Universal Life Church

I want to become a minister for the hell of it, because I can. I’m just having trouble figuring out these websites, and wondering what people’s experiences were; I did search, found some info but not a whole lot. It looks like http://www.ulchq.com/ is the (rarely updated) official site, http://www.ulc.net/ is an affiliated church I think?, and http://www.themonastery.org/ is a “schismatic” church. Is there any difference in legality between these three? The monastery seems to be the most scammy, as they seem to charge for letters of good standing and such, but I don’t know.

There are several states that do not recognize Universal Life Church ministerial credentials, at least not for the purposes of performing weddings, because of the tongue-in-cheek come-one-come-all nature of the ministry. You might want to check your local ordinances.


I ask, not to be a dick, but because I have elsewhere argued that no state in the union actually has any interest in undoing someone’s marriage just because it was solemnized by the internets. Is there a case of a state retroactively voiding someone’s marriage or otherwise penalizing them because of this?

It’s apparently less state than local actually. Here’s one from NYC:

Some counties in Virginia and Georgia also refuse to recognize ULC ordination as clerical authority when it comes to performing marriage, but the site I got that from is a subscription database so I can’t link.

I got my ULC credential the good old-fashioned way, by sending them a postcard when I was 18 (21 years ago).

No problem performing weddings with it here in California, I’ve had the honor of officiating at the weddings of two sets of my friends, all legal and above-board.

I’m not looking to do any specific weddings, although it would be nice in the future. My county requests a “letter of good standing” in order to be legal, according to the ulchq site. It’s not surprising that they require it, since this state is known for quickie marriages.

I’ve heard about what Sampiro is saying but only in reference to NY/NYC.

I didn’t so much have an ‘experience’ as a ‘Hey, why not?’ moment when I filled in an online form back in the early days of the internet then an ‘Oh yeah, that!’ moment when I checked my email the next day. Neither here nor there, really, but then again I haven’t been asked to officiate (yet).

Wait a minute, does the City of New York really have a say in the validity of a marriage agreed upon by a contract issued by the State of New York? I though the individual states recognized the contractural agreement between marriage partners, and had no interest whatsoever in who solemnized the wedding. Obviously, NYC has referenced a specific case, and maybe that city has a special circumstance because of its size and nature. But otherwise, isn’t the marriage contract:

  1. The sole jurisdiction of the state, and
  2. Entirely a civil contract?

I don’t believe that’s what that meant. It means that there are states and possibly also counties and at least one major city as we’ve seen that do not recognize a putative minister as a valid celebrant for weddings in their jurisdiction unless s/he can prove s/he actually is ordained in an active, real-people-in-the-pews congregation. So you’d have to travel to somewhere where it is OK.

If a ULC marriage is celebrated in Hoboken and officialized by New Jersey, then NYC has nothing to say about the minister’s credentials.

Which one did you all join? The ulchq is in Modesto, and the Monastery is in Seattle.

  1. Presumably, the NYC rule isn’t in direct violation of state law, therefore I think we can’t say that it is Universally (heh) a State decision

  2. Even though it’s a civil contract, there are a great many rights and privileges granted by virtue of that contract, and the state has an interest in ensuring it is entered into properly. As such, they register officiants, and only those officiants can perform a state recognized marriage ceremony.

I ran into this ULC problem when my wife and I were looking into getting a non-priest type to perform our ceremony. We located an organization where you could get your minister certificate online and where NYC would recognize it. I can’t now recall the name of the church though.

New York Domestic Relations Law (DRL) § 11 sets forth by whom a marriage may be solemnized (i.e. performed), including: “A clergyman or minister of any religion.” “Clergyman” or “minister” is defined by a cross-reference to Religious Corporation Law, § 2, which provides:

The term “clergyman” and the term “minister” include a duly authorized pastor, rector, priest, rabbi, and a person having authority from, or in accordance with, the rules and regulations of the governing ecclesiastical body of the denomination or order, if any, to which the church belongs, or otherwise from the church or synagogue to preside over and direct the spiritual affairs of the church or synagogue.In most of the state, any clergy member may perform a wedding, with no requirement that he or she be registered or otherwise show his or her qualification. However, there is a special section of the DRL, § 11-b, which provides:

Registration of persons performing marriage ceremonies in the city of New York. Every person authorized by law to perform the marriage ceremony, before performing any such ceremonies in the city of New York, shall register his or her name and address in the office of the city clerk of the city of New York. . . . Such city clerk is hereby empowered to cancel the registration of any person so registered upon satisfactory proof that the registration was fraudulent, or upon satisfactory proof that such person is no longer entitled to perform such ceremony.Now, one aspect of this is that a New York court has held that the City Clerk may properly decline to register a person who presents credentials as a Universal Life Church minister. See Rubino v. City of New York, 125 Misc.2d 936, 480 N.Y.S.2d 971 [large pdf] (Sup. Ct. 1984).

