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Ordination? But…we don’t need clergy

A couple of weeks ago—which partially explains my absence from this hallowed place—Mother Grove Goddess Temple ordained a group of women as temple clergy. The women—and in this case they were all women—were already priestesses but they went through a long process of study and practicum to make them clergy.  They can perform all the rites of passage (including the legal one of marriage), can teach and speak on behalf of the Temple and its programs and philosophy.

It was a powerful ritual at a local herb school, because the Temple is small. There were candles and simple black robes. There were special guests and people making speeches. There was a choir and a reception. There was an audible gasp in the congregation when the women’s stoles were placed on their shoulders and they turned to face out. At that point, they were introduced one-by-one as “Reverend.”

Formal, legal.  Just like other religions do.

These women have been doing most of the work of clergy for some time and so they know what they are getting into. And because Mother Grove isn’t big enough yet to pay stipends, these women will be functioning as clergy within their temple and community as volunteers. It is to be hoped that state won’t last forever but for now those late night calls and ritual preparation and hospital visits—all those thousand things that a clergy person does in addition to serving the Divine—will be done while holding down the job that actually pays the bills.

Everyone reading this will know why they did it, why they do it.  Out of love and dedication and need.  For reasons terribly subtle and because it is necessary. Not to be praised or wear a nice robe or get paid a bucket of money.  This job provides a different kind of benefit.

There is some controversy in our spiritual communities about whether we should even have clergy.  I read with some frequency the opinion that we all speak for ourselves and no one is ever empowered to speak for the ragged totality of our ever-living traditions. I read that we can take care of ourselves—my family is doing that rite of passage in our beautiful backyard and we don’t need some “official” person to make it real.

My favorite is—it’s so Christian.  We don’t want to be like Christians. That’s not the Pagan way.  All that top-down crap—that isn’t what we’re about.

If you think how much of the Christian church trappings knew their genesis in the temples of old and pagan Rome, you have to smile.  In some circles, there’s a notion that “the Christians” stole everything from “the Pagans”, so really we’d be reclaiming something lost ages ago, wouldn’t we?

So many modern Earth religionists are converts and have come out of the ranks of the various Christian denominations.  Often they left the churches of their childhood filled with anger and grief and sometimes fear.  It is only natural that they don’t want anything of that toxicity to bleed onto their new spiritual pathway.

I get that.

One of the good things about this family of religions is that you can easily practice them alone, within a family structure or in a small group. You can be as devout or as heretical as you choose.  You can be a B/S Pagan who only shows up for Beltane and Samhain. You can be a person who doesn’t self-identify as any recognizable Earth religion and say that you find god when hiking in nature.

I get that.  Power to the people.

What I have found, though, in my years of service, is that for many people there comes a time when they want someone with a more specific training, someone with experience and someone with a strong daily practice to be present with them in a particular time, for a particular reason. I took my ordination in 1996 and since that time I’ve been called to births, to deathbeds, I’ve sat with grieving families and anointed the bodies of dead priestesses.  I’ve amassed years of on-the-job training because our spiritual communities are maturing and calling to them all that that can entail.

Some Pagans may never need the services of a clergy-person. Ever. They will find all they need in the fields and woods, in egalitarian groups, on the Internet.

Some Pagans will choose to mark the Rite of First Blood or the Passage Through the Veil or the legal marriage that entitles their new spouse to full medical benefits by having a member of their own clergy standing with them, helping them create a ritual and signing some boring paperwork.

Some Pagans want to know that when they are sick in the hospital and a visitation from a social worker is imminent, they can answer that loaded question—do you have a pastor?  Do you want to see one?—by saying “yes, I do.  Here is her number. Please call and let her know I’m here.”

And someone will answer that call and bring flowers, a small altar for the room and words of comfort.


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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 07 September 2012

    I was consecrated over twenty years ago as a Priestess -- and promptly moved to a tiny town, had three kids, and started publishing Pagan magazines instead of doing pastoral work. But I've often dreamed of returning to that work, and I salute all of the women and men who have the moxie and dedication to train in the arts of being a priest/ess. A lovely article.

  • ericjdev
    ericjdev Friday, 07 September 2012

    I too have had a problem with who are hung up on trying to not be like Christians, I don't get it, don't really want to. My faith isn't defined by trying to be like or be unlike some other faith. I think clergy is great, I'm all for it, I just don't want anyone thinking they speak for the community at large or have authority outside their group. If you serve the people within your community and perform rites for them I think that is honorable and good. I'm solo but if I was sick I would love to have a Polytheistic minister available to me.

  • Ruby Sara
    Ruby Sara Friday, 07 September 2012

    Wonderful post, Byron!! Thank you!


  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 07 September 2012

    Congratulations to all the new Reverends! :)

  • Theresa Wymer
    Theresa Wymer Sunday, 09 September 2012

    Good for them. Congratulations to all the new clergy members!

  • Betty
    Betty Saturday, 27 October 2012

    I wish I could become clergy, but I don't know how. I'm self employed so I can't afford to go to seminary, but I do take classes here and there online. It makes me feel good that there are clergy out there. If I'm ever in need then I would want someone to talk to who understands.
    Thanks to all the people who make the sacrifices it takes to do that important work.

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