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Monday, January 13, 2003

Instant ministers!

When I first told co-workers that I was heading off to divinity school to study for the Unitarian Universalist ministry, two friends thought they'd prove that I was wasting my time and money. Within half an hour, both were fully ordained ministers in the Universal Life Church, empowered to forgive sins and — more lucratively — perform weddings. They didn't need a three-year master's degree; they just needed a Web browser.

New York's fashionable set — the people whose wedding announcements appear in the New York Times — have turned more and more to Universal Life Church-ordained friends, skipping the Catholic and Episcopal priests, rabbis, or justices of the peace who more traditionally perform their ceremonies. Now the Times examines the phenomenon.

"If you have no church, then you create your own authority figure," one groom explains. "You choose the person who has the most authority in your relationship." He and his fiance chose her ex — the guy who introduced them! Another groom said, "It's not like we're anti-authority. It's just that we didn't want a fake authority."

It's hard to quarrel with that if, like me, you have performed wedding ceremonies without being ordained. Here in Massachusetts, where I have performed two weddings through the state's "one day special designation" procedure, you don't need to be a minister. (The certificate signed by the governor looks great, but it ends up going right back to the government with the newlyweds' marriage license.)

But there is a difference between the "fake authority" of trained, accountable, and authorized clergy and the "fake authority" of Web-ordained pseudo-ministers. A friend, with his e-mail ordination, may be deep enough to say, "I'm not sure the bonds of marriage are relevant anymore, but I understand the concept of having a partner who in theory is your partner for life. I tried to convey that." A real minister ought to be able to help a couple understand that marriage takes more than good intentions.

My wedding, this coming July, will feature an actual Episcopal priest. No "in theory" stuff for me! Once again, the Times' Style section provides the best grist for theological reflection in the news.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 13 January 2003 at 8:15 AM

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