View Full Version : You Too Can Be a Minister
02-02-2000, 08:46 PM
I vaguely recall hearing refrences to becoming a minister by mail.
1. Is this true?
2. If it is, does the church actually recognize it?
Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.
02-02-2000, 08:58 PM
Yep. It's true. The Universal Life Church of Modesto California will make you a licensed minister for FREE, just for the asking. You can also ask on-line. Their address is:
And it's legit. Some Federal Judge some time back said so (they'll give you the cite on their web page somewhere, I'm sure).
My credentials? I've been a minister (Rev. John) since August 1991, and I'm the "Pastor" of the Big Bend ULC (to register as a church with the great State of California costs $35). The only ministerial thing I've ever done, though, is perform a marriage--which also proved to be the test of my legality, as I shall now share with you:
Buddy of mine and his gf wanted to get married (secretly). Called me up, asked me to do it, I said "sure". They came over, we drank a couple of Lone Stars, and I signed the paperwork which he then filed at the county courthouse. Cut to two years later: they're sick of each other. My buddy, not wanting to pay for a divorce, goes down to the courthouse to talk his way out of it--explaining that I'm a Universal Life Church minister, not a "real" minister. The court says: "Sorry, dude. He's legit." And they had to go through the divorce.
So, my marryin' record (for other people, anyway) is 0-1. But it did get me that official word from the great State of Texas that a ULC minister is a legal minister!
From the Big Bend Universal Life Church,
02-02-2000, 09:34 PM
you can also pony up some cash to become an minister for the church of the subgenius. not sure if it's legally binding, but i know that they've performed mass marriages in the past (one couple, hundreds of ministers).
02-03-2000, 01:00 AM
What is your purpose in becoming a minister? Is it to perform marriages? If so, you might want to check out a thread currently in the “Comments on Cecil’s columns” forum.
The thread is on a different subject, but in it, Billdo saysThere has been a litigation throughout the country over the Universal Life Church, an organization based in California, which believes everyone is or can be a minister, and will send anyone ministerial credentials for the payment of a small fee. Most jurisdictions have held that a Universal Life Church "minister" is not a valid minister under the law of the state and the Establisment Clause, and have found that marriages performed by such to be invalid.
02-03-2000, 08:22 AM
I got married in Connecticut in '77 by one of these ministers. I asked when I got the license whether there would be any problem, the clerk said the state didn't care about anything but the signed, witnessed marriage license. There is no "official registration" of people who can perform a marriage. This was covered in a column about whether Captains can perform marriages at sea. Most people want a ceremony, but it's not mandatory. All the mumbo-jumbo with the "I do" and "I now pronounce you man and wife" is a religious thing, how can the state require a religious wedding?
Also, if you're married and sign the license and it's witnessed there is no way that you can nullify the marriage based on the qualifications of the witness (minister), in spite of all the sitcom episodes that show otherwise.
John W. Kennedy
02-03-2000, 10:24 AM
It isn't even true according to Roman Catholic religious law. In fact, until the Counter-Reformation, there was no requirement for church involvement at all. At that time, they made it necessary that a priest perform the ceremony, but only so that there would be an official witness if the question of whether the two were married or not ever came up; a problem discovered later with the priest would not invalidate a good-faith marriage.
As a matter of RC theology, the bride and groom marry each other, and they, not the priest, are the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
(The Eastern Orthodox churches feel differently about this, however.)
John W. Kennedy
"Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays."
-- Charles Williams
02-03-2000, 10:31 AM
As Arnold W. says, I would be very careful on relying on Universal Life Church ministerial credentials for anything. With regard to marriage, the North Carolina Supreme Court had this to say in State v. Lynch, 301 N.C. 479 (at 488), 272 S.E.2d 349 (at 354-55) (1980):
A ceremony solemnized by a Roman Catholic layman in the mail order business who bought for $10.00 a mail order certificate giving him "credentials of minister" in the Universal Life Church, Inc.--whatever that is--is not a ceremony of marriage to be recognized for purposes of a bigamy prosecution in the State of North Carolina. The evidence does not establish--rather, it negates the fact--that Chester A. Wilson was authorized under the laws of this State to perform a marriage ceremony.
