Ask a Wiccan whether they need clergy and the first thing you will probably get is the knee-jerk reaction that Wiccans do not require someone to intervene with the Gods for them, they are quite capable of talking directly to the Goddess themselves, thank you very much. I agree completely with that statement; however, that is a very limited view. The fact is that when we begin to look at the need for clergy in Wicca, the image of the preacher leading the flock is not the one we should be looking at.
What does a priest, a rabbi, a minister do when they are not up in front of their congregation leading a worship service? Do they sit at home the rest of the week thinking up sermons to deliver? No. They go about doing those other tasks which constitute being clergy. They visit the sick. They counsel those who are to be wed and conduct marriages. They comfort the dying and their families. They assist in conflict resolution. They teach religious classes, they raise funds, they participate in all the activities necessary to keep a church or temple or mosque, or whatever, up and running.
I can see the Wiccan Priests and Priestesses nodding and saying, "Yes, I do all that." Indeed, there is often little difference between the activities of a High Priest or High Priestess and clergy of any other faith. In the state in which I live, I can legally perform marriages. If I assume that role, then I must also take on the role of counselor to insure that the young couple has seriously considered the consequences of the bonds they are to assume. Where is the difference between what I do, and what the local Protestant minister does in the same situation?
In a coven, the role of clergy generally falls upon the High Priest or High Priestess. They are the one that coven members turn to regarding spiritual issues. But what does a solitary do? Where do you turn to if you want a Pagan funeral or a legal handfasting? At the moment, it is difficult to find Wiccan or Pagan individuals able and willing to carry out such ceremonies. Who does a solitary turn to when they have a crisis that requires guidance from someone who understands their religion and can speak from its beliefs?
In the Tradition in which I trained, we believe that there is a need for Wiccan clergy to provide those spiritual services required by our fellow Wiccans. To that end, we require that all of our Initiate candidates beyond First Degree become proficient with counseling skills, teaching, and the logistics of running a coven, We require the study of comparative religion, ethics, and personal responsibility. When we nominate someone to the Third Degree, we look for the candidate with the life experience and wisdom to guide others, the committment to the Craft, and the spiritual call to serve the Gods. We also look for the candidate who has always been willing to do the scut work without asking and without recognition simply because it has to be done. We hold our High Priests and High Priestesses to no less a standard than that imposed by any theological seminary. Furthermore, we expect our Initiates to provide those services to others outside our own group if called upon to do so.
The day one becomes a High Priest or High Priestess, your life is no longer your own. Coven members and other fellow travellers will call upon you at all hours of the day or night. A suicidal covener may arrive on your doorstep at 1 AM. Someone may become ill and require hospitalization. Someone may die. You fit these crises in around the requirements of a mundane life. You stay up late, you neglect your housework, you put personal relationships on hold...all to perform the task of being clergy.
There is a belief current in the Wiccan community that taking money for any of these activities is somehow to demean the religion. And I ask myself, why? We want our Priests and Priestesses to always be available for us, but we force them to hold down mundane jobs that take them away when we most need them. Other faiths pay their clergy a living wage just so that they can concentrate on the spiritual needs of their community. Do we hold our leaders less worthy? Are we so afraid that our Priests and Priestesses would abuse the position if we paid them for the aid they give us. And if we are, what does that say about our leaders? I know that there are many groups out there who could not afford to pay a living wage to their clergy..and that's fine. Let their Priests and Priestesses continue to work in two worlds if they will, my hat is off to them. But I do think we need to re-examine why we have this attitude that payment for work is dirty.
Will we ever see the advent of Wiccan divinity schools? Probably not in my lifetime. There are too many obstacles that lie in our way, of which the least may be trying to get people to see us as other than minions of Satan. The biggest problem may be our stubborn independence and refusal to agree on even a simple set of truths to define our religion. There's nothing wrong with this outlook on religion. I would certainly make no claim to having found the "one true way". But if you are going to run a collegiate program equal to that a Catholic priest or a Jewish rabbi must attend, we will have to come to some agreement as to what the basic tenets of our faith are and arrive at some objective standards of performance against which preparedness for ordination can be judged. We have a long way to go to reach this point. At present, the best we can do is to keep training our own clergy, or to attend those few divinity schools which will let one work within a Wiccan context.
In the meantime, let's get away from seeing clergy as a dirty word and look at it as a job description for those things that we do to minister to the spiritual needs of others. Be you covener or solitary, if this is your calling then you are to be honored, for to be chosen by the Gods is both a curse and a blessing. Don't hide your talents in your own little circle of friends. There are plenty of Pagans out there who could use your help. Be there for them when they are in need.