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October 13th, 2009


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11:06 am - On the role of an ADF Priest
I have been spending a lot of time, recently, on examining the role of the Priest in ADF (and, slightly more broadly, in Neo-Paganism in general). In a lot of ways, I find it very straightforward and simple, while in other ways it is very complicated. There is a lot of good information in a variety of sources that expand on the basic question of "What is a Priest and what does he or she do?" Really, reading a few articles answers a lot of questions.

Ian's words ring very true: we are not shepherds, we have no flocks.

The "ritual specialist" language is too simplistic, though, and speaks to a very limited role. I'm not overly pleased with it, so I expect to mostly abandon it soon, or at least modify it with additional terms.

Over and over, though, I come back around to three things: partnership with laity, commitment and training.

The commitment is really the central piece; training is an addendum, really, that leads to obligation and commitment, a sort of *ghosti relationship where when you do the work to get trained, you find yourself committed to training others in the ways of Our Druidry, and to use the skills provided by that training to ensure that the proper rites and sacrifices are made in the proper way at the proper time. In many ways, an ADF Priest is first and foremost a person committed to serving the folk through their training and making sacrifice to the Kindreds.

In any case, there is a two-way commitment: one to the Kindreds, and one to the Folk. I am generally not of a mind that a Solitary member cannot become a Priest, but I think about the oath I took and I wonder how I could fulfill it from a Solitary point of view. I also, though, accept that every individual will find a different vocation, and that they will be called to serve the Folk in different ways. Because of that, my own notion of how someone else might fulfill their oath is fundamentally flawed: not knowing their vocation, I cannot question their fulfillment of it effectively.

It occurs to me that there is also an ineffible quality to priesthood, within ADF and (I suspect) outside of it: those who have been through the processes of consecration and ordination (and now, initiation) will view their role differently than those who have not passed those boundaries and have not made those commitments, and differently than those who have not done the training. I suspect that there is an element of intent to the training, as well, since a trained Liturgist might find similar courses but a very different experience in them, as I know I have.

I think that, because of this, I can only see the role of the Priest in ADF as a partnership of sorts: just as you cannot define a "partner" in ballroom dancing without discussing dancing, one cannot define Priests without discussing the relationship and interaction between Priest and laity. If we consider separating the Priest from the laity at all (either by defining one group as "useful" or one group as "useless"), each category must understand and express the value of the other in order to find value within itself.

A book that I love describes it like this: "We can ask, What is a wombat or an edible dormouse?, but not, What is a priest? The priest is no independent species – the 'laity' are part of the picture of what the priest is, and the priest is part of the picture of what the laity are." The notion that priests can be defined in isolation from the congregation is a ridiculous one, and I suspect that the true issues that surround "defining a Priest in ADF" likely revolve around insecurity about what an individual's role is in relation to the ADF Priest, not insecurity about the role of the external priest.

My initiation into the ADF Initiatory Current was a very reflective thing: I am deeply engaged in retrospective thinking and considering new things that are coming up. My actual essay on this topic (meant for Oak Leaves) is already stretching several pages, because the question of the role of ADF Priests is so very complicated, so I won't dwell on it here much more.
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From:prophet_maid
Date:October 13th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
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I find this interesting, especially the priest vs. solitary stuff. The thing is, as someone who lives ~150 miles from the nearest priest (Barbara Wright, whom I've talked to all of twice, maybe), I couldn't say what, if anything, the ADF clergy does. So in my mind a priest is pretty much a solitary, doing their own thing off in the (proverbial) woods somewhere, and occasionally presiding over a rite with their own grove.
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From:chronarchy
Date:October 13th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
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I think that there is value to that sort of priest, with this caveat: Priests cannot work in complete isolation, though they may do their rites in isolation; an ADF Priest has made a commitment to serve the folk and honour the gods (and love the land), and a solitary priest is likely to do this through keeping the fires burning on their hearth shrine. . . but they do not do the rituals on their behalf alone, but on behalf of the Folk at large. In other words, they ensure that the sacrifices are made, that the cosmos is maintained, and that right action is done, regardless of what others do (or, as the case may be, do not do).

That can be a lonely and solitary path on its own, as my own path has recently become at times, when you are told over and over again that you are not a useful person, that your work as clergy has no value. But still we do what we committed to do, and we keep the rites.

I've thought of it recently as a position with no sick leave: regardless of how the priest is feeling, he or she is required to do the work. The laity can call off a ritual, secure in the knowledge that the Kindred will be served if they don't do their work, but a priest has no such luxury.

druidkirk showed a good example of this when he had his eye surgery, and did his Lughnassadh ritual lying down because he was not permitted to stand. He did the ritual out of his sense of obligation to the Folk and the Kindreds, and from his love of the land.

