Chapter Four -- Practical Considerations
General responsibilities of clergy
Most of these things we've already told you, but they bear repeating:
Corollary: if you can't perform a ritual because to do so would breach your ethics, or cause harm to someone, let the people know. Perhaps you can work out a mutually-acceptable approach.
Working with other clergy-persons:
Most often, you will be called to do rites of passage either working alone or with a steady working partner, depending upon the customs of your particular Pagan order. Sometimes, perhaps for a wedding or a funeral, you will be called upon to work with another clergy-person of a different Pagan order, or perhaps of a different religion altogether. This is one of those circumstances where a prior investment in making professional contacts with other clergy-persons can pay big dividends in ease of collaboration.
Distinctly different problems are presented by working with co-officiants of other Pagan orders and those of other religions.
Clergy of other Pagan orders:
Working with co-officiants of other Pagan orders presents advantages and disadvantages. To the good is this: you won't need to engage in basic interfaith education. On the other hand, you may assume that we all mean share the same customs and vocabulary, but in reality different Pagan groups may have very different terminology, different understandings of the same words, or even different ritual etiquette. Unexpected conflicts may arise.
For example, many Wiccan priestesses would be horrified to have others touch their personal working tools, especially without prior permission. Others would be reasonably comfortable seeing another Witch handle their black-handled ritual knife, and might even expect whoever is holding the knife to be in charge of the ritual for that time. Some use their knife exclusively for conscecratory or symbolic purposes, and might be quite scandalized if another person uses the knife to cut a cord or slice a cake. Others feel that using the consecrated knife to slice the cake consecrates the cake.
Clergy of other religions:
Working with ministers of other faiths may be fairly easy if you have made prior arrangements for collaboration, and you have reached a good rapport with the other officiant. Generally, clergy of the more liberal denominations, such as Unitarian-Universalists or Reform Jews, will be relatively more comfortable working with us. Women clergy are likely to have read enough feminist theology to at least know about the contemporary Goddess movement. Ironically, some women will be so anxious to establish themselves as respectable members of "the club" within their own denominations that they will be stickier than the men. Also, remember that there are feminist and liberal wings even within some of the more conservative denomination, so approach each individual with the same kind of open mind you are hoping they will hold towards you.
It may be quite hard, or downright impossible, to co-officiate with a clergy member who believes their own religion has a monopoly on the truth, or who is actively hostile to Pagans. You may be able to salvage the situation by entering into a dialog with the other officiant. On the other hand, you should be prepared for the worst-case scenario, where the other officiant attempts to block or cut-off your part of the rite. If the other clergy member is uncomfortable with you, remember that Pagan content can be made fairly low-key and subtle. Even if you cannot allude directly to the Gods, you can speak of wind and sun, ocean and mountain, and the green, growing life all around you. You can always speak of love.
Under such stressful circumstances, remember that you are working for the People and the Earth, not for the hostile clergy-person and certainly not for her/his organization (even if you do happen to be working in their venue).
Things to bear in mind:
Non-Pagan family and guests
Most of us have dear friends and cherished family members who are not Pagan. So, for those rites of passage that are normally celebrated in public -- child blessings, marriages, and funerals in particular, you can assume that some of the guests, perhaps even a majority, will be members of other religions or of none. Many of these will be unfamiliar with our religion, and perhaps a bit uncomfortable with the unknown. Some will be fearful, others even actively hostile. Remember that the person whose rite this is will be relating to these guests for years to come, while you have to deal with them for only one day. Your tact, diplomacy and good communication skills can make your "client's" future family life a lot easier.
Working with people in trouble
Not all rites of passage are happy occasions. Sooner or later, every working priest/ess will be asked to create or conduct a funeral or memorial rite, a handparting or a resolution ritual. People need our help even more at the sad times than at the joyous ones. So, here are a few pointers for working with stressed-out and distressed people:
The well-dressed clergy-person
What you should wear when you officiate at a public ritual of passage depends on both your own custom and the wishes of the people concerned. Ask them if they want robes or street clothes, and, if they want secular garb, how dressy it should be. Obviously, some passages are more festive than others.
Unless there is a specific request for something different, consider a dark-colored business suit (Judy's favorite clergy suit is dark forest green; Gwyneth wears a blue suit with a white blouse) with a discrete pentacle or other religious pendant. Some of the men in the New York area have taken to wearing dark, solid colored neckties with bright silver pentacle pendants worn over the tie. If the ritual will be outdoors, be mindful of the weather and wear shoes appropriate to the ground you will be on.
You might also want to bring along one or more items of specifically clerical adornment, such as a priestly bracelet, necklace or stole. A stole (a long, narrow scarf that is draped about the back of the neck so that it hangs over the front of our clothes) is a universally-recognized article of clerical garb that is somewhat more appropriate for us than a Roman collar. There are stoles available with beautiful Pagan symbolism embroidered or appliquéd on them. Whatever you use as ritual adornment, put on immediately before beginning the ritual and remove immediately afterward. This signals when you are acting in priestly role.
There's a lot to be said for small-group apprenticeship in Pagan clergy skills. Most covens and groves provide opportunities for supervised ministerial practice, either as assistant to the officiant or as 'student minister' with one's mentor watching alertly from the sidelines.
However, not all Pagans are so fortunate as to find a group to work with; some people also choose to work as Solitaries for reasons of their own preference. In such a case, it may be harder to acquire and maintain practical ministerial skills. Consider working with a local interfaith council or getting together with ministers of compatible faiths for monthly meetings. It also pays to occasionally attend the services of other faiths, to see how their clergy deal with problems and surprises during their rites. An often-overlooked source of ritual ideas is the theater, particularly improvisational troupes. Groups such as Toastmasters can help you build skill in public speaking. Volunteering in a counseling role at a local hot-line, crisis center or hospital provides invaluable training and experience in working with people in distress, and is also another way of making contacts while doing some good work for your community.
Resources for on-the-job training
Harrow, J.S., Brambir, M, and Harrow, C.G.C.
1996: Counseling Basics for Wiccan/Pagan Clergy
1981: Crisis Counseling: the essential guide for nonprofessional counselors; Continuum, New York; ISBN 0-8264-0244-5,
Kennedy, E. and Charles, S.C.
On becoming a counselor: a basic guide for nonprofessional counselors; Continuum, New York; ISBN 0-8264-0506-1,
Napier, A. David
1986: Masks, transformation and paradox; University of California Press, Berkeley, 282 pages; ISBN 0-520-04533-5;
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