Friday, April 14, 2023

Understanding Universal Life Church Courses

Since the early days of the Universal Life Church (ULC), courses leading to diplomas such as "Doctor of Biblical Studies" and "Science of Understanding Life" have been offered. Rev. Kirby J. Hensley, the founder of the ULC, was an iconoclast who enjoyed topping idols and subverting the established order. Thus the offer of ordination for all, and the specific naming of these religious courses. Those same, original courses are still available through the Universal Life Church headquarters in Modesto. You pay the fee, you take the course, and you collect your diploma. So, how should we understand these courses?

Religious organizations are free to offer coursework in their beliefs without regulation. It may not be accredited by a regional accreditor or the Association of Theological Schools, but it's valid within the boundaries of the religion. Other denominations do the same thing, though they don't necessarily use such august titles. One good example of this is Community of Christ, a global denomination based in the midwestern United States and descended from the Latter Day Saint tradition begun by Joseph Smith, Jr. They have what they call their "Temple School," offering courses in such things as "Introduction to Scripture" and "Priesthood Ministry." The intent of these courses is to provide basic training especially for people who will be assuming leadership roles. Another denomination doing something similar is the Unitarian Universalist Association, which operates the UU Institute to educate and empower members for various forms of leadership and ministry. Course offerings include "Developing and Managing a Music Program" and "Unitarian/Universalist Colonial Legacy: Are We an Imperial Faith?"

Notice that in both examples above, a fee is charged for the course, as is the case with what the ULC offers. In all cases there is some level of reading and reflection required, as well as quizzes and/or exercises. The only real difference between what the ULC offers compared to those other denominations is the way our course are named. Otherwise it's the same principle and practice.

Since the ULC is a non-creedal denomination in which everyone is free to follow their own conscience, these courses do not convey dogma. They were written from the perspective of Rev. Hensley, and have the function of making the student think. The conclusions you draw are your own.

Being the Universal Life Ministerial Formation Network it is also important to note that these courses will not be recognized by accredited universities and seminaries, so you can't complete a Masters degree through the ULC and expect that to be accepted as the basis for PhD studies at Yale or Harvard, for example. Further, they will not be recognized as a basis for seeking certified chaplain status with the Association of Professional Chaplains. For that you will need accredited coursework.

Hopefully this has helped provide a way to understand the meaning and purpose of ULC courses. You are encouraged to order one and give it a try. You might enjoy it.

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