More broadly, however, in the leading New York case, Ranieri v. Ranieri, 146 A.D.2d 34, 539 N.Y.S.2d 382 [large pdf] (2d Dep’t 1989), New York’s intermediate appellate court held that a ULC minister did not qualify as a clergy member under DRL § 11, and therefore a marriage purportedly performed by a ULC minister was void. Subsequent New York case law, though not on the subject of marriage, has held that registering as a ULC minister does not entitle a person to have his real property qualify for a “religious use” tax exemption.

So, in the City of New York, if you try to register to perform marriages as a ULC minster, you will be rejected, and in the rest of the state, under current case authority, if you attempt to perform a marriage as a ULC minister, the marriage will be void, though there will be no official telling you so before the fact.

I see this untruth passed around a lot. But NYC does indeed accept marriages performed by ULC ministers.

What they don’t accept is the Certificate of Ordination as proof that you’re an ULC minister. They require that you have the ULC church send them more paperwork, including, as stated, “a letter of appointment from his or her religious body, i.e. from its hierarch or its board of trustees. Second, the registrant must present a letter from his or her local congregation verifying that he or she is the pastor or associate pastor of that congregation, and that the congregation therefore consents to the registering of that individual. Lastly, if the church is incorporated, the registrant must present a copy of the articles of incorporation. If the church is not incorporated, the registrant must submit a statement as to the location of the house of worship, the reason for its founding, the number of trustees, the approximate size of its congregation, and how often it meets.” ULC will provide all of that for free, although they do request a donation to cover their costs, it really is voluntary, and they ask that you give them a little time to get it done.

They can’t disallow ULC ministers because of that pesky first amendment, but they don’t have to make it easy for them.

ETA: I know this because I’ve done it.

I became ordained because a good friend was getting married and wanted me to officiate. He and his wife to be didn’t want a religious wedding and weren’t sure what to do. I jokingly offered to get one of those internet ordinations and do it for them. We had a good laugh over it but figured that she would never go for it. Much to our surprise, she thought that it was a great idea. Performing the wedding was one of the highlights of my life.

The second wedding I performed was for some step-cousins. They had a real wedding planned a few months in the future but she got pregnant early so they wanted a quickie wedding so she could get on his health insurance plan. It was just the two of them, my step-sister and her husband at the ceremony. It’s supposed to be a secret but I think most of the family knows about it by now.

My third wedding will be in the summer of 2010. A friend of mine wants me to officiate at the wedding of her and her fiance.

A few years ago I called the county clerk’s office in Arlington County, Virginia, and they said that the state will not license Universal Life Church ministers to solemnize weddings in the state.

Just call me “Reverend Lightnin’”. I got myself ordained through the ULC last year- you never know when you might need holy water, after all. When the vamps attack, I’m ready.

A friend of mine got her ordainment through ULC a few years back, and has officiated marriages in Texas.

I’m a ULC minister and have performed weddings in South Carolina…

Just call me Reverend Attack. I’ve done maybe half a dozen weddings, all for friends. They’ve been lovely occasions. The instant holy water thing is nice, but you have to be careful not to baptize the kids by accident.

I should mention that I’m ULC, and never had any significant problem. I did have to get a Humanist minister (read atheist) to front for me for a wedding in Ontario.

Are there marriage celebrants in the USA? In New Zealand, and I think other countries, a marriage celebrant is someone authorized to do weddings. I don’t know what the requirements are to become one but I think they take the role quite seriously. Using the services of a celebrant is the popular alternative to a religious wedding.

This just sounds like another way of saying “someone licensed to perform weddings.” In most jurisdictions in the U.S., only certain government officials and genuine clergy can obtain such licenses. In most places, if you don’t want to use clergy, your only option is to go to the courthouse.