I stumbled across a discussion on facebook last night wherein someone was looking for a quickie Internet ordination to allow him to marry gay and lesbian couples when it becomes legal in his State. Someone recommended a well known on line ordination mill* and offered that he believed that this place is, “…the future of the Church.” Normally, I avoid such discussions like the plague. This time, however, I couldn’t remain silent and when I woke up this morning it was clear to me that something needed to be said about both the idea of getting a quickie Internet ordination to do weddings and the organizations that offer such ordinations being the future of the Church.
Regarding marriages and Internet ordinations, there are concerns in many States about the legality of such ordinations and the marriages that are performed thereby. I would refer you to a New York Times article on my website http://www.BishopCraig.com. To me this is not the most important issue, but it certainly is an issue of which people need to be aware. I think the question that people really need to ask themselves is why they want to be married by a member of the clergy. The answers are many, but most often are that people want a sense of spirituality in their ceremony even if they aren’t attending a Church. Some will speak of a sense of God’s blessing on their marriage. Others, and this may be the only negative reason, want a member of the clergy to marry them to appease their grandmother. I say that’s a bad reason because your wedding day is your day, and you should plan it to make yourselves happy, not someone else.
Accepting for the moment that you want a member of the clergy to marry you, why would you want someone who has cut every corner possible – including the corner of adequate training and supervision and the development of a spiritual life of their own? There’s nothing wrong with a secular wedding officiant, and there’s nothing wrong with a wedding officiant who is a member of the clergy, but I can’t help but feel that if the only effort your alleged clergy person is willing to put into getting ordained is filling out a free form on the Internet there is more than a little deception at work.
The truth is, there are Churches that offer alternatives to a three year seminary program as preparation for ordination. I happen to be the presiding bishop and co-founder of one of them, The Universal Anglican Church (www.TheUAC.net). Since our clergy are bi-vocational, you don’t have to leave your day job to persue ordination or to be a member of the validly ordained clergy. We are also radically inclusive, which means (among other things) that we do not discriminate in the ordination process on any basis. We also adequately screen, train, evaluate, supervise, and provide continuing education for our clergy – something that no Internet “church” can adequately do! Our clergy are experienced in performing a variety of religious and spiritual ceremonies, and also trained in pastoral care and counseling. All of this means that we – and other Church bodies that are legitimately Church – can professionally handle whatever issues may arise.
You may have noticed that I wrote “legitimately Church” above. Both theologically and legally, a “Church” that is comprised only of clergy is not a “Church.” It may be a religious order, but a group that does not have a constituency is not a Church. Throughout history, the legitimately ordained have been raised up by a Church, not an Internet advertisement or a billboard. By definition, then, Internet ordinations can never be the future of the Church. They may be the future of some kind of pseudo-church but, not unlike comic book advertisements that claim you can get an MBA by studying for six months on-line, the amount of effort you put into securing a credential will determine how useful that credential will be to you. Your Uncle Fred may decide to get an Internet ordination so he can perform your wedding with all of the best itentions, but he has neither the training nor the skill to ensure everything comes out well.
Perhaps most importantly, regarding the marriages of gay and lesbian couples I have a question. After waiting so long and fighting so hard for the right to marry, don’t you think you deserve the kind of ceremony that only a professional can provide? With no offense intended to well meaning people who want to “help,” there are many very well trained, experienced, validly ordained clergy waiting to help your friends and provide them the wedding day they will remember for all the right reasons – and not because of something that happened that you were unprepared to handle.
Finally, it is important to me that I say that there are some ministers who have Internet ordinations who have on their own initiative secured adequate education and training to function as clergy and do a fine job – but they are the exception to the rule. If you are one of those people, I would invite you to contact me regarding seeking ordination in The Universal Anglican Church and securing a credential that will reflect the effort you have put forth! We are known, after all, by the company we keep!
*The term “ordination mill” refers to any orgainzation that ordains people without adequate training or supervision, the goal being to ordain as many people as possible as quickly as possible, very often for a fee.