Thursday, June 1, 2023

Online Ordination: One Church Stands Above the Rest


It is very simple to be ordained these days. If all you want to do is officiate a friend's wedding, and you live in the United States, you have a number of good options. All but one charge extra for your credential and any additional documents you'll need if your jurisdiction has special requirements for officiants. If you want to go into institutional chaplaincy, however, I only know of one so far that can help you. Below I'll discuss your options. Since ordination itself is 'free' in all cases, there's no reason why you can't be endorsed by them all. 

Of the simple ordination crowd that require an extra donation or fee for physical documents, there are the following:

American Marriage Ministries

Here's how AMM describes itself:

We are a non-profit, interfaith and non-denominational constitutional church that is Federally Recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 Public Charitable Organization. Drawing on the freedom of religion clause in the United States Constitution, AMM provides free ordination, advocacy, and training for our ministers to ensure that all people have the right to get married and to perform marriage. To date, we have ordained over 1,107,520 ministers who have officiated weddings all across the United States.

This organization's one and only thing is marriage. The doctrine of the church focuses on the right to be married and have marriage your way, with the officiant of your choice. The AMM minister's parishioners are the people who attend or participate in weddings they officiate. Focusing on this one aspect of ministry, they have developed a library of scripts and offer courses for officiants. While this isn't a path into full, traditional ministry, it's plenty for people who just want to officiate for friends or family, or who would like to start a business as officiants. If you are ordained by AMM and want a physical copy of your officiate credential, that will cost you $18. Towards the end of this post I'll share an option that will cost you nothing. 

Universal Life Church Ministries / The Monastery

An organization that split off from the original Universal Life Church, and which now dominates search results for online ordination, is Universal Life Church Ministries, also known as The Monastery. This was originally an affiliate of the Universal Life Church in Modesto, California, but they parted ways in the early 21st century. This denomination practices open ordination and follows a lot of the same practices as the original, but cannot at this time endorse people to be certified as chaplains through the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc (BCCI). A standard ordination credential will run you $8.99, while the premium credential costs $11.99. There are also 'packages' available with more bells and whistles, and if your jurisdiction requires something like a letter of good standing, that'll be another $18.00. The original Universal Life Church in Modesto, California, which I will discuss at the end, charges nothing for extra paperwork unless notarizations are required. 

The Church of Spiritual Humanism

This one supports the idea of a "religion based on reason," and describes Spiritual Humanism as follows:

A religion based on the ability of human beings to solve the problems of society using logic and science.

Most people need a religion to help guide them through life’s challenges and difficult moral decisions. Recognizing how the power of religious rituals, methods, and communication can impact human behavior, Spiritual Humanism fuses traditional religious behaviors onto the foundation of scientific humanist inquiry.

While it is impossible to remove age old traditions from human culture, we can redirect them by redefining their underlying significance and meanings. Spiritual Humanism is natural, not supernatural. By using a method of scientific inquiry we can define the inspirational, singular spark inherent in all living creatures.

So far as I can tell, this church cannot endorse people for professional chaplaincy certification, though I'll update this post later if I find the case to be otherwise. To my knowledge, the only Humanist organization that can provide that specific endorsement is The Humanist Society, and they do not offer a simple path to ordination/credentialing. If you want a paper copy of your ordination credential as an ordained clergy person of the Church of Spiritual Humanism, you'll need to pay $24.95 for the basic ordination pack

The Church of the Latter Day Dude

A more whimsical approach to religious philosophy, this church was inspired by the 1998 movie, The Big Lebowski. It didn't do terribly well when it was released, but over the years it has developed a cult following (no pun intended) that has come to include a religion. Dudeism is positioned as similar to Taoism. There are books in print about this church and its doctrine, which is not something that can be said of all bodies offering ordination to all without restrictions. This is another group that I don't find having recognition from BCCI for professional chaplaincy. Various ordination packages are available, but if all you want is a paper certificate of ordination, that'll be $10. I hear it really ties the room together. 

Those are the top four, as far as I'm considered, if all you are looking for is the ability to officiate a wedding, and you don't mind paying extra for the privilege. To my mind, though, there's only one option for people who want to engage in more serious ministry, including professional chaplaincy, without having to affiliate with a major denomination that has a lot of extra rules and requirements.

Universal Life Church World Headquarters

That option is the Universal Life Church that Rev. Kirby J. Hensley founded back in 1962. He was the quirky fellow who started it all, and whose church fought for the right to be considered a legitimate denomination in the eyes of the law before any of the others came along. For years before the internet came along, ads offering ordination ran in the back of magazines, sponsored by this church. A small congregation continues to meet on Sundays at 601 Third Street in Modesto, California, let by Kirby's son, Rev. Andre Hensley. The website is outdated and a bit broken, but the original church stands behind it, offering more to the world for less than the more business-like groups I've already discussed. 

For instance, if you are ordained through ULC HQ, you will receive an ordination credential through the mail in about two weeks, at no cost to you (lose it and they'll ask a small donation for a replacement). If your jurisdiction requires more documentation to officiate weddings, they'll provide it as well at no additional cost, unless notarization is required. Further, if you want to become a professional chaplain, one certified to do so, ULC HQ is recognized by the BCCI to provide that recognition.

Now, I think it's wise and good to slip a little money in the mail to HQ, to keep things going. Maybe take a course or two, or make a donation to receive a special title. Rev. Kirby's philosophy that he didn't want money for nothing. He wanted to provide something to people in return. The present church keeps that alive, preferring to offer courses, certifications, and some limited supplies for the funds they need to keep going. This church is operated as a ministry in that sense, and takes a special interest in making certain that its ministers have the resources it can provide in order to succeed. 


As I said in the beginning, there's no reason not to be ordained by all of these groups. Fill out their online forms and get your ordination. Just realize that ULC HQ is the only one that will send your credential for free, and it's the one most likely to try to help with reasonable requests for documentation to make your ministry possible. So, when you are filling out applications, be sure to do this one as well:

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