I joke sometimes that being Grove Organizer for White Hawthorn does not make me more special than anyone else who participates in our rites and activities. I am, I like to say, “just the guy willing to do the paperwork.”
There’s more to it, of course. The process for starting a Protogrove – a newly established congregation – is fairly simple. It mostly involves filling out a form and waiting for the Mother Grove to vote on its establishment, making it a Grove. (That's according to Ár nDraíocht Féin, or ADF, an international fellowship for the Neopagan Druid tradition.)
- Read/listen: Druid community works to form new church
But what happens after the Grove is established comes down to the Grove Organizer’s willingness to engage with the community and take on a leadership role that looks a lot like clergy. – which is why I joke about the paperwork. It’s a funnier, less abrupt way for me to start the conversation about how I’m happy to help, listen and give advice based on my experience (which is not insignificant – I’ve been exploring Pagan and Eastern paths for just over 20 years), but I’m not an ordained priest. I’m more like a hard-working, knowledgeable lay minister.
For some people, that’s just fine. For others, it’s a deal-breaker and I have to refer them elsewhere. And that’s OK.
Qualification for ordination among pagans varies enormously by path and tradition. Some strains of Wicca hold that their faith is a “religion of clergy,” and that all practitioners are equally entitled to do the work with all its rights and responsibilities. Other paths – both Wiccan and otherwise – require study and initiation before a member can teach or officiate certain ceremonies. The other Druid order I belong to, the Ancient Order of Druids in America – requires a bare minimum of three years of study that involves not only their program, but a program with an affiliated church.
In ADF, the path to priesthood takes years. The training begins with the Dedicant Path, a year-long course of study that all ADF members are encouraged to do. Dedicant study includes devotional practice, written reflection and some challenging reading. Those who complete the Dedicant Program who wish to enter the Clergy Training Program are required to submit additional coursework and a written intention essay before being considered for admission. Once admitted, the student must complete significant coursework and submit a vocational essay and portfolio before being considered for ordination. Once ordained, priests have the option of seeking higher levels of ordination, and continuing education is required for all priests.
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Most of us who undertake the Dedicant Path take longer than a year. One very active ADF member I was chatting with last week let drop that she’s been working on it off and on for 10 years.
I may have double-checked my Dedicant to-do list, taken some deep breaths and reaffirmed my intention to go to the library and pick up some resources for one of my essays so that I can finish them by my self-imposed June deadline.
Of course, I could just decide that this whole work and study thing is for the birds. In fact, I technically have an ordination somewhere from the Universal Life Church that I picked up in my twenties that allows me to marry and/or bury here in the State of Missouri. My boyfriend is, among other things, a Dudeist priest (a title which requires about as much work and study as a ULC ordination, but with a significantly more flexible sense of humor, and possibly a housecoat). If I’m doing the work, why shouldn’t I be a priest, right?
Honestly? There’s probably no objective reason I shouldn’t be. Practical objections aside – I like my clergy to have more in the way of expertise and experience than an online form can provide – some paths genuinely do allow a person to declare that a call in the moment, a quick dedication or a first initiation is sufficient for the role of priesthood. Whether or not I think that’s a good idea is beside the point because these paths are not my path.
But ADF – which White Hawthorn is part of – was founded on the principles of creating a viable, stable public Pagan church with high standards for its leadership. As a Grove Organizer, I have a responsibility to my Protogrove to do the organizational work of clergy, but I also have a responsibility to them to be up-front about my own level of expertise and credentials.
Is that sometimes awkward at gatherings with Pagans from other paths, or in interactions with other local religious leaders? You betcha. But I’m not in this for my ego. I’m not in this for status. I’m in this to honor the Kindreds (a collective term we use in ADF for the spirits of the dead, the spirits of nature and the deities), and to create a space for Pagans in Columbia to gather to share worship and fellowship. If this work leads me to becoming clergy – and I love this work of service, so I think it certainly could – then that’s wonderful.
Right now, though, my job is to be the best Grove Organizer I can be, learn as much as I can doing it, and gladly share the benefit with those friends who are joining me on the journey.