Saturday, December 16, 2023

Unconventional Spirituality: The Story of Kirby Hensley and the ULC

In the heart of Modesto, California, there exists an unassuming building that has been a bastion of unconventional spirituality for decades. This institution is none other than the Universal Life Church (ULC), an organization that has challenged the very foundations of traditional religious norms and defied misconceptions since its inception in 1962. And at the heart of this intriguing narrative is none other than the charismatic Kirby J. Hensley, a visionary whose legacy continues to captivate and inspire. In this blog post, we will delve into the captivating history of Kirby J. Hensley, the enduring legacy of the ULC, and the unique challenges it has faced.

Kirby J. Hensley: A Maverick Visionary

Kirby Hensley was far from your run-of-the-mill preacher. He embarked on a mission that was as audacious as it was unconventional: challenging the tax exemptions enjoyed by traditional churches. His weapon of choice? Mail-order clergy ordination certificates, available for a mere $5 each. With these certificates, he not only ordained individuals but also championed the cause of tax freedom for those who held them. Kirby's provocative views and unorthodox approach propelled him into the limelight, earning him appearances on renowned TV shows like "Larry King Live," "60 Minutes," and "Donahue," as well as coverage in prestigious publications like Time and Newsweek.

A Ministry of Inclusivity

At the core of ULC's philosophy lay Hensley's mantra: "Do that which is right." The ULC became synonymous with inclusivity, offering ordination certificates to anyone, regardless of their faith, background, or education. Remarkably, it is estimated that nearly 18 million of these certificates have been distributed worldwide since the ULC's inception in 1962. Beyond ordinations, the ULC's services expanded to include products such as marriage licenses and courses, attracting a diverse range of individuals. Impressively, around 80 percent of certificate recipients also made supplementary purchases, cementing the ULC's place in the hearts of many.

Legal Battles and Tax Controversies

Kirby Hensley's unapologetically unconventional journey was not without its share of legal battles. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) raised questions about the legitimacy of thousands of ordained ULC clergy members who claimed tax exemptions without engaging in traditional pastoral work. This marked a pivotal point in the church's history as it faced significant financial challenges. Ultimately, in 2000, a year after Hensley's passing, the ULC reached a settlement of approximately $1.5 million with the IRS.

The ULC Today

Despite the tumultuous history and misconceptions that have surrounded it, the ULC endures today. It continues to operate from its modest headquarters in Modesto, California, under the leadership of Kirby Hensley's son, Andre. The ULC's mission remains steadfastly anchored in inclusivity, freedom, and doing what is right. While the church's congregation has seen fluctuations over the years, its commitment to community service remains unwavering. This includes generous donations to charities and assistance to those in need, perpetuating the legacy of the ULC.


The Universal Life Church, founded by the indomitable Kirby J. Hensley, stands as a testament to the boundless power of unconventional thinking and the enduring legacy of a maverick visionary. Kirby Hensley's unapologetic approach to spirituality and his steadfast commitment to challenging established norms have left an indelible mark on the world of religion. The ULC's journey, filled with legal battles and societal misconceptions, serves as a poignant reminder that faith and the pursuit of what is right can take on myriad forms.

Despite the highs and lows of its storied history, the ULC continues to provide a unique path for those seeking ordination and a safe haven for individuals who dare to question tradition. In the end, Kirby Hensley's legacy lives on through the church, embodying the principles of inclusivity and freedom that he held dear. In the heart of Modesto, amidst the quiet facade of an unassuming building, the spirit of an unconventional visionary lives on, lighting the way for all who seek to do what is right in their own unique way.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Scripture: A Guide to Interpretation

The Bible, a collection of ancient texts that has shaped the lives of billions, is a cornerstone of Christianity. But for those embarking on a spiritual journey, understanding this complex and multifaceted book can be daunting. Different interpretations, historical context, and even personal experiences can all influence how we approach scripture. So, how do we navigate these complexities and unlock the mysteries within the Bible?

Misinterpretations and the Importance of Context

A common pitfall in interpreting the Bible is overlooking its historical and cultural context. Verses taken out of context can lead to skewed understandings, often used to justify personal or societal agendas. Examples like using Jeremiah 29:11 for individualistic gain or 2 Chronicles 7:14 to promote nationalistic narratives highlight the dangers of neglecting context.

Midrash: A Tool for Deeper Understanding

The Jewish tradition of midrash offers a valuable lens for interpreting scripture. It's not just about finding the literal meaning; it's about delving deeper, resolving ambiguities, and applying ancient wisdom to contemporary issues. The apostle Paul's reinterpretation of Hagar and Sarah's story in Galatians 4:21-31 is a prime example of midrashic interpretation, drawing parallels between the past and present to illuminate new meaning.

