starting a pr, a temple, coven or church
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Pr Ntr Kmt
This is an article about starting your own local religious group. I simply dont have the time necessary to personally speak with everyone who keeps asking how to do this.
Keep things simple.
solitary or group
Most modern Witches and most modern followers of the Kemetic religions (and there is a lot of overlap between the two groups) are solitary worshippers or solitary practitioners. There is nothing wrong with this. And solitary work is as simple as you can get. Get a certificate now and start practicing in your home or a natural spot of your choice.
But some people yearn for a group. Witches often gather together into covens. Followers of Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) religions often gather together into pers or temples.
If you are going to start your own coven or temple (pr), you should still start off simple. The really strict government rules dont kick in until your group has more than $5,000 income a year (the limit for the federal government and most states, check you local state laws).
When you start to get formal, you will need a constitution or articles of incorporation (and you can start with a constitution and switch to articles of incorporation later), by-laws, leadership, EIN (to open a bank account), and additional paperwork that may be required by your bank, state, or the federal government.
Again, start off simple, and build up over time rather than trying to do everything all at once.
The correct ancient Egytpian word is per or pr. This word is sometimes translated as temple.
The U.S. and state governments require the use of the word church.
The modern English word church comes from the Middle English word chirche which comes from the Old English word cirice which comes from the Medieval Greek word ku~rikon which comes from the Late Greek word ku~riakon (do~ma), which literally means the Lords House. The English word church specifically means the body of those who believe in and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Therein is a serious problem. Government laws and officials requiring that all religions, including non-Christian religions, acknowledge the completely fictional and non-existent Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is unambigious violation of the first amendment prohibition against establishment of religion and the first amendment requirement for freedom of religion.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that while the first amendment protects Christian religious thoughts, it can not be assumed to allow all religious thought and that the legislators have a reasonable social interest in imposing Christian beliefs when there is a compelling government interest.
So, you have to decide how strongly you want to fight for religious freedom. Many non-Christians simply give in and call their group a Church and their leaders Ministers so as to avoid expensive legal fights that a five person Roman Catholic majority of the U.S. Supreme Court probably will win anyway.
This leads to such bizarre things as Buddhist temples calling themselves Churches and even leads to Jews calling themselves Churches and thereby in government paperwork acknowledging Jesus as their Lord in Savior after millenia of their brethren being tortured to death rather than acknowledge Jesus.
The IRS claims that the term church is a generic term that is religion independent in the same sentence where they admit that it is religion specific! From IRS publication p1828.pdf (available for free from the IRS website), page 2: The term church is found, but not specifically defined, in the Internal revenue Code (IRC). The term is not used by all faiths; however, in an attempt to make this publication easy to read, we use it in its generic sense as a place of worship including, for example, mosques and synagogues.
I leave to each reader to decide how to deal with this issue.
automatic I.R.S. exemption for churches
From IRS publication p1828.pdf (available for free from the IRS website), inside front cover: Congress has enacted special tax laws applicable to churches, religious organizations, and ministers in recognition of their unique status in American society and of their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
From IRS publication p1828.pdf, page 3:
Automatic Exemption for Churches
Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Although there is no requirement to do so, many churches seek recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS because such recognition assures church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits. For example, contributors to a church that has been recognized as tax exempt would know that their contributions generally are tax-deductible.
From IRS publication p1828.pdf, page 3:
Unlike churches, religious organizations that wish to be tax exempt generally must apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status unless their gross receipts do not normally exceed $5,000 annually.
From IRS publication p1828.pdf, page 4: Cost for applying for exemption. The IRS is required to collect a non-refundable fee from any organization seeking a determination of tax-exempt status under IRC section 501(c)(3). Although churches are not required by law to file an application for exemption, if they choose to do so voluntarily, they are required to pay the fee for determination.
From IRS publication p1828.pdf, page 4: Note that not every organization that is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions is listed in Publication 78. For example, churches that have not applied for recognition of tax-exempt status are not included in the publication.
So, the IRS leaves it to the option of each church as to whether they want to fill out a whole bunch of paperwork and pay very expensive fees or not.