In general, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has this to say, in Mason v. Central Brown School District, 851 F.2d 47 (at 52) (2d Cir 1988):
This is not the first time that a branch of the ULC has come under a federal court's scrutiny. [citations omitted] Indeed, in our own circuit, there is case law recognizing that at least some governmental agencies view the ULC as a "total fraud". >United States v. Sundstrom, 489 F.2d 859, 861 (2d Cir.), aff'g, 359 F.Supp. 1252, 1257 (S.D.N.Y.1973), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 934, 95 S.Ct. 205, 42 L.Ed.2d 163 (1974).
The reason for this skepticism is hardly surprising when one examines the organization's history and practices. The ULC, headquartered in Modesto, California, operates through "mail order ministries", a process whereby anyone, simply by paying a fee, can be ordained a minister of a local ULC "branch". The ministers have no required duties, nor does the church have any established creed or doctrines. The ULC also issues "mail order church charters" through which as few as three people, all of whom may be members of the same family, can be designated as a "congregation". Once ordained, a minister donates to the church the earnings from his regular occupation by placing the money into his "congregation's" bank account. In so doing, the minister claims a charitable contribution deduction of up to 50 percent of his gross income, with a corresponding reduction in income tax liability. The minister then withdraws money from the account, tax-free, for the upkeep of the "church" (his home), and his living expenses, including food and lodging. See United States v. Gleason, 766 F.2d 1239 (8th Cir.1985); accord United States v. Zimmerman, 832 F.2d 454 (8th Cir.1987).
Although some local marriage registry bureau officials may not know about the ULC and informally advise couples that "any minster" may perform a marriage, that does not answer the question of whether a person holding a ULC "minister" certificate will be recognized as a valid minister under state law. Although some states may recognize them, others emphatically do not.
I too became a ULC minister when they first put their website online.
I mentioned it to a bowling team member, and she asked if I could perform her wedding to her new boyfriend. Knowing how flighty her romances were, I put her on hold by saying I'd have to look up the legalities.
After we bowled and were on the way home, my wife told me that I was not performing that wedding. (She felt it cheapened marriage, after just having a very beautiful and ceremonial wedding ourselves.)
Circumstances were in my favor: ULC ministers can officiate marriages in Virginia, but they (like all other ministers) must file a $400 fee. Also, once the fee is filed, a minister can only charge $10 maximum.
So, since I wasn't about to fork over $400, or go into the marrying biz to make a profit, I got out of performing. Fortunately, she didn't want to cross state lines to do it; Marylands laws are more lax IIRC.
Wrong thinking is punished, right thinking is just as swiftly rewarded. You'll find it an effective combination.
02-03-2000, 03:03 PM
Been a ULC minister since about 1990 (I think). Did it the old-fashioned way, via snail mail.
I guess I'm the only one proud enough to make it part of my user name!
02-03-2000, 03:20 PM
Oh, awesome Rev. You know, I've been wondering for a long time what church you were in based on the content of your messages...
OK, I always wondered—if you found yourself jobless and homeless and friendless and at the end of your rope, couldn't you just join a convent or a monastery?
I mean, if you claim to have a "calling" and want to become Sister SaxFace or Brother Finagle (not that THEY are apt to wind up homeless, I'm just pulling names out of a hat!), wouldn't they have to house you and feed you?
So far, the discussion, ULC aside, seems pretty cut-and-dry..either the state recognizes you as an ordained minister or not.
But in Islam there are no ordained ministers. While the Imam is often one who has a religious education and acts as the Imam as his profession, it is not a requirement. You can (and often do, in smaller mosques) have an Imam-of-the-day chosen from the congregation.
