Recently we discussed the growing popularity of online ordinations among university students, but this growth is not limited to the original ULC in Modesto, California; it is evident in other Internet churches, too, such as Seattle’s ULC Monastery. Students are drawn to the church because it meets their needs and interests: it is fun, simple, easy, and free, but, perhaps most important of all, many of the present-day social concerns of young people are reflected in the church’s interfaith mission to promote equality, understanding, and co-operation among different groups.
One school where the church is making inroads is the University of Houston, in the U.S. state of Texas. Here, students are finding out the benefits of this unorthodox approach to becoming a minister.
Francisco Ramos, a fourth-year physics student and practicing Roman Catholic, is one of these students. Emily Holley of The Daily Cougar, the university’s student newspaper, quoted Ramos as saying that he decided to become a pastor in an online church because he “had some classmates who were going to be married”, and they asked Ramos if he “would be the minister for their wedding”; ultimately, he decided on the Monastery because he found it “pleasant” and “welcoming”. According to Holley, at least fifteen other UH students belong to the Seattle ministry and enjoy the right to legally perform wedding ceremonies.
But joining a church that grants ordination credentials online is not just about marrying people, and certainly not as a mere joke. Indeed, many people join such churches precisely because they take the sacrament of marriage so seriously. Whereas the traditional wedding ceremony is performed by a stranger with no personal connection with bride and groom, online ordinations give the individual a chance to play an instrumental role in marrying friends and family, thereby giving the occasion more depth and relevance—a point we have made numerous times on this blog. Besides, as Holley points out, joining a ministry such as the Monastery grants the priest or minister the right to preside over other sacred rites, such as baptisms and christenings as well as funerals. In each of these cases, a loved one has the opportunity to be involved intimately in the ceremony.
Nondenominational ministries like the Monastery also promote values that tend to be shared by young intellectual pioneers, which is why many of them feel motivated to get ordained online. As with other progressive denominations, the Monastery focuses its efforts on bringing together people of different belief systems—whether Catholic, Baptist, pagan, Jewish, or atheist—and emphasizing basic, common values; it also promotes social justice efforts and notions of equality between people of different races, sexes, sexualities, and nationalities, with the conviction that we are all children of the same universe.
It is true that many students decide to become ordained online because it offers an easy path to officiating weddings, but, as explained above, there is also a strong philosophical undercurrent in interfaith churches that resonates with many of these visionary young people. The sole doctrine of the Monastery is straightforward and simple: do what you think is right, so long as this harms no-one and it respects the rule of law. As global consciousness builds to a crescendo in response to growing strife and violence, it is no wonder that younger generations are seeking out ministries that place less importance on splitting hairs over doctrine and theology, and more importance on harmony, and on our shared humanity. Perhaps this is the only doctrine we need.