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What I Am Not: Clergy-called

June 17, 2010

[If you need context, please see <a href=”https://disirdottir.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/intro-to-what-i-am-not/”>the intro post</a> to this series.]

I really do not feel that I am called to be clergy.

This is only an easy assertion for me to make as a Heathen because I spent some years wrestling with the question in the two other cultures I’ve followed as a Pagan.

I don’t think that either of my attempts were primarily for the sake of a power trip. (For the sake of honestly, I can’t swear that wasn’t a part of it; everyone likes to feel important.) For some years I totally avoided that path, because whatever rewards there might have been did not seem worth the burden of responsibility.

As it happens, I found some far more plausible – yet ultimately invalid – reasons to consider it.

If a person looks around their community and feels there’s a shortfall of people able to meet the demand for priestly support services, and if that same person has some of the requisite talents and experience and believes they might be competent at it, how in good conscience could they refuse to try? Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

In some situations it’s “the next logical step” – there are intro classes and clergy training classes, but little may be offered in between these extremes for studious laypeople. If you want to learn more and contribute to the organization beyond the most basic level, how much responsibility are you willing to take on as exchange for that advanced learning opportunity?

Those were pretty much the reasons for Path 1 & Path 2, respectively. Reasons I stopped were burnout in the first case, and divine refusal in the second.

I essentially acted as a lay leader in Path 1. When I was invited to become part of the Priest Candidacy program in Path 2, my (now) husband expressed concern, saying that he did not feel I was suited to being a priest. When I asked what he meant, as I recall his greatest concern was that I would not be good at pastoral counseling, in part because it demands a lot of patience, and as he said, “you don’t suffer fools gladly”. Blunt but true. While noting it as a useful data point, I still moved forward.

Shortly after my written vows were sent in, there was a organizational change in Path 2, and the ethics and agenda of the succeeding leadership eventually became somewhat questionable at times. Just before things went past a point where I would find them acceptable, we had a retreat where we were to make our formal in-person vows as priest candidates. Part of this ritual was a priest “horsing” a psychopomp diety (in other words, acting in partial to full possessionary trance) and taking each candidate aside privately to speak with them.

I’ve never been sure quite what the percentage of possession was, but I believe there was Someone Other present. I was asked a question I had refused to answer earlier in the weekend – it wasn’t on a particularly important or meaningful subject, but I had oathed never to speak of it outside of a certain group. I looked into the darkness of the eyeholes of the mask, and knew this was a test. Loyalty to my word, or obedience to the temple.

Not only do I count the integrity of my word as very important, I was pursuing priesthood partly in the service of a deity of truth and justice. There was no question of my choice. I refused, and was rejected as an applicant to the priest candidacy by the priest/psychopomp as soon as we returned to the group (she appeared shocked to hear that when she came back to herself).

All in all, in the longer view that was a good thing, though a shock at the time. I’ve never regretted my choice.

Since then, I’ve done a bit of low-key community organizing, but let it go when it became apparent that the others’ hearts weren’t in it. There had been times in the past where I was determined to succeed, even if by sheer willpower alone, but those days are long past.

I’m a good singer, diviner and ritualist, and a decent liturgist. Those are the parts I really enjoy. I can do logistical and  organizational work,  write news and promotional text, and create  graphics, flyers and web sites. I’m skilled at these things, but find them draining. I’ve gotten some true satisfaction from the counseling I’ve done, but it’s been relatively easy, and I don’t know that I want to be in that role in a tough situation; I’d likely take on more stress from the process than would be healthy. I believe that counseling is one of those activities where it really needs to be compelling calling in order to make the personal costs worthwhile.

Essentially, I’m most strongly drawn spiritually to pilgrimage, mystical practice, and group ritual performance, with research and experiential/philosophical writing running close behind the big three. In a world with more skilled, people-oriented leaders, I’d never have tried to take on clergy role at all. I found the more I did, the more drained I was, and the less of the things I like best I felt I could afford to do – which becomes a vicious cycle.

I pretty much always suspected going for clergy wasn’t for me, was talked into trying it anyway, and had my suspicions confirmed.

It’s okay to not want to be clergy. It’s not something that everyone can or should do. Not doing it doesn’t reflect negatively on your devotion, talents or motivation.

I’ve seen clergy members say that, but rarely laypeople. It’s not a pat on the head from an indulgent older sibling, it’s the truth. The value of ‘being what you are’ trumps ‘being what you feel you need to be for others’, every time.

Traditional self-help manuals have talked a lot about the need to improve your weaknesses and become as well-rounded a person as possible, for the sake of the community and yourself. More recently, research has shown that leveraging your strengths and doing what you need for yourself first and foremost tends to work out better for both self and the community in the long run.

So, I am not clergy-called; and what I am is grateful for it!

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