Friday, June 30, 2023

If Anyone Can Be Ordained, What Value Does It Have?

The value of ordination is in the eye of the beholder. It is the formal recognition by a religious institution that designates an individual as a leader within their faith community. While the common perception associates clergy with congregational leadership and the title of "pastor," the scope of ordained roles extends to various forms of ministry. Ordained individuals can serve in non-profit organizations, engage in community development or organizing, work as chaplains, church planters, missionaries, or partake in any form of ministerial outreach. The specific requirements for ordination differ among denominations.

In my previous affiliation, I received ordination from the elders of an independent Christian Church. However, that particular church permanently closed down several years ago. I am uncertain whether this would have rendered me "unordained" had I not already been ordained by the Universal Life Church. In "undenominational" settings like the churches I was previously associated with, ordination requirements are determined by the local church. Generally, these churches consider a degree from a Bible college as sufficient academic preparation, with an emphasis on the individual's ability to effectively preach. However, other religious bodies may approach ordination differently.

Mainline denominations such as the United Methodists, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Episcopal Church have more structured requirements for their clergy. They typically require a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited theological school, completion of an internship, and possibly a few units of Clinical Pastoral Education, among other steps. Evangelical churches exhibit a range of requirements, from minimalistic standards asking for a Bachelor's degree in theological studies to formal requirements similar to those of mainline churches.

Newer and non-traditional denominations like the Universal Life Church, established in 1962, have no specific requirements for ordination. As long as an individual submits a written request for ordination, or has a valid request made on their behalf (also in writing), they will be ordained. The expectations for ordination in the Universal Life Church are simply centered on doing what is right and upholding freedom of religion. No formal theological study, internship, or other qualifications are necessary. Consequently, many people view such ordination as a mere joke.

Several celebrities have obtained ordination through either the Universal Life Church in Modesto, California, or the schismatic ULC Ministries in Seattle, Washington. When they publicly discuss their ordination, it is often accompanied by laughter, indicating that they do not take their role in ministry seriously. However, there are individuals like Tom Hanks who have officiated wedding ceremonies and seem to appreciate the opportunity to do so.

Ordination in most churches signifies that a person has been accepted as a representative of the faith, entrusted with carrying forward the mission and message of the church. In the Universal Life Church, ordination also represents a liberating act. It provides an immediate pathway into the ministry for individuals who might otherwise face difficulties in becoming ordained ministers. While they may not be guaranteed a pulpit or even respect, they are no longer hindered by legal restrictions when officiating weddings. Additionally, as the ULC in Modesto can endorse chaplains for BCCI certifications, it opens another avenue for those who struggle to find their place in other religious bodies. Moreover, simply having a written document stating their status as an ordained minister can provide a significant psychological boost.

Undoubtedly, millions of individuals have been ordained by various churches offering open ordination, such as the Universal Life Church. Many of them likely had a good laugh and moved on, never giving it much thought again. However, for those to whom it holds significance, ordination is a liberating and empowering experience. With the administrative aspect settled, they can focus on what truly matters – ministry. They can establish churches, provide support to the sick, offer encouragement to the hopeless, and help people commemorate significant milestones in their lives. Wearing the label of a Universal Life Church minister is not necessarily the most important aspect for them. What truly matters is their identity and the impact they have through their ministry. The paperwork serves as a beautiful formality, while the reality of engaging in ministry holds far greater significance.

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