The role of goðar in Ásatrú is an interesting one. We translate goði into English as “priest” but I don’t think that really explains the word accurately. In order to discuss what the role of a goði is we need to make sure we first understand how it is different from ordained clergy. To the best of my knowledge, only the Troth and the AFA currently have clergy training programs in the USA. It is also my understanding that these programs certify graduates as ordained clergy with all the legal rights and responsibilites recognized by American law. I do not know what other countries have or what rights those nations grant ordained clergy. The important detail here is legal authority in religious matters as granted by the federal government. This is different than the role of goði for your kindred, hearth, or blót-group because very few states recognize any clerical authority to non-ordained persons. It’s unfortunate but it is a bias that we face because of our small size.
So, if your local goði can’t always serve the legal functions of ordained clergy, what purpose does he serve? Ideally, a goði is someone who serves their community as a source of knowledge about our lore, our history, our customs, and our faith. They should be able to provide guidance on these subjects and help members of the community understand who we are, where we come from, and how to deal with religious and spiritual matters in the modern world. They should also be leading people as a religious functionary, particularly when others are unable or unwilling to do so. In a lot of ways, this makes the role of goði a role of cultural leadership as much as it is sacral leadership making a good goði more akin to a Jewish rabbi or Muslim imam than a Catholic priest.
Since we don’t belong to an institutional religion and we don’t usually have ordained clergy filling this role we need to look at how goðar are selected. Let’s be honest, in most cases, the job falls on the man or woman who is knowledgeable enough and willing enough to do this job. Historically, this might well have been the case as well but we can’t be certain. Some groups actively select their goði or gyðja from their most knowledgeable and experienced members. In other groups it happens organically, with the most willing person taking on the roll. They may or may not be the leader of the group. Ultimately, the selection of a goði really is up to the community and it is worth looking at the qualifications candidates have. Each group must decide for itself what their needs are and if a person can fill those needs.