Repeat after me: "Words have power, choose them wisely."
A word is a linguistic symbol, something that illustrates the meaning of something else. We are aware that words are spelled and appear differently in a variety of languages. Words in English are not the same as, say, German. Many words typically used today have their origins in Latin, which is a common language developed so that individuals who spoke different languages had a single way of understand one another.[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_Latin] Latin was taught in most of the universities and monasteries in the middle ages for just this purpose, which is why so many of the origins of words we use today began in language. There is a slight difference between Ecclesiastical or Church Latin, and the form of the language used in commence, literature, law and science.
The same words may have many definitions; sometimes different words refer to the same things. In the Craft, we have many words that define mundane objects and institutions that differ from their common, everyday names...Such as 'cup'. In the mundane world, a cup is a drinking vessel with a handle on it, usually holding between five and ten ounces of a (usually) hot liquid, such as tea or coffee. In the Craft within the framework of a ritual, however, when we place a cup on the altar, it usually means a drinking vessel with a stem, such as a chalice or large wine glass. In ecclesiastical or 'church' terms, 'the cup' or chalice is a footed goblet used during communion.[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalice] Two of these words describe the very same item, yet we attach different meaning to them due to our personal experience and framework. A gathering of witches is usually called a coven; some Pagans also refer to their organized group as covens, but many do not, preferring to call themselves assemblies, fellowships, societies, or churches. Church is a word we associate with the Christian religion, but a Buddhist or Jewish temple is also technically a church. 'Church' is not a specifically Christian word. Groups of Pagans gathering in a recognized religious organization, on a regular basis, no matter what they choose to call that group themselves, is also a church. Charitable organizations with religious affiliation which fall into this category and have been assigned 501 charitable organization status are churches in the eyes of the IRS, no matter what religion they profess. It simplifies the bookkeeping for them, and all other government and non-profit agencies the group may encounter. Most of the population has at least a vague idea of what a church is, because of the things commonly perceived to be done by people of faith, and so the term is widely accepted. 'Religious folk' no matter who the are, meet in churches... and that's that.
A priest or priestess ( group or solitary) is an individual who has the authority to administer religious rites and is theoretically also a minister because in that role, they administer or manage those rites. [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/administer]. A minister in the commonly accepted lexicon, is a member who has been specifically trained to preform religious services, and is usually considered to be of the clergy. The Old French root word for this task is clergié , meaning " learned men". Members of the clergy are typically individuals who have attended schools or universities specifically formed to confer academic degrees in the study of theology and/or religion, and most ( but not all) are later ordained to the priestly class and are titled Rabbi, Iman, High Priest (or High Priestess) in a specific religious body...therefore, while minister does not always denote the ordained and professional members of the religious leadership (because some remain as lay ministers), clergy always defines the professional ministry- paid or not. However, neither are words which belong to a specific religion. Sometimes it feels like beating at the fine points unnecessarily, until you take into consideration the situation of such individuals as the Rev. Patrick McCollum [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_McCollum], a member of the Wiccan clergy who's been fighting this very type of discriminatory nitpicking with mainstream religions for a considerable amount of time in California and elsewhere.
The word pagan its self has a widely ranging definition depending on the individual's personal experience. Dictionary.com lists four very different meanings for the word, all specifically distinct with either positive or negative significance. The first identifies a community observing a polytheistic religion; the second a person who is not a Christian, Jew or Muslim, the third as a irreligious or hedonistic person; and the fourth as someone who is savage, uncivilized, or morally deficient. As a faith community (and that is what those of us who practice a polytheistic religion are), the first two definitions are an umbrella term commonly written as Pagan ( capital 'P', to denote the proper noun, or name). As we find the third and fourth definitions erroneous, anachronistic and offensive when used to describe our community. [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pagan] However, if the word pagan is used in the common lexicon to describe the actions of a group (lowercase spelling) it defines a negative viewpoint agreed upon by society in general. What we as a faith community (Pagan or Heathen) would find offensive and derogatory, a majority segment of the population heavily influenced by the a fore mentioned Christian, Jewish or Muslim religions finds as an acceptable term through justification of societal norms.
The meanings of words morph and change according to any given society's world view and /or experience.Those words can be used to empower us, or to make us powerless. The most recent example of this I can think of is the huge flap in our community a year or so ago when Christian Day, a well known figure in occult popular culture, decided to call himself a warlock. He did this with the full knowledge of the history and meaning of that word, and the potential outcry it would cause from many "traditional"occultists. There was an ensuing 'witch war', angry, hateful exchanges, and people shook the dust off their Old English Dictionaries in righteous indignation. When the smoke had cleared from the initial altercation, folks were still prickly and picking at each others scabs, but Day only dug in his heels further and asserted his right to identify as he desired. The opposition on both sides hasn't changed, except the fact that Christian Day is now notably known as a warlock by most of the occult community is practically a moot point because the definition of the word changed for a majority of the population and -like it or not - acceptance of the term has prevailed, at least when used in reference to this particular individual...Just ask the media [http://www.christianday.com/ ].
Words have the power we assign to them in addition to the meaning assigned by society, therefore it is prudent to examine our words carefully. Choose them wisely. The color and shading of language is crucial to being understood, not only in our own community, but the larger community as well