So I can see the "total Sol" model (though my own vocation won't permit that model: I need to serve the folk directly rather than indirectly): it's perfectly valid as a path, I think, even if I don't really believe that it is a path for me, or even a path that I will ever fully understand. But I see it as a valid path only so long as it continues to serve the Folk and the Kindreds.
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From:prophet_maid
Date:October 13th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Well, no person is entirely solitary, not even the hermit. Even as someone who's not a trained priest I've been put into the priest-role numerous times. And if you define a solitary as ADF does (not a member of a grove), I was a solitary during much of that.

What I'd like to see is how a priest is different from the concerned and involved laity. Is it just the training, or is it something more?

Cuz from my perspective, it's the training plus you get neat people to talk to and the support of a likeminded community. But again, I've never actually seen a priest in action, rituals at festivals excepting.
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From:chronarchy
Date:October 13th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
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Training is a large component, I think, and intent of that training; also, the commitment to train others or help others along comes into play.

I also think that this notion of relationship between priest and laity is vital to what we do, both further muddling and further clarifying the notion: every priest is a layperson and every layperson is a priest. By that same token, we have Priests in our church, too. The question then becomes, aside from the mystery of consecration/ordination, what is it that an ADF Priest has that regular members do not?

As I've spoken about it with others, it does come down to a few particular items: training done that is then used in the service of others; commitment to keeping Our Druidry alive and well at our hearth shrines for the Folk; and aiding others (through training and dedication) in building and maintaining relationships with the Powers.

We have, at the moment, too few Priests and too few resources to really get to all our members, though that is changing: resources have been donated to get our Priests out to the membership in a more personal way, and I'd expect to see an announcement soon about that.
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From:dubhlainn
Date:October 13th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
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when you are told over and over again that you are not a useful person, that your work as clergy has no value

This is the second time in as many days that I have read your writing this.

Honestly, I am sorry, I think it is completely untrue. I am sorry you feel this way but no one who has questions about Clergy in ADF has said that you are not useful or the work you do has no value.

Am I wrong? Please direct me to the archive so I see it for myself because I never saw anything on the list like this. Even if it was flat our said it would be the opinion of one person which the rest of us do not agree with.

As frustrated as you feel that the questions come up is exactly how I feel when everytime we have these discussions and this claim is made. How is wanting to know what it is Clergy does and how we should define Clergy in ADF expressing a viewpoint that you are useless and have not value?

This discussion is not, and never was, personal
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From:chronarchy
Date:October 13th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
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Honestly, I am sorry, I think it is completely untrue

It is not, actually, untrue at all. It is precisely how I feel. I do the work I do because I have made commitments to do it, and because I find value in the work I do for others, regardless of whether the majority of others share value in my work.

How is wanting to know what it is Clergy does and how we should define Clergy in ADF expressing a viewpoint that you are useless and have not value?

That is not at all the question that causes issue, though it is admittedly a basis for the outgrowth of other questions, particularly about the integrity of our clergy, that have come up. People describe themselves as "suspicious" of our clergy, that they believe the CC has "too much power." This insinuates that we lack integrity as a body, that we are not people who can be trusted or people who should be invested with trust. It has led to hyperbole, insinuating that the CC has no oversight, which is not the case at all (we are, in fact, overseen and occasionally overruled by a body that is 100% elected by popular vote).

It's also clear that people don't find use in our clergy: either we aren't there for them at the time they need us (whether they asked us to be or not) or we don't produce anything that they personally find useful (whether we produce other items or not).

There are many vocal people in the Org who tell us that clergy are not useful, that we do nothing. The recent discussions about how untrustworthy we are have been a major blow that I fear will lead some to burnout. We continue our work because we are obligated to do it, because there is a value that we find in our commitments, and because we have faith that a few members will gain from our work. We work for the Folk, even if the Folk don't want us to in many cases.

The webteam has been in the same predicament, though at least no one has called their integrity into question publicly. They've just said that the webteam isn't actually doing anything.

The intrinsic value in work, not the value others place on the work and not value in self, is the only thing that keeps some of us hanging on from time to time. For many of us, value of self is nearly completely drained.

For me, the value I have for the work I do, and the tiny minority who tells me that the work excites them (perhaps three to four people in a given quarter on average, some of whom are fellow clergy: we have learned to help each other along) is what keeps me going, what keeps my hearth shrine lit with the soft flame of devotion.

But some days, I look at it and it's hard to light it again, to bring that flame to brightness and kindle it in my heart at the same time. The initiation brought much needed spark, and for a long time it was fading (just look at how often I was posting until recently), but there's a long way to go before I can safely say that the fire is brightly burning again. It's been doused so often by others that I am often surprised that it remained lit at all.
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From:dubhlainn
Date:October 13th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
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People describe themselves as "suspicious" of our clergy, that they believe the CC has "too much power." This insinuates that we lack integrity as a body, that we are not people who can be trusted or people who should be invested with trust.

I am one of those people and I never implied or insinuated any such thing. Let me present this in another way, why hasn't ANYONE on the Clergy Council wrote or called to work with me or speak to me about this? I fear it is just easier to assume what my motives are than to actually talk about this.

