As a Pagan, I feel it's paramount that we define ourselves rather than leaving that to sociologists, journalists and others. I admit to a mistrust of what I call the 'overculture' - the mainstream, linear-thinking, rational, American consumer culture. We can take from the overculture that which suits our religions, but we don't have to parrot it in everything we do. So even though I'm helping to establish a public ministry program at a Pagan seminary, the goal of which is to offer ordination to Pagan 'clergy,' I don't feel comfortable with the terms ministry, seminary, and most especially, clergy.
What most Pagans do in our spiritual practices is (to make a verb of a noun) 'priest/ess.' In my tradition, the term “to priestess” describes what a priest/ess is doing when performing or conducting ritual. Priest/ess is a role one assumes in that context.
But the world changes, and Paganism, as a living religion, changes with it. Today we see more Pagans offering rituals and other religious practices to the public, although many of us traditionally have practiced in private and continue to do so. Moving from working with a close, intimate bonded group of friends to working with people we may not know at all changes what we do and how we do it. So we need to rethink how we present ritual to others -- to the public and to non-initiates of initiatory traditions. Performing these public celebrations is the work of clergy.
Pagans are assuming many other roles that in the overculture are customarily performed by clergy. We are serving as chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military. These roles require special knowledge and skills. We officiate at people's rites of passage -– naming ceremonies, coming-of-age rituals, weddings, elderings, funerals, and memorials. These are all 'clergy' roles; they may or may not be priest/ess roles as well. The rituals themselves are 'priest/essed' but they may or may not also include such things as premarital counseling or grief counseling.
We are called upon to speak, to give interviews to media, and to address college classes. We are better served if we have some skill in public speaking and if we know about media relations and journalism.
One significant area where Pagans are acting in some sense as 'clergy' is interfaith. From the largest international interfaith organizations such as the Council for the Parliament of World Religions and United Religions Initiative, to the regional, down to the local, Pagans are joining with leaders of other faith traditions in working on such issues as peace, affordable housing and homeless shelters, education, health care, meals for the hungry, facilities for the differently abled, habitat restoration, disaster relief, and other social concerns, as well as in the arts and music.
I believe it behooves us to prepare ourselves -- those of us who may be called to such public service -- to work effectively in these areas. That means ascertaining what knowledge and skills we feel it's necessary to acquire in order to do that work effectively. Then finding people within our Pagan culture who have specialized knowledge in those subjects so that we can learn from them. We can take what our society offers us and adapt it to our ideas of culture, our worldviews, our belief systems. But we do not have to take all of it. We do not have to take that which doesn't suit how we see and live in the world. We will create new forms and techniques that honor who we are. We can create our own 'clergy' and when we have done that, perhaps we'll have found just the right noun that denotes what we do and who we are.