Paganism Is Growing -- Older

Paganism has grown steadily since taking off as an alternative religion in the 1960s and '70s, increasing from 8,000 U.S. practitioners a decade ago to 134,000, according to a recent survey. But what started largely as a youth movement now has an aging population, with as many as 40,000 pagans having reached age 50.

"There's a lot about growing old that's not easy in any tradition," said Starhawk, 53, whose overview of paganism, "The Spiral Path," this month marks 25 years in print. "Maybe besides organizing rituals and organizing political actions, we need to start thinking about organizing retirement homes," she told Religion News Service.

Starhawk also saw a need to assist pagans with end-of-life concerns. She and Macha Nightmare have edited "The Pagan Book of Living and Dying," a collection of essays on such issues as organ donation and withdrawing life support.

Taking Inventory of Spiritual Gifts

Traditional "gifts of the spirit" -- healing, performing miracles, prophesying and speaking in tongues -- are practiced in many churches but are dismissed by people who believe that God uses different strategies in the 21st century.

Among those strategies, they say, is helping congregants identify their God-given strengths and sign up for tasks suited to those abilities. Dozens of those "spiritual gift inventories" -- usually in the form of a multiple-choice questionnaire -- have been developed by faith groups, including Lutherans, Methodists, Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and distributed among congregations.

"It's basically a way of finding out: What piece of God's heart do you think he's placed in your heart?" the Rev. Brett Snowden, adjunct professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, told the Dallas Morning News. "What couldn't you leave this life without doing?"

The strategy has been used effectively to reinvigorate longtime church volunteers and bring back members who no longer attend regularly, according to pastors who have used the questionnaires.

The Next Step: Female Bishops?

A decade after ordaining its first female priests, the Church of England is trying to decide whether to allow women to become bishops and has said it will consider a "men-only branch" as a compromise for dioceses opposed to female priests and bishops.

The Church of England approved female priests in 1992 after a heated and divisive debate. Now one-sixth of England's 11,000 parish priests are women, and advocates of female bishops say it is time to allow women to break through the "stained-glass ceiling" in the church hierarchy, Reuters reported.

Church leaders spent three years sounding out clergy and laity on the idea of female bishops before presenting their report this month to the General Synod of the Church of England. The synod is to review the report in February, and it could be at least four years before a decision is made on female bishops, much less a parallel church with an all-male priesthood.

Ministers' Limited Perspectives

Most Protestant ministers express little familiarity with the key beliefs of a number of non-Protestant religious groups, according to a survey by Ellison Research, a marketing research company in Phoenix.

The faith perspectives that Protestant clergy indicated as "extremely familiar" to them were Roman Catholicism, known to 41 percent of respondents; Judaism, 33 percent; Mormonism, 21 percent; Jehovah's Witnesses, 21 percent; and Islam, 13 percent.

Ten percent or fewer said they were extremely familiar with the core tenets of these non-Protestant groups, listed in descending order of understanding: New Age, Satanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology, Wicca, Baha'i and Sikhism.


This month's spotlight: Eid al-Fitr, Muslim breaking of the fast.

Date: Nov. 13 or 14 (depending on the sighting of the new moon).

Description: Eid al-Fitr is one of two major celebrations, or eids, in Islam. The three-day event follows Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset as a means of becoming closer to God and experiencing the deprivations of people who live in poverty. Eid al-Fitr is a joyous occasion of communal gatherings, shared food, new clothes and gifts for children. Thousands of Muslims are expected to attend an area-wide celebration at the Washington Convention Center.

More information: and

Religion 101

Why do the Greek letters chi and rho represent Jesus?

Legend has it that Constantine, Roman emperor from 306 to 337, converted to Christianity after Jesus visited him in a dream and declared that he would be victorious in battle if he used a sign of the cross on shields and banners. That symbol, the Monogram of Christ or Constantine's Cross, consists of the superimposed first letters of the Greek word Christos (XPICTOC) -- chi (X) and rho (P). Although the symbol appeared earlier on pagan inscriptions representing the sun god, Constantine's adoption of the logo for his troops cemented its use as a Christian symbol.

Have a question on religious traditions or practices? Send an e-mail to

-- Compiled by Bill Broadway

Saturday in Religion: Does a "God gene" prompt us to search for the divine?