You all had a prime opportunity at the retreat. I could have come up for a couple hours on one of the mornings or for dinner or whatever where it would not have affected the private nature of the retreat, and I would have been glad to do so.

What does that insinuate about how Clergy feels about non-Clergy? What does it insinuate about the work I do, my experience, and my role in our organization that no one even bothers? I do not have as high a level of training and am, therefore, not even worth talking with? Laity is such a pain that we should not even take the time to talk with them but just figure it out on our own? And then be shocked when our conclusion is not what they expect or want?

For the record, I do not believe any of that is true. I think you all had a busy and full weekend and my being there would not have really added enough to the discussion to open up your retreat. I was just making a point that insinuation can be a dangerous slope.

For me, personally, the last talks about the role of Clergy were very helpful. A lot of people shared their perspectives and if gave me a great deal to think about and a lot different perspective.

I have to ask, do you see the danger in us not even being able to share our fears and concerns? If I cannot even say that I perceive a power imbalance in ADF without the Clergy feeling that somehow I am saying you are untrustworthy or have no value how can we ever work through these issues?
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From:chronarchy
Date:October 13th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
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I can only tell you how I feel about it. I cannot tell you whether it is true. I also do not believe it is true.

But it is exactly how I feel about it.

I spend a great deal of my time seeking to separate the comment from the person. I often start my day on the lists by saying, out loud, "No one means this about me." But I often end my day saying to myself, "Man, I'm one slimy bastard."

You asked for a specific example from a list, so I provided one from the list. I could have chosen other ones, I suppose, but this one stuck out when I did a search for the term "clergy." The CC is a body, and we are individuals on it. If the body is corrupt, then the individuals are, too. If the body is abusing its power (or is capable of doing so), then so am I.

So, I have to go back and wonder: "Am I the kind of person that would do that?" And that sort of exercise is healthy.

Until you find yourself doing it every day.
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From:dubhlainn
Date:October 13th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
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So, I have to go back and wonder: "Am I the kind of person that would do that?"

From what I know about you, which is -- granted -- mostly from only talking with you and reading your thoughts and ideas online. I would way "absolutely not!"

Which does not mean that I do not believe there are other members of our Clergy who would not or who I do not believe are capable of abusing its power.

And that sort of exercise is healthy.

Until you find yourself doing it every day.


This may a little like Dr. Phil but you do have a choice to not do this every day. You can say to yourself, "today I need to concentrate on (insert whatever)". That kind of exercise is healthy too. I know a lot about it because those are the kind of exercises I have to do pretty often.
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From:chronarchy
Date:October 13th, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC)
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"absolutely not!" ... Which does not mean that I do not believe there are other members of our Clergy who would not...

Right. Part of my issue with this, though, is that this second part comes back on me, too: I'm (currently, term up at Samhain) an officer in the CC, which means that I am ultimately responsible for both the perception and the power of the CC. There is this distinct feeling of, "Well, I feel like this whole thing is my fault," going on, one that is irrational and virtually impossible to sanitize, but very real.

This notion of "too much CC power" is what led the CC to hand the entire Order thing back to the MG, and why the CC never voted on any proposal and refused to do so at the CC Retreat. We've provided advice here or there, but we've not pushed for anything or tried to implement anything with Orders, except when asked. Individual clergy have responded (particularly myself and Carrion) because word has leaked out that we're done-or-mostly-done with creating an Order and the MG asked us specifically for ideas. Orders, though, will be what the representative body wants them to be, with input from the CC and input from the lists.

Btw, conversations like this and the one below are common with me, though this part is almost always internal: here, I deal pretty strictly with my feelings on the matter, and below I separate them out and set them aside. I do hope that you understand that I can and do manage this, even if I do find it very hard. While I may be defensive up here, I am trying to keep the below conversation from being defensive and painful. It's what I generally do online with these sorts of discussions.
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From:prophet_maid
Date:October 14th, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
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either we aren't there for them at the time they need us (whether they asked us to be or not) or we don't produce anything that they personally find useful (whether we produce other items or not).

I think this could be the nature of the Pagan community at this time. Bottom line, we're not used to the idea of priests without the concept of spiritual authority attached to it, and at best don't know how to approach it. To be honest there have been a good half a dozen times in the past year it would have been helpful to have a priest to talk to, but that feels, at best, awkward considering the newness of the clergy.
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From:tanwyn
Date:October 14th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC)
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That can be a lonely and solitary path on its own, as my own path has recently become at times, when you are told over and over again that you are not a useful person, that your work as clergy has no value. But still we do what we committed to do, and we keep the rites.

Fwiw, I see a great deal of value both in you and in your work. The... fires of piety, I guess is the best description... I've seen burning in you have helped to kindle (or re-kindle?) those same fires in me. You've been there as both priest and friend when I've needed it. You are quite possibly the first neo-pagan clergy person I've interacted with that I can honestly say has inspired and helped me towards positive growth.

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