents were Spiritualist/New Age/Metaphysical ministers. My family was very involved with the church. For the first seven years of my life, we practically lived on a Spiritualist camp in central Indiana during the summer “camp season.” My parents taught Sunday school, led worship services, held séances, and counseled people looking for solace through communication with their dead loved ones and spirit teachers. As one of the few children actually raised in the religion, the entire community looked out for my well being (although at times it seemed more of a nuisance than a blessing for a six-year-old looking to have fun and explore her surroundings). The ubiquity of the church and the importance of religion in my early life has always stayed with me and influenced my life choices.
But the child of a minister has a unique vantage point from which to view organized religion (and I do believe this of any and all religions and churches). I have seen the underbelly of the church. Watching my parents and their colleagues, I have seen a variety of pitfalls to taking the role and authority of clergy –burning out due to not establishing personal boundaries, cynical mocking of individuals in the congregation, and the ethical dilemmas that each day seemed to bring to both of them. And because of that, I have long avoided the responsibility of that role within my religion. However, I have also seen the love, compassion and spirit of service shine through those who sincerely seek to guide people on their spiritual path.
Within the last few years I have inadvertently taken on the role of minister for the people around me within the Pagan community. In 1998, I co-founded with three other fabulous people a non-hierarchical, experimental Pagan spiritual group, Magick Belly #9. The four of us had similar levels of experience and a similar adversity to being either someone’s student or someone’s leader. Our goal was to work together to learn from our differences in traditions and ritual styles. Magick Belly #9 began offering public Sabbat rituals in the Washington, DC area after people within the community asked. Somewhat ironically and without our conscious intent, the group developed a reputation for providing community services, especially for people new to the local Pagan community. Although we were officially non-hierarchical and had no formal leadership, group members (I think that 10 people have counted themselves as Bellies) began to look to me for a combination of guidance, group mediation, and organization. It was difficult and frustrating to play the “officially unrecognized” leader for a peer group that eschewed any form of structure or hierarchy. After three and a half years and while we were still friends, the group decided to disband so that each person could follow their own spiritual path.
Soon after, a good friend asked me to officiate his wedding. I wrestled with my internal dilemma for over two weeks. I had been asking the gods to show me my life path, and here was a large, neon sign pointing towards the one path I never wanted to take. I talked with many close friends and family about my ambivalence towards ministerial work. Each said approximately the same thing: “I can’t believe it took you this long to realize that you’ve been training for it and doing it all along anyway.” After officiating my friend’s wedding, I knew that I had performed a public good and that this was one way that I could work closely with people in need and continue to build community.
I see Becoming as evolving from the work started with Magick Belly #9. Those of us who moved from the Bellies and formed Becoming brought with us the lessons we had learned from our years together. We decided to adopt a loose structure to guide our working, and to create a new framework for communing with the people, spirits, deities and world around us. I have been elected to the role of Celebrant (we still don’t like the hierarchical-sounding title of “priest/priestess”).
Because I felt the need for additional training and want to formalize my credentials to be of better service to my community, I am enrolled in the ministerial program at Cherry Hill Seminary in Vermont. I hope that my studies will allow me to learn and develop skills in pastoral counseling, further expose me to new ideas concerning ritual design and group dynamics, and introduce me to a community of learners with similar concerns and goals.
I am a minister because I feel that, though it, I can be a teacher and a guide in the spiritual life of the people around me. Religion and faith can give life meaning. A minister can help people to find and create their own meaning, and can guide people to discover their own talents and achieve their goals. A minister works with people to find constructive and affirming solutions to conflicts and life problems.
I also believe that deity lives wherever one finds it. Some people dedicate to a specific deity, pantheon, or thought-form (The Goddess with a capital “G”). I find deity expressed through the people around me. A minister is focused on the people within their community. As one who connects with deity through people, taking on the ministry is a way for me to connect with deity and to help others to find ways to connect to the deity within themselves – however that should manifest for them.
Blessings from a full heart.