The First Congregational Church of Wicca
Witchcraft is a religion of field and grove, river and stream. In coven or individually, we perform rituals to renew our connections with the Goddess and God. However, what suits one may not answer the needs of another. This need is being satisfied by a new form of involvement for those who feel that solitary ritual is not always satisfying, but that a coven is not the answer. This form is congregational Wicca and it is gaining interest. Congregational Wicca serves the Pagan Community, and our society, in ways impossible for individuals or covens.
I was a solitary for several years after finding the Old Ways. It was that wonderful time of research and learning. I held private rituals in ways and in places that meant something to me alone. My solitary path was very rewarding, but I found I wanted to work with others in circle. My first group ritual with a local coven was a revelation. I found ritual with a coven is wholly different in feel and depth. I found group work deeply satisfying, yet did not have the time nor inclination to join a coven. The time devoted to coven work is beyond many peoples' abilities, especially those with strange work schedules like mine. Furthermore, joining a coven incurs responsibility to that group, responsibility to contribute time, effort, teaching and attending rituals. All based around many other folks' schedules and ideals. Some of us want more freedom than. coven membership gives. So what is a solitary Witch to do if they want more interaction than an occasional full moon or drum frenzy, but can't make the commitment to a coven?
Congregational Wicca supplies this need quite neatly.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a congregation as: "A group of people gathered for religious worship." This definition is very limited compared with what a congregation can be. A congregation can be a village, the extended family many of us lack in our insular lives. A strong; congregation can allow the public noncommittal access to the religion and philosophy of Witchcraft, and values inherent to rational living and thinking. Drum frenzies and open full moon celebrations are very popular and common forms of congregationalism, although pagan festivals are perhaps the best example. Pagan festivals make available teaching, personal interaction, spiritual counseling and ritual, to oldtimer or neophyte. Individuals are free to attend rituals and classes, or to skip them all. This choice is the essence of congregationalism.
There are many benefits a congregational format would bring. One important benefit of a public Church of Wicca would be to give seekers a safe place to learn more about the Craft. We constantly hear from many people who are seeking, teaching and community. At present, the best we can do is to direct them to Wicca 101 classes, open full moons or occasionally someone we personally trust who is accepting students.
Judith Brownlee of Fortress Temple has been hosting a form of congregational Wicca for the past eight years. "We were getting people from introductory classes, what we call Wicca 101 now, who were interested, who considered them selves Pagan, who wanted to do the occasional observances. But they were, not interested in initiation, they were not interested in the time and emotional commitments of being priest and priestesses. So I have told them that they were welcome to be in the congregation. They would get invitations to the eight sabbats. One of the things my congregation really seems to serve is solitaries who want to have available a group observance if that is what they are up for, but one they don't have time to make any kind of commitment to." Fortress Temple's congregational format allows spouses of those interested in Witchcraft to experience rituals without implying continued interest or involvement. "Mostly it has to do with partners who think that the person who is coming is involved in something terrible. If they can come and look around, they can see that nothing weird is going on. Once they have come, they may come again occasionally, with permission, or they ask for training in a 101 class." said Brownlee.
Another local leader involved with congregationalism is Morgan Ley of Morning Star Coven. Morgan founded the Denver Open Full Moons in 1989. "We started the open full moons for several reasons. It was a place for solitaries to get together. Another reason was so the public could see what Witchcraft was all about. The police could walk in and see what we do," said Ley. Although Ley thinks the full moons fulfill a needed function, she doubts a congregation can keep the spirit of traditional Wicca alive. "I don't Tact, love and common sense think that you can serve people must rule in making decisions Wicca. People need to be about a particular person's responsible for their own spirituality and not have it fed to them by clergy.
So how can we tread the middle ground? We want to keep the involvement inherent in a solitary path while limiting the demands of personal contribution.
Congregational Wicca provides this middle path by demanding only as much as each person wishes to give in time and resources.
The first issue is whether to employ paid clergy for a congregation. Paying clergy to officiate, to serve us the Gods, will create a bureaucracy which will eventually exist to prolong its own existence, not to serve the community. Clergy serving Pagans must experience life fully. Only by working and living in the real world, by experiencing the same joys and frustrations of the congregation can Pagan clergy truly serve the community. This means we will not have the full time clergy performing tasks clergy of other religions routinely fulfill. I think this is a blessing. Within the congregational community individuals can take on those functions. Within a group run by consensus there are still persons who take on the everyday tasks, such as mailings and newsletters, arranging rituals and lectures. The beauty of such an arrangement is that every member has an opportunity to give input and can tailor their contributions to the extent interest and time allows. Another issue concerns the meeting place. Currently most gatherings in the Wiccan community take place in individual homes. This provides an inexpensive and intimate gathering place, but for many reasons, it is not a good place to welcome strangers. There are many other meeting places available for a small fee. Or you could consider purchasing a building. A building would provide a focal point for the Wiccan community, allowing a congregation to develop cohesiveness. However, buildings are very expensive and need maintenance. Although Pagans have bought buildings around the country, it takes a large and well-established group to do so.
So, assuming, we have developed strategies to deal with the issues above, what do we do now? How do we structure a congregation of Wicca? The essential element to a successful congregation is a dedicated core of people who will take responsibility to find speakers, ritual leaders and places to meet. This group should be open to anyone interested in devoting time, but have sufficient structure to allow consensus. Infighting at this level is particularly dangerous, and has destroyed many a Christian church and Wiccan coven. Leaders in Paganism serve a community, not themselves. The best leaders will be those who take on a task because it needs to be done, not for personal validation or power it brings. A person brought kicking and screaming into leadership is probably a good choice.
The next step is informing the pagan community a congregation is forming. Hundreds of people are looking for a spiritual home, but it will take time for them to feel comfortable and they will need reassurance that this place will offer what they need. Advertising through local Pagan magazines, at Pagan bookstores and in Wicca 101 classes will hopefully draw in those persons who are most interested and have something to contribute.
The hardest part of an open congregation is keeping harmony in the group. Some people will use the congregation to make sales, to hunt for sexual partners and as a platform for personal issues. Tact, love and common sense must rule in making decisions about a particular person's place in the congregation. If we sacrifice the needs of the congregation to keep disruptive people involved, the congregation will wither. Rules of conduct can be developed by the congregation and each person will be responsible for following them. If a person rebels and says no one can set limits on their behavior, they are right. But we need not tolerate that behavior in our circle. They can go be themselves somewhere else. If a person cannot or will not act in love and harmony with the congregation they will be asked to stop coming.
So what would a Wiccan church do? We function on many levels, the spiritual, the intellectual and the physical. Each of these incorporates aspects of the others. I see a congregation as a place of teaching, ritual and simple enjoyment of each other's company. Not all of these aspects will be fulfilled at every meeting. Nor is that a realistic goal. We may celebrate a Sabbat and have a potluck feast at one meeting and have a teacher and song sharing at the next. The ideal is to nourish all the facets of our personalities without elevating ritual over learning or fellowship over ritual.
In an increasingly impersonal society each of us needs a place of sanity, a place where we are loved, cherished and appreciated as individuals with unique things to offer. For many of us we find that place in a coven. But the need is growing for a larger, more dynamic structure which could meet many needs without the strictures of coven membership. Congregational Wicca can fill those needs.
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