In Florida and other states where Notaries Public are empowered to perform marriages, one or more of the Imams will become notaries for this purpose.
I was married in Georgia (well, I'm married in all 50 states, but the ceremony was conducted in GA) where Notaries Public are not empowered to perform marriages. The Imam who conducted our wedding simply signed his name and the name of the mosque on the license, and it seemed to work.
02-03-2000, 03:50 PM
Hey, I'm a ULC minister, too! I had no idea there were so many of us here. Maybe we would have gotten along better with the LBMBer's if we'd have mentioned that!
::::running for cover::::
“I should not take bribes and Minister Bal Bahadur KC should not do so either. But if clerks take a bribe of Rs 50-60 after a hard day’s work, it is not an issue.” ----Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Current Prime Minister of Nepal
02-03-2000, 05:36 PM
Cat's finally out of the bag Handy.
Last week I was in a bar playing NTN Trivia, and I logged in as Revtim. Someone at the bar said "Hey, there's a RevJoe that plays here too sometimes. Only he's not a *real* reverend, he was ordained by the ULC."
Needless to say, I set her straight on the reality of being a ULC minister.
02-04-2000, 12:37 AM
A minister upon producing to the secretary of state, credentials of his being a regularly ordained or licensed minister of any religious society or congregation, shall be entitled to receive from the secretary of state a license authorizing him to solemnize marriages in this state so long as he continues as a regular minister in such society or congregation. A minister shall produce for inspection his license to solemnize marriages upon demand of any party to a marriage at which he officiates or proposes to officiate or upon demand of any probate judge.
Thus, in Ohio, as long as the ULC was considered a religious society or congregation, a minister can perform marriages, but FIRST must obtain a lisence to do so. The code prohibits solemnizing a marriage without having the lisence to do so, and criminalizes violation of that prohibition.
02-04-2000, 12:44 AM
I too am a minister with ULC (since 1997), as well as my sister and mt dad. My dad thinks it's uproariously funny and keeps his ordination certificate framed on his office wall. For a nominal fee, you can also get "degrees" from the church, or even become a Saint or Goddess, etc.
When my sister and her husband got married Halloween night, 1998 at a punk club, they had trouble finding a minister willing to perform the ceremony. She asked me to do it, but our mother pitched a fit. Her intended's drummer became ordained the day before the ceremony and they had the wedding in the middle of the show they were doing, at midnight. Mom refuses to display the wedding pictures in her house. When they took the wedding license to the courthouse to be signed, the receptionist told them they'd have to come back in with the minister. The drummer/evangelist acted very indignant that he was mistaken for anything other than the Reverend he was. They let him sign it and all is well.
As an aside to this, some places are considering stopping ULC weddings, or at least not recognizing them legally. I live fairly close to Gatlinburg, TN (tacky capital of the world, next to Myrtle Beach). Along with the other tourist traps, they have about one hundred million wedding chapels similar to the ones in Vegas - assembly-line type ceremonies. The TN legislature is tossing around the idea of cutting out the weddings on the grounds that it's not actually a church but rather strictly a money-making scheme. (Unlike all those other really kind, generous churches. No one's in THAT for the money, right?) Sounds like some sort of Constitutional slipery slope to me - "WE'LL decide what makes a church a church!" Brought to you by the same folks who made it legal to eat road kill last year.
John W. Kennedy
02-05-2000, 12:24 AM
Rabbis aren't really ministers in the Christian sense, either, and don't have any special connection with marriage. It's just an accomodation to the reality, for most Jews, of living in a Christian world.
I suppose it won't do any good, but "Reverend" is not a title; it's an honorific. "Reverend Mr. Jones," "Reverend Dr. Jones," "Reverend Fr. Jones," or even, "Reverend John Jones," are OK, but "Reverend Jones" is bad grammar. Don't say "Reverend" in a place you wouldn't say "Honorable".