The only advantage I can see to filling out the paperwork is having the Determination Letter and being listed in Publication 78, which would probably be useful or important only if you are attempting to get multi-million dollar grants.
And despite the claim by the IRS that a church is a generic term, I personally think it is unconstitutional for them to use the term church and force non-Christians to use that term.
the I.R.S. guidelines
The I.R.S. has a 14 point list of Church Qualification Guidelines. These used to be requirements, but federal courts told the I.R.S. that they couldnt make these requirements, so now the I.R.S. calls them guidelines and enforces them anyway.
- Distinct legal existence.
- Recognized creed and form of worship.
- Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government.
- Formal code of doctrine and discipline.
- Distinct religious history.
- Membership no associated with any other church or denomination.
- Organization of ordained ministers.
- Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of studies.
- Literature of its own.
- Established places of worship.
- Regular congregations.
- Regular religious services.
- Sunday schools for religious instructions of the young.
- Schools for preparation of its ministers.
I will later return to a point by point discussion of the I.R.S. guidelines, but for now am just making you aware of your challenges.
You will also want to know about the Meyers Matrix, which I will discuss in a separate article (not yet written).
The first thing you will want is some kind of legal documentation of your status as a religious leader.
You can obtain a certificate from Pr Ntr Kmt with your religious title by calling Presiding Elder MichaelM at 949-566-0001 or by writing to:
Contact Pr Ntr Kmt Contact007@PrNtrKmt.org
or write Pr Ntr Kmt 1024 BAYSIDE DR #420,
NEWPORT BEACH, CA 92660-7462, USA or call 1-949-566-0001.
In the United States this official certificate authorizes you to perform any ceremonies that the government recognizes other religions to perform (such as marriages or handfastings). There may be many additional requirements imposed by state governments.
The title on the certificate can be: Druid, Guru, Hem Ntr (or any specific deity), Hemet Ntr (or any specific deity), Kher Heb, Magician, Minister, Monk, Nun, Priest, Priestess, Scribe, Sesh Ked, Sesh Per Ankh, Shaman, Web, or Witch. You may suggest a different title that better fits your beliefs.
Hem (male) and hemet (female) were the primary ancient Egyptian words for priest and priestess. The web priest (or priestess) was responsible for the purity of the ritual and the cleanliness of sacred rooms, tools, paraphenalia, and priesthood. The kher heb was he priest or priestess who recited the liturgy and magick spells. The sesh per ankh were the learned priesthood (including mathematicians, doctors, and scientists). The sesh ked were the artists of the priesthood.
The certificate authorizes you to perform processions, circles, holy days, Sabbats, Esbats, ceremonies, celebrations, fire jumpings, commitments, weddings, handfastings, renewals, annulments, separations, divorces, funerals, blessings, namings, welcomings, baptisms, comings of age, rites of passage, affirmations, dedications, readings, and/or other rituals.
If you have multiple leaders of your per or coven, each should get his or her own certificates.
Note that when you obtain your Pr Ntr Kmt certificate you will have to agree to follow either the Law of Maat or the Wiccan Rede. If you have another similar standard to follow, ask.
association or corporation
You will need to decide if you want your coven or per to be an association or a corporation.
A group of individuals coming together for a non-profit reason (including religion) without filing specialized government papaerwork is called an association.
Corporations are normally controlled by state laws. Every state has different rules and laws. Most states distinguish between for profit and not-for-profit (or non-profit) corporations. California has a third category, religious corporations.
Some groups specifically avoid incorporation because they dont want their religious activities subject to government control or interference. Some groups specifically want the government protection provided by a corporation.
Your group can start out as an association and convert over to a corporation if needed, but it is very difficult to go the other way (from corporation to association).
If you are uncertain, start as an association.
You will need to write up a foundational document. The most common approach is either a Constitution (for an association) or Articles of Incorporation (for a religious non-profit corporation).
The details of Articles of Incorporation are controlled by state laws, but the principles are very similar to those for an assocations constitution.
If you want to incorporate, you will want to hire a lawyer. You can research and prepare the paperwork yourself, but you should have a lawyer review it before you submit it to the government (the fee will be a lot less if you come with the paperwork prepared). or you can simply have a lawyer create all the correct paperwork for you.
