Monday, January 9, 2023

Making a Ministry Through Online Ordination

Most of the time it seems that people apply for ordination online for one of two reasons. Either it's a joke to the people involved, or it's a practical matter of being able to officiate weddings. Really, in the United States the only ceremony that would legally require an ordained minister is marriage, since it has an impact on vital statistics and public records. Baptisms and other religious ceremonies need no government support, and so could be performed by anyone. I wonder how common it is for someone to seek ordination through the Universal Life Church or another, similar group to do so with the intention of actually starting a ministry. As I've already noted elsewhere, there is more prestige (though it's diminishing, in our secularizing society) in being traditionally ordained than through an online organization, and formal preparation tends to produce more effective or at least more enduring ministries. That said, here are some ways I think a person could make a go of valid ministry starting only with ULC ordination.

First, someone in underserved areas can fill a niche. For example, in many rural areas it is common for there to only be ministers of a conservative evangelical profile available. If an engaged couple wants to get married without the baggage of that specific religious viewpoint, options can be few. The same goes especially for same sex couples in such area. A person with a valid ULC ordination could offer wedding services to suit the couple, without discrimination. Further, if the minister is established in the area, she can offer other services as well over time, such as christening, baptism, baby naming, child welcoming, funerals/memorials/celebrations of life, and more. Without necessarily having to organize a local church, such a minister could provide all the traditionally-available rites, perhaps with some major modifications to suit the people involved, and have a sustained ministry. This could be viewed as a business, or as an earnest ministry to the wider community. Or, both.

Second, as I have highlighted previously, if someone wishes to become a Board Certified Chaplain, there is a way to do that that includes the Universal Life Church. The original ULC, based out of Modesto, California, is able to endorse chaplains for this purpose. No other ULC body currently has this ability. So, if someone were to want to really make a career out of chaplaincy (outside of the US military, which still doesn't recognize any ULC ministers), this would begin with being ordained through Then the future chaplain would need to enroll in an accredited MDiv program or similar as well as complete a few units of Clinical Pastoral Education. These are all outlined on the website of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Along the way the student chaplain will be making the connections needed to progress in the field, so that by the time they apply for certification with the APC, calling on the ULC for endorsement, they'll already be pretty well along in their new career. 

Third, a ULC minister could go the traditional route of starting a new congregation. It wouldn't have to be affiliated with the ULC formally. In reality, if someone already has enough people to legally incorporate, the ULC ordination shouldn't really be necessary. The church board can simply vote to ordain someone as a minister, if that's how the bylaws are written, and it will be a legal reality. 

There are ways to enter ministry without taking the long road through a traditional denomination, but to make it really work a great deal of effort will still be required.