John W. Kennedy
"Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays."
-- Charles Williams
02-06-2000, 03:23 AM
Well, Revtim, I am also a Reverend with the ULC but "Reverend Evilbeth" as a username just didn't seem to flow! Maybe I should switch it around and try "Evil Reverend Beth?"
The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they're going to be when you kill them.
02-06-2000, 09:44 AM
I thought it was always supposed to be "the Reverend" [insert name here].
I don't like to sound like a a freedom nut, but what the hell difference does it make if you have a marriage performed by some numbnuts ordained by a loopy (non)church? I mean, if you can get legally married by a CLERK at city hall or a NOTARY at Mail Boxes, Etc. why not be able to get married by someone who (presumably) has a sense of humor?
-- The Reverend Erik Raven
ULC ordained since January 1997
02-06-2000, 11:08 AM
I'm curious as to what the major religions of the world think of this. Is it possible to be a Catholic and a ULC minister at the same time without being like excommunicated or damned to hell? :confused:
02-06-2000, 05:21 PM
The laws pertaining to who can solemnize a marriage vary considerably from state to state. Most of our marriage laws were taken from the legal tradition of England, where were two ways a couple could get married, either in a religious ceremony or under the common law. Religious marriages are what we think of today, going to a clergy member and having him or her join the couple in marriage in accordance with that clergy member's religious tradition. However, religious marriages were not required. Under English common law, if a man and woman lived together as husband and wife, holding themselves out to the public as such, then they would be considered to be such under the law, despite the fact that their marriage had not been solemnized in any ceremony or before any religious or civil official.
All states have law specifying who is entitled to perfom marriage ceremonies. New York's laws on this subject are found in Article 3 of the Domestic Relations Law, http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/cgi-bin/claws?law=29&art=4 . All states recognize that clergy members may solemnize a marriage, though some require the clergy to be registered before performing marriages and some do not. (In New York, clergy that marry in New York City must be registered but those performing marriages elsewhere in the state do not.) Because the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution restricts the government from interfering with peoples' religious observences, most state statues are written and interpreted to permit marriages to be performed by almost any recognized religious leader (i.e. your rabbi, priest, minister, etc. of choice). A number, such as New York also specify that a marriage in a Quaker ceremony is also valid (because Quakers do not have religious leaders as such, though they do have wedding ceremonies in their congregations). To the extent that other religions don't have recognized leaders (see the comment on Imam's above), I'm pretty sure that under the Establishment Clause a wedding performed under that religion's tradition would be valid.
However, the extent to which states permit civil officials to solemnize marriages varies pretty widely. New York is pretty restrictive, limiting it to mayors, county executives, judges, and a few other officials (A special provision is made for the city clerks that perform marriages in City Hall in New York). Other states, as mentioned above, allow very minor officials such as notaries public to perform weddings. A number of states also recognize recognize common law marriages in which no officiant is required, though marriage licenses may still be necessary. (Some years ago, in a widely publicized case, the ex-girlfriend of actor William Hurt sued him for alimony, claiming they became husband and wife during that during the time they lived together in North Carolina, a state that recognizes common law marriages. The courts rejected her claims.) When the media refers to someone as a "common law wife," they are usually improperly referring to a couple that is living together unmarried, rather than to an actual common law marriage, which is legally as valid and binding (if entered into in a jurisdiction where it is permitted) as a religious or civil ceremonial marriage.
Because some states are quite liberal in who they permit to perform a marriage (even to the extent of allowing common-law marriages which require no one but the couple and perhaps some witnesses), they may be liberal in allowing marriages by ULC "ministers." Other states are more restrictive and may have more problems with ULC "ministers." In any event, I'd have a lawyer check state law (usually there are court cases) pretty carefully before entering into a marriage before a ULC minister.
02-06-2000, 07:56 PM
Actually, the site is http://www.ulc.net/
I sold my soul to Satan for a dollar. I got it in the mail.
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