Come Sunday mornings Bill Maher, the HBO comedy guy and I read the weddings notices in the New York Times’ Style Section. Don’t ask me why we do it, we just do – it’s the contrarian in us yearning to be free and it’s a great read with your morning coffee. Lately, many of the featured couples were brought to marital bliss by internet dating sites like OK Cupid, Tinder, Match and eHarmony. Why this is duly noted at the end of each notice is something the Times fails to explain but is in keeping with its migration to an online digital edition.
Many of the reported ceremonies are not officiated by Priests, Ministers, Rabbis, Hindu Pandits or Muslim Imams but by just plain guys and gals whose credentials and authority were purchased on the internet from religious diploma mills such as the Universal Life Ministries, the Universal Brotherhood Ministries, Rose Ministries, the American Fellowship Church, Christian National Church, United Christian Faith Ministries, United National Ministry or the Universal Life Church.
Over the years, I have been called many names but I have never, ever been called “Reverend” or “Minister”. So, on Monday morning I logged on to the Universal Life Ministries web site, the institution that had ordained many of the people performing these new non-traditional marriage rites. I wanted to try the moniker of “Ordained Minister” on for size and see how it fit.
I wanted to be ordained so that I would be ready, should the need arise, to step in and perform the sacred rites of marriage. You never know when that could happen. It’s good to be prepared. But I was unprepared for the cornucopia of heavenly choices that the Life Ministries offered once I logged on.
The initial menu offered ordination as a Pastor, Minister, Reverend, Officiant, Preacher or Chaplain. The description of their privileges and immunities were somewhat vague and confused but they all promised conformity with “Christian Ordination, as well as independent Baptist ordination, Catholics, Jewish, Islamic, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, Wiccans, Pagans, Bahá’í, and any others…” beliefs and a universal “search for enlightenment”.
Once you start the registration process only the basics are necessary: your name, address, birthdate and your credit card, American Express, Visa or MasterCard.
You have a choice, the Basic Minister Package [$45], the Deluxe Minister Package [$83] or the Ultimate Minister Package [$118] which includes an “Ordination Certificate, [a] Wallet ID, 3 “Easy to Read” Marriage Ceremonies, White Clergy Badge, Minister’s Dash Card, Doctor of Divinity Degree, License to Preach Certificate, Registered Prayer Partner Certificate, Saint Certificate, 2 Marriage Certificates, 2 Affirmation of Love Certificate, 2 Baptism Certificates, Universal Ministries Textbook [and a] Minister’s Handbook”.
But the Universal Life Ministries is more than just a marriage certificate diploma mill. It boasts a School of Theology which awards an Associate Degree of Divinity [$15], “unearned” Degrees with certificates suitable for framing and an “earned” Bachelor Degree [$125 and a 500 word biography and a 2000 word thesis, excluding footnotes, on the student’s personal faith and religious beliefs]; an “earned” Master Degree [$225 and a 750 word biography and 4000 word thesis same as above] and Doctor Degree [$425 and a 1000 word biography, a 5000 word thesis, excluding footnotes, but which must have a “minimum of 25 footnotes explaining authority for statements” made].
As I navigated the site I made additional discoveries. I won’t describe them lest I shake your faith in the Ministries’ main mission, that of enabling us, one and all, to officiate at marriages, baptisms and funerals.
So, on Monday I opted to be ordained using the Basic Minister Package. I figured to give that a try before I graduated to the Deluxe or Ultimate packages. Universal Life Ministries has emailed me and confirmed that my “donation” has been received. The money sent is a “donation” since the Ministries is a “church” and is thus tax exempt, sales taxes are waived as well. The email assured me that “most items ship within 3-5 days or less allowing for holidays and weekends” noting that the refund policy is “No refunds on Personalized items …[which] include, but are not limited to certificate and ID Cards”.
I can’t wait to marry you or baptize your kids but I’ll take a pass on funerals.