Online ordination redefines traditional minister role

Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series examining the weddings in Athens.

Ministers, priests and pastors are not the only people who can legally pronounce a couple man and wife, thanks to organizations such as Universal Life Church Monastery.

At least 108 Ohio University students have become ordained through the site, said Andy Fulton, spokesman for Universal Life Church Monastery.

Max Schmidt, a senior studying child and family studies, is among those at OU who have been ordained.

“I had a friend who had been ordained and performed weddings for his friends who didn’t want to have a religious figure perform their ceremony,” Schmidt said. “It’s also pretty cool to be able to refer to myself as the Rev. Max Schmidt.”

Schmidt became ordained in 2009; he has yet to perform a wedding but plans to in the near future.

Despite some dispute over the topic of online ordination, Schmidt said his license is completely legal.

“I don’t think it’s sacrilegious, though, because I don’t claim to be affiliated with any particular religion or perform any religious services,” he said.

Yet Evan Young, a minister for United Campus Ministry, has an opposing view on the matter, as there is no requirement or guarantee of formal training for those ordained by the organization, unlike most organizations that offer the service.

“I believe that the community has a role in selecting people and affirming their fit to be ordained as leaders in the community,” he said. “There’s an aspect of selection and of affirmation of the call in the community that I think is lacking in the Universal Life Church’s process, and it is a reflection of their difference in process in ordination.”

According to state law, a minister who can produce a legitimate license is entitled to receive a state license authorizing the ordained to solemnize marriages, though it is subject to inspection. In addition, only those who are legally authorized are able to solemnize a marriage.

However, for the marriage to be recognized by the state, the couple must place an application and receive a marriage license.

Fulton said the organization’s ordination process is recognized throughout 48 states. In Virginia and Pennsylvania, only select counties recognize the certification.

Fulton added the ordination certified by Universal Life Church Monastery is not worthless, nor is it a rare option for couples running to the altar.

“Many thousands of married couples living in the U.S. and abroad were married by ULC Monastery ministers, and their marriages are just as legal in the eyes of the states,” he said.

Fulton added that, though the site’s ordination offer is certainly legitimate, it simply duplicates the privileges from the traditional ordination process and in no way mitigates the value of an education offered from a college or seminary.

“The ministers who come to us either study on their own or develop the expertise and skills they need to do a good job being a chaplain or performing various types of ceremonies, so our ordination does not inherently cheapen their abilities,” he said.

But Nate McGinnis, a senior studying meteorology, member of Young Life and the son of a pastor, doesn’t agree.

“The idea that someone received their credentials through an online source shows they did not have the effort to go through a normal program,” he said. “Without the experience of becoming ordained the right way with the correct organization, I believe that kind of passion cannot be shared.”­­

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