I will discuss a constitution simply because most of you are going to start as an association.
It is important to keep your constitution as simple as possible, because governments dont like continual changes to constitutions. All of the specific details and things subject to change should go into your by-laws.
The first section of your constitution should give the name of your per, temple, coven, or church and the location where you operate. See the sample below:
Name is a per/temple/coven/church located in city/town in the state of state.
You can provide an exact street address.
The second section is your purpose.
The government likes to specifics. And the government will be checking to see if there are any non-religious or for-profit activities or purposes listed.
You will also want to be general enough that your group can respond to changing times and start new activities.
You may want to look at the purpose of Pr Ntr Kmt as an example.
The third section is your officers and secular leadership.
You will want to list the officers of your organization, both secular and religious. These can be combined or separate.
There are officer-less churches, but those are fairly rare and go against the grain of what the government wants to see.
Your constitution should list your required officers and a summary of their duties. You can also state how they are selected (or elected), or you can state that the board of directors is responsible for establishing those procedures. You may grant your cboard of directors authority to add additional officers.
There are four standard secular officers. These jobs may be combined with religious jobs.
The president is the person who is in charge of running things. This could be called the high priest or high priestess or presiding elder.
The secretary is the person who is in charge of keeping all the written records and filing all paperwork with the government.
The treasurer is the person who is in charge of keeping track of the money.
It is possible to combine those two jobs into a single secretary-treasurer.
The board of directors is the group that has ultimate secular authority. You may combine religious authority as well and call the group by a religious name, such as board of elders. This group writes the by-laws, often selects the three primary officers, and oversees all operations of your group.
The board of directors may or may not include the three above officers, at your option. Even if combined, the officers might be elected separately. You might consider having the board choose the three officers from its membership. There are a lot of choices of structure here.
Sometimes the president is also the chairperson of the board of directors, but sometimes these are different offices.
You may want to have one or more vice presidents. A single vice president typically has the responsibility to be ready to step in and carry out the presidents duties when the president isnt available. With multiple vice presidents, each vice president is usually in charge of some particular area of your group's activities. If there are multiple vice presidents, you may also want an executive vice president who coordinates the other vice presidents and carries out the duties of the president when the president isnt available.
You may have additional officers who are charged with important responsibilities.
A simple example follows:
A board of directors of at least three directors and not more than 15 directors will be chosen by the religious leadership. The board of directors will choose a president (who will also serve as chairperson of the board of directors), secretary, and treasurer.
The board of directors will be responsible for overseeing the secular, business, and legal activities of name of group and writing and maintaining the by-laws.
The president will supervise the day to day secular, business, and legal activities of name of group and serve as chairperson of the board of directors.
The secretary will keep all written records of name of group, including minutes of the meetings of the board of directors, and file all paperwork required by state and federal government.
The treasurer will keep all financial records of name of group, manage the budget, money, and assets of name of group, and provide the secretary and board of directors with all financial paperwork required by state and federal government.
Your religious hierarchy may include the same people who serve in the secular officers, be a completely different group of people, or some combination.
Normally the secular officers answer to the religious hierarchy, although you can do things the other way around.
A coven typically has a high priest and/or high priestess. Some covens have degrees of priesthood, often three degrees (with third degree usually being the highest). Many covens give an actual religious job and title to every member of the coven. There can be a person who is the guardian of each of the four cardinal direcitons or four magickal elements. There can be a specific person (or more than one) who are designated to recite important rituals. if you want a religious job for every member of your coven, you can keep dividing up the ritual tasks until everyone has a religious title. Many covens have a religious title for every member other than new ones.
A group built on the traditional kemetic (ancient Egyptian) model will have a high priest and/or high priestess. Hem (male) and hemet (female) were the primary ancient Egyptian words for priest and priestess. The web priest (or priestess) was responsible for the purity of the ritual and the cleanliness of sacred rooms, tools, paraphenalia, and priesthood. The kher heb was the priest or priestess who recited the liturgy and magick spells. The sesh per ankh were the learned priesthood (including mathematicians, doctors, and scientists). The sesh ked were the artists of the priesthood.
Other religious traditions based on the Kemetic have other structures. If you belong to another tradition, you can research the historical religious structure of your tradition.
