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.

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