An Ex-Mouseketeer’s Journey Back to Christianity From Paganism

They’re an august alumni association, the Mouseketeers of “The All New Mickey Mouse Club,” which ran from 1989 to 1996 on the Disney Channel. Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake top the charts. Keri Russell was Felicity. Christina Aguilera stars with CeeLo Green on “The Voice.” Ryan Gosling starred with his own abs in “Crazy Stupid Love.”

But Teo Bishop, while keeping up a career in pop music, accomplished something less predictable and altogether curiouser. Beginning about three years ago, he began a rise to prominence in the Pagan community. Then, last month, he shocked the Pagan community by re-embracing Christianity.

“I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of Jesus,” Mr. Bishop wrote on Oct. 13, on his blog, Bishop in the Grove. “Jesus and God and Christianity and the Lord’s Prayer and compassion and forgiveness and hope. … I don’t know what to do with all of this.”

For American Pagans, Mr. Bishop’s defecting to a big, bad mainstream religion is bigger news than winning a Grammy, bigger than shooting a Vanity Fair cover. If you’re a Druid, a Wiccan or any of the nature-religion followers grouped under the label Pagan, you’re not talking about Britney, JT or Xtina. You’re talking Teo Bishop.

But for you Disney fans, we’ll take a step back. The Mouseketeer you knew from 1991 to 1995 went by his given name, Matt Morris. He was a clean-cut Episcopalian from Denver. After the show ended, he worked as a songwriter, his compositions recorded by big names like Ms. Aguilera, Mr. Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson.

In 2010, Mr. Bishop — we’ll get to the name change in a moment — released his own album on Mr. Timberlake’s record label. As Matt Morris, he performed on “Late Show With David Letterman” and on Ellen DeGeneres’s show, where Mr. Timberlake joined him for a duet.

But away from network TV, he was developing a second identity. For several years, ever since his husband had suggested that he explore Druidry, Mr. Bishop had begun quietly to learn about that neo-Celtic tradition. He joined the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, a British order. In 2009, using the pen name Teo Bishop, he began blogging about his new spirituality, and in late 2010, he kicked off what became his main site, Bishop in the Grove.

The first post for Bishop in the Grove was about becoming a dedicant to the Druidic order Ár nDraíocht Féin.

“Tonight, in a little over an hour, I will walk outside, stand beneath a red moon, and declare to the unseen forces that guide my life that I honor them,” Mr. Bishop wrote. He stated his commitment to learning “the Old Ways of worship” and living “in service to the world.”

Bishop in the Grove became popular with Pagans of different traditions, its comments section a virtual meeting place. At its peak, Mr. Bishop said this week, the site got as many as 10,000 unique visitors a month. At Pagan gatherings and conventions, he was a treated like a celebrity — and more so because in July 2012 Teo Bishop came out as Mr. Morris, merging his two public identities. He also changed his name legally.

By 2013, Mr. Bishop made the cover of Witches & Pagans magazine. That issue was still on the newsstands on Oct. 13, when Mr. Bishop wrote online about the new Christian complications in his spiritual life.

In that post, Mr. Bishop told of an encounter with a woman, probably homeless, sitting next to her shopping cart. He gave her some food. “God bless you,” she said to him. That exchange stayed with him, and he soon felt himself called back to God — to a Christian conception of God.

About three weeks ago, he attended an Episcopal church in his hometown, Portland, Ore. He decided beforehand that he would hold nothing back, that he would pray the liturgy despite lingering misgivings about Christianity. “  'I am just going to give myself over to it, not intellectualize it,'  ” he told himself. “It was an amazing experience.”

In his recent blogging, Mr. Bishop has been respectful of Paganism, noting how much he learned from the tradition. His fellow Pagans have responded sympathetically, if with a little confusion.

“It’s been received with a mixture of voices,” said T. Thorn Coyle, a well-known Pagan who lives in the San Francisco area. “Some people have been very startled and shocked by it. I think other people are very appreciative that he is continuing sharing his highly emotional spiritual process with us.”

Jason Pitzl-Waters, who runs the website The Wild Hunt, said in an interview that while Pagans have been supportive of Mr. Bishop, they can be wary even of friendly Christians.

“Generally speaking, Pagans are a pretty tolerant bunch,” Mr. Pitzl-Waters said. “But a lot of Pagans have had some pretty negative experiences with Christianity growing up.”

On Nov. 2, Mr. Pitzl-Waters published an essay by Mr. Bishop about his Christian journey. But this week the two friends agreed that Mr. Bishop would stop writing for The Wild Hunt, where he had been a regular contributor. Mr. Bishop has also abandoned his regular column in Witches & Pagans magazine.

“Someone once said to me, ‘I can hear Christian voices anywhere,'  ” Mr. Pitzl-Waters explained. “  'I turn to your site to hear Pagan voices.'  ”

Amy Hale, a scholar of Paganism, said that many Pagans had no problem with a Pagan who incorporates elements of Hinduism, say, or Buddhism. But “Christianity is a little more tricky,” Dr. Hale said. “There are historical reasons for that.” Christianity is seen as being exclusionary, refusing to accept other sources of divine truth, and of seeking to convert others.

But if Pagans are to be truly accepting, she added, they cannot reject those who find truth in Christianity, too. “We’re at the point now where Pagans are having to decide what our relationship with Christianity is going to be.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Bishop is not ready to accept any simple labels, Christian or otherwise.

“There were Pagans who felt like maybe I was turning into one of the Christians who alienated them, like I joined the other team,” Mr. Bishop said. “There were also Christians who said things like, ‘Oh, finally you’re back — we won one for the team.’

“Neither of those rings true to me.”