Online ordinations groups, such as the Universal Life Church (ULC), are branching out from mainly offering the public “priests for the day” for friends and family members’ weddings to appealing to more serious spiritual entrepreneurs seeking a license for their unconventional ministries, writes Heather Adams in the Washington Post (Jan. 13).
The ULC and related “on-demand” ordination services, such as Universal Life Church Monastery, Spiritual Humanism, and United National Church, have seen their services expand with their use of the Internet, with the ULC seeing a 10 to 15 percent increase of ordinations a year. The growth of civil same-sex marriages has led to a demand of ULC ordinations, mainly because gay and lesbian couples still can’t get married in many churches. While online ordinations are typically used to perform weddings, baptisms and funerals, they are increasingly used for spiritual counseling, exorcisms and alternative “spiritual work,” such as energy healing.
One ULC ordained woman is licensed as a “high priestess” and says that her ministry in energy healing and paranormal activity did not draw clients without receiving “some kind of official stamp of approval,” writes Adams. An official of the Universal Life Church Monastery adds that “Most of the people that are ordained actually do either have their own ministry or are part of a ministry or already do some sort of ceremony; they just want the title so they can actually have something to show to somebody.” There are some differences as to what services these organizations will endorse. The ULC Monastery does not encourage exorcisms while Spiritual Humanism’s website prohibits that practice; the United National Church allows those it ordains to perform exorcisms but prohibits them to bless same-sex marriages.
Dusty Hoesly of the University of California in Santa Barbara, who studies the ULC, told RW “From the very beginning, people have joined the ULC in order to express their own spiritual ideas. ULC ordination conferred a special status to people who could not afford more traditional seminary programs as well as those who did not want to subscribe to a particular doctrinal orthodoxy…Thousands of ULC ministers began congregations of their own, and not just to dodge taxes, but to manifest a vocation of religious leadership and to spread their own idiosyncratic religious and spiritual views.”
Hoesly added,“If today most people sign up in order to perform weddings or as a lark, there is also a large minority who join for the personal spiritual and religious reasons discussed above.” He also finds that there is some competition between these organizations, although not all of them view it that way. “The Universal Life Church Monastery and the Universal Life Church World Headquarters are more competitive than the other online ordination groups…in that they more explicitly seek market dominance and develop market strategies in order to achieve that dominance.”