In previous blog entries we have discussed the rising popularity of the Universal Life Church Monastery with university students, focusing especially on Arizona State University, where ministers ordained in the church number over one hundred. As it so happens, another U.S. public research university has also shown a spike in ordained ULC ministers—Ohio State University. It probably does not hurt that younger people tend to be more open-minded about unconventional ordination practices.
Just as at ASU, online ordination has seemingly taken the OSU campus by storm in recent months. OSU students who now claim membership in the ULC ministry number over one hundred, mirroring closely the number of ASU students who count themselves as ULCM ministers. In fact, at OSU, the number has reached one hundred and fifty. It is a substantial rate of growth for a single school considering how influential one hundred and fifty people can be in spreading news of the benefits of online ordination. It is also easy for most university students to get ordained online, given that anybody over 18 years of age can do it and that it requires no traditional minister training and education.
OSU students have expressed a similar attitude towards online ordination as ASU students have—a sense of humor and an initial apprehension over the practice combined with a desire to be involved on a practical level in their loved ones’ wedding ceremony.
On one hand, it is to be taken for granted that some individuals will treat online ordination as a joke. “My roommate and I were sitting and joking about things and decided to do it”, said OSU student Tony Boris, according to Emily Tara of The Lantern, the school’s student newspaper. Boris expressed his regret for getting ordained online as a joke, stating that there should be some kind of process involved. But this does not mean it remains an object of ridicule; often priests and ministers ordained in online churches realize the importance of the responsibilities and duties they have just acquired.
One of these ministers is Jim Fitz. Fitz is one of those individuals who take the act more seriously, pointing out why it is so important for anybody to be able to become ordained in an online church: “It’s kind of silly that not everyone can perform weddings, officiate funerals. I think everyone should be able to”, Tara quotes him as saying. For Fitz, many people are qualified to unite two people in holy matrimony, not just priests who have undergone traditional seminary training. And while Fitz’s ordination was somewhat random, other students decide to become a pastor with specific occasions in mind. OSU graduate Chris Costic did so in order to officiate his cousin’s wedding: “My cousin and his fiancé wanted someone that they knew. I was the first person they thought of.” Like many young people, Costic’s family wanted a familiar face present to make the ceremony meaningful and relevant for them.
Prospective ministers have reasonable concerns about the legality of online ordination and obtaining a minister’s credential the unconventional way. They often wonder whether it is legal, whether serial killers and child molesters can be ordained, and whether the act shows respect for the solemnity of marriage. The irony (which we have emphasized repeatedly here on the blog) is that in some ways online ordination actually shows more respect for marriage than traditional ordination, since it allows ministers to marry people because they love each other, and not just because they have the right set of genitals; in addition, the practice is legal in most U.S. jurisdictions (and the church is defending sacerdotal ordination rights in those places where it is not yet legal); and, finally, criminal acts are expressly forbidden by the church’s official doctrine, hence the church does not condone the ordination of violent criminals. Besides, some jurisdictions require a background check prior to registering wedding officiants.
Overall, the advantages of becoming a minister online seem to outweigh the disadvantages, and more and more young people and students are beginning to realize this. These young people also seem to be drawn to the more egalitarian nature of nondenominational ministries, in which everybody—male or female, black or white, straight or gay, Christian or atheist—can share beliefs and contribute ideas without imposing one dogma over another. After all, the church’s motto is “We are all children of the same universe”.
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