The Bible as a Meeting Place, Not a Monologue

Recognizing the Bible as a collection of diverse texts written for different audiences over millennia is crucial. Instead of viewing it as a divine message for us specifically, we should see it as a "meeting place" where we can interact, search for meaning, and grow spiritually. Even though written long ago, its timeless wisdom can still inspire, challenge, and guide us on our journeys.

The Church and the Interpretation Challenge

Churches across denominations use the Bible as a foundation, applying its teachings to inspire, teach, and shape moral perspectives. However, interpretations can vary significantly, reflecting the specific preacher's understanding and the congregation's cultural context. While the Bible has been used to promote justice, peace, and harmony, it has also been misused to justify oppression, violence, and division.

The "God-breathed" Nature of Scripture

The concept of the Bible being "God-breathed" in 2 Timothy 3:16 adds another layer to its complexity. Traditionally understood as "inspired by God," this term has been reinterpreted in light of historical and linguistic analysis to mean "life-giving." This resonates with the creation story, where God breathes life into creation. The Bible's transformative power, its ability to breathe wisdom and spiritual vitality, becomes the central focus.

Conclusion: A Journey of Exploration, Not a Destination

Understanding and applying the Bible is a multifaceted journey, influenced by various methods and perspectives. Whether through midrash, recognizing its "God-breathed" nature, or approaching it as a historical and cultural document, the way we engage with scripture shapes our spiritual paths. While not written specifically for us, the Bible remains a rich tapestry of wisdom, offering new depths of understanding and spiritual nourishment for all who seek it.

Remember, the Bible is a journey, not a destination. Embrace the complexities, engage with different interpretations, and allow yourself to be transformed by its timeless wisdom. As you delve deeper, you may just unlock the mysteries that lie within its pages.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Bread We Break: Unveiling the Mystery of the Lord's Supper

Have you ever wondered why we call it the "Lord's Supper"? It's a familiar term, whispered across centuries and denominations, but have we truly grasped its meaning? Delving into the history of this sacrament reveals a fascinating tapestry of tradition, interpretation, and evolving language.

The term "Lord's Supper" doesn't magically appear in the Bible. Instead, it emerges in the 4th century, inspired by a verse in 1 Corinthians 11:20. It wasn't a formal liturgy call, but a metaphorical reference to the significance of the meal. Early Christians, like Tertullian and Clement, referred to the sacrament as "Eucharist," often alongside communal meals called "Agapē." These gatherings fostered unity and fellowship, blurring the lines between religious practice and social gathering.

But over time, "Eucharist" took center stage, while communal meals faded due to practicalities and changing cultural contexts. This is when "Lord's Supper" began to fill the void, becoming a powerful symbol for the sacred act of sharing bread and wine.

Now, let's zoom in on that crucial verse in Corinthians. Paul uses "Lord's Supper" not as a universal term, but within a specific argument about the conduct of these meals. He contrasts an ideal "Lordly" supper with the Corinthians' "private" suppers, highlighting their failure to live up to Christ's example. This verse, though not the sole origin, offers valuable insights into the early Christian understanding of the meal.

Here's the catch: "Lord's Supper" can be a bit misleading. Applying it to the entire early Christian meal tradition or the entire history of the Eucharist paints an incomplete picture. While it holds significant meaning in Paul's context, its historical significance across all Christian communities can be overstated.

So, why do some, especially Protestants, favor this term? It's rooted in the desire for a "scriptural" name, a direct connection to the Bible. But claiming widespread ancient usage of "Lord's Supper" can be misleading. The evidence suggests it wasn't as ubiquitous as we might assume.

Ultimately, understanding the evolution of "Lord's Supper" helps us appreciate the diversity of early Christian practices. The Eucharist, with its symbolism and ritual, transcends the name it bears. "Lord's Supper" offers a glimpse into Paul's teachings and Jesus's practices, but it shouldn't be the sole lens through which we view this sacred act. Language, though powerful, can both reveal and obscure the essence of a practice.

And for those who officiate this sacred ceremony, a few words of guidance:Prepare: 
  • Immerse yourself in scripture, pray, and plan your message to the congregation.
  • Set the Atmosphere: Create a space of reverence and peace.
  • Welcome and Remind: Open with warmth and remind everyone of the profound meaning of this meal.
  • Read and Reflect: Let scripture guide your congregation's understanding and encourage personal reflection.
  • Offer Prayer: Thank God for Jesus's sacrifice and seek divine blessings.
  • Distribute with Reverence: Share the elements with care, ensuring everyone feels included.
Leading the Lord's Supper is an immense privilege. By understanding its rich history and approaching it with reverence, you can guide your congregation towards a deeper, more meaningful experience. Remember, the bread we break is not just food; it's a symbol of unity, remembrance, and the enduring love of Christ.

So, the next time you gather around the table, let the term "Lord's Supper" not be a mere label, but a springboard for deeper reflection. Let it ignite your curiosity, inspire you to delve into its history, and ultimately, bring you closer to the heart of this sacred practice.
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