We have discussed the rising popularity of online ordination in the Universal Life Church Monastery among students at Arizona State University as well as Ohio State University, but it is not only U.S. state universities that are participating. Now the practice has begun taking root among students at the University of Iowa. The spread of online ordination among university students only further illustrates the openness of young people to unconventional ways of performing wedding ceremonies; it also shows how younger generations have embraced Internet culture.
One of these students is Brett McCormick, a University of Iowa PhD student in epidemiology. When his friends asked him to conduct their wedding ceremony, McCormick did not spend three years studying religion in seminary or divinity school; rather, he decided to apply online in the Universal Life Church Monastery and become a wedding officiant in just a matter of minutes.
The wedding couple, Carrie and Dan Wohlers, felt that it would be more relevant and meaningful to have a close friend perform their wedding ceremony than to have a priest adhering to a specific religion do so. “My wife and I aren’t very religious, so we had thought maybe having a priest would be too impersonal”, said Dan Wohlers, according to Hayley Bruce of The Daily Iowan, “We thought Brett, who’s been a friend of ours for over a decade, seemed like the natural choice”. McCormick echoes this sentiment: “It meant a lot to me that my friends allowed me to be that involved in something that means so much”, Bruce quotes him as saying, adding, “I care a lot about my friends”. For the Wohlers, it was McCormick’s personal interest, and not his formal training, that made him the most qualified individual.
University students seem to be drawn to online ordination because they are more open to new ideas, and these new ideas are more accessible through the Internet. With respect to the advantages of the Web, Bruce quotes Universal Life Church Monastery presiding chaplain George Freeman as saying, “I think that with this age group, information is more available”. About the generational difference in attitudes, Freeman explained, “When I was a kid, we were raised like our parents, and we always followed in our parents’ shoes, whereas now there’s more information and explanations, and people tend to choose their own path in life”. Bruce adds that the Internet has been instrumental in spreading new ideas, especially among post-secondary students. Thus, nondenominational online churches, which embrace different traditions and new ways of becoming a minister, seem to be more appealing to young, well-educated people with a more innovative and cosmopolitan worldview.
It is no longer necessary to spend years toiling away in some library just to become a legal wedding minister—with the advent of new ideas about what makes a qualified minister, ideas popularized largely by young people, it takes only minutes to become an ordained minister online. Certainly the practice is not solely the province of young, innovative minds, and hopefully it will spread to other people who cling to more traditional ideas about how to perform a legal wedding ceremony or other sacred rite. Nowadays, the institution of marriage is not defined so much by the approval of the larger society, or even a particular religious doctrine or theology; rather, it is defined by a commitment to love. It only seems appropriate, then, that the witness to this love should be allowed to formally declare it.