Anyone who is familiar with modern (or “neo”) Paganism will tell you that it isn’t a monolith. Instead it is a grouping of faiths, cults, covens, and organizations that have been deemed similar enough to fall under the banner of “Pagan” (or “Heathen”), but are often quite different in individual theologies and approaches to ritual. So it has always been difficult to discuss “the community” is sweeping terms, or apply methods of (relatively) more uniform faiths (Christianity for example) to it.
That said, as we grow the demand for professional pastoral services in a number of contexts has also grown, but most institutions that provide pastoral training do so from a Christian context (albeit from a variety of political and theological points of view), and many Pagan clergy have been unable to find adequate training within their faith communities to deal with the level of pastoral work that is required in institutional settings. So I was very interested to learn that Cherry Hill Seminary (a primarily online school that helps supplement Pagan clergy, and aspiring Pagan clergy, with professional ministry skills) has announced a new Chaplaincy Program geared towards meeting the growing demand for trained Pagan chaplains.
“Cherry Hill Seminary, the first graduate-level Pagan ministry training institution in the U.S., announces the addition of a Chaplaincy Program directed by Patrick McCollum, who served as the first Wiccan chaplain in the California prison system … The program, a two-year certificate administered by the seminary’s Public Ministry department, seeks to train Pagans in effective ministry in hospitals, hospice work, prisons and the military.”
In the press release McCollum speaks directly to the need for a well-trained Pagan chaplaincy.
“There are a tremendous number of requests for Wiccan chaplains across the United States … The need has grown exponentially within correctional institutions just as the interest in Wicca and Paganism has grown within the rest of the nation. The problem is that many of the current chaplains are not trained in spiritual paths other than Judeo-Christian religions. And, while there are well-intentioned Pagan people who would like to go and minister to those in correctional facilities, most have no professional training to deal with life-and-death issues and they seldom have the right answers to address the conditions these prisoners face.”
Perhaps a robust ecumenical Pagan chaplain-training program is the answer to the questions (and controversies) concerning Pagan clergy that have been kicked around for years. In that manner each individual tradition and faith can have the independence to appoint clergy (and decide for themselves if they want to move to a paid-clergy model), and then have the option to pursue Pagan chaplaincy training if they want to work in hospitals, prisons, and other institutions where training outside the theological/ritualistic norms of their faith(s) would be called for. A formalized training to point to will certainly be helpful as more Pagan groups try to gain official access within military and hospital settings.
The program starts with the Fall semester. For registration and pricing details you can head to the Cherry Hill Seminary homepage. In addition to Patrick McCollum, overseeing the program will be Brighde Indigo, Malendia Maccree, and M. Macha NightMare (who has a post up about it at her blog).