The fourth section is your membership.
This section explains who can become members and what authority the members have.
In some groups the members elect the board of directors. In other groups the board of directors is selected by the religious hierarchy. In other groups the board of directors chooses their successors.
The same choices also apply to other officers: elected by the membership, selected by the religious hierarchy, or elected by the board of directors.
A simple version:
The categories of membership, qualifications for membership, and the manner of admission shall be set forth in and reulated by the By Laws.
You need some method for the creation, amendment, and modification of your by-laws.
A simple version:
The board of directors shall write the by-laws of name of group at its first meeting. The initial by-laws and all amendments, modifications, and changes to the by-laws shall be approved by a majority of the board of directors.
Note that you may also want to give your religious hierarchy power to veto, approve, or otherwise control the by-laws.
The federal government requires that the constitution or articles of incorporation specifically require that assets are only used for legitimate charitable and religious purposes and that upon breaking up all of the groups assets will only go to other qualifying charitable organizations.
You must decide if your group is under 501(c)(3) or 508. Under section 508, churches are exempt from paying federal income tax and from filing a lot of paperwork normally required of non-profit organizations. Under 501(c)(3) the donations made by members or others are tax-deductible (within certain limits), but the church has greater restrictions on how it uses it assets and is forbidden from certain kinds of political speech or writing.
Some churches forego the ability to have donations be tax deductibel in trade for greater freedom of operation and freedom of speech.
Some groups follow the 501(c)(3) restrictions because it makes it easier to get donations and grants. Also, some states do not have special tax exempt categories for 508 churches, so in some states you have to go with the 501(c)(3) restrictions to avoid having to pay taxes on all of the churchs income.
You can name specific organizations for assets to be distributed to upon dissolution, but also must indicate how assets will be distributed if that organization doesnt exist or refuses the assets.
In some states you may also have to add wording that indicates that you will follow similar state rules and laws.
A simple version for 501(c)(3):
name of group is organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, name of group shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by a religious organization exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
No substantial part of the activities of name of group shall consists of carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and name of group shall not participate or intervene in any political campaign (including the publishing or distribution of statements on behalf of any candidates to public office.
Upon dissolution of name of group, assets shall be distributed for one or more exempt purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, or shall be distributed to the federal government, or shall be distributed exclusively for such organization or organizations which are organized and operated exclusively for such purposes.
You can add other provisions as you see fit. It is best to keep your constitution simple and put detailed rules into your by-laws.
Amendements: You may want a special section discussing how your constitution amended.
Prohibitions: You may include specific prohibitions to limit the activities of your group. A common one is forbidding any assets going to the benefit of any individual person. A common wording:
No part of the net earnings of name of group shall inure to the benefit of, or be distributed to its members, trustees, officers, or other private persons, except that name of group shall be authorized and empowered to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the purposes set forth in Article Two hereof (the purpose article).
Indeminification: Some groups indemify their officers and board of directors form being sued. If there is a lawsuit over something done by the officers or board of directors, the group is agreeing to be legally responsible. This level of protection can attract higher quality officers and directors. This can be backed with the purchase of insurance to pay any settlements or court decisions.
Your state may have additional provisions that are required, espeically if you incorporate.
opening a bank account
The rules for opening a bank account will vary by bank. These typically include an EIN, a constitution, by-laws, and minutes of the meeting appointing or electing the current officers. In some states you will also need to obtain a DBA. Individual banks may have additional requirements.
You can go to your bank and ask for a copy of their requirements for opening a church or non-profit organization checking account. These guidelines will serve as a roadmap of essential paperwork you must create or obtain.
In order to open a bank account you will need a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is similar to a personal social security number, except it is used by organizations (including businesses) rather than individuals.
You will need to fill out IRS form SS-4 to get your EIN. Once the form is filled out properly, you can call the IRS and obtain the EIN over the phone for free (with a letter mailed out in a few weeks).
The link for downloading the PDF of the form is www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fss4.pdf.
The link for downloading the PDF of the instructions on filling out form SS-4 is www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1635.pdf.
The IRS also provides a quick reference gudie for churches and relgiious organizations at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf.