Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Adventures in Ordination.

I noticed a while ago that the pro independence blogger Stuart Campbell (www.wingsoverscotland.org) sometimes uses the title "Rev". I haven't been able to determine what organisation ordained him. He could be a former minister of some denomination, but his biography does not mention any church activities.

Leaving this aside, it did make me wonder what you would have to do to be "ordained". I do remember someone in Edinburgh who had served as a pastor of an independent church for many years searching for a US evangelical organisation that would ordain him based on his experience. The ordination took place, I believe in absentia in the US, and he was conferred with the title "Reverend".

Ordination seems to be easy to come by in the US, usually driven by a requirement to act as a marriage celebrant, or in some states the ability to operate as an alternative therapist (ordination covers the "laying on of hands" for insurance purposes). In one episode of the Simpsons, Homer gets himself ordained through an online service, prints out his own clerical collar and starts marrying people.

The main organisation doing this is the Universal Life Church of Modesto California which can be found at www.ulchq.com. There is also a rival split from the main church which can be found at www.themonastery.org. In the interests of science and curiosity I decided to try them both.

Submitted the form and had a very swift, and personal, email reply asking if I was the same Gordon Hudson of another address. This was, in fact, an old address of mine, and I have a vague recollection of having submitted a similar form at some time about ten years ago. It appears I am already ordained! It is as legal as any other church's ordination, but most would consider it "irregular" under their ecclesiastical laws.

Submitted the form online and received an immediate confirmation of my ordination. There was an option to buy a certificate for $7. According to the original ULC (www.ulchq.com) this is not associated with them at all and has only existed since 2006.

I also came across a British web site selling online ordination for £35, claiming that this would give people the right to act as a marriage celebrant:

The company United Europe Church Ltd was only formed in March this year and unlike the other two that allow any belief, this has a strictly evangelical Christian statement of faith.

I am not convinced that the Registrar General for Scotland would recognise this as valid for marriages. My understanding is that all Church of Scotland ministers automatically have the right to perform marriages in Scotland. Ministers of other denominations have to be officially nominated by their denominational headquarters and the registrar general limits the number to those he thinks are necessary for those denominations. Ministers of independent churches need to be nominated by their congregational decision making body. If you were to start your own church I suppose this might work, but you don't need to be ordained to act as a marriage celebrant, having a congregation is sufficient. For example, Brethren meetings and Churches of Christ who have no ordained clergy usually nominate an elder to carry out marriages. It is also not permitted to earn a living as a "celebrant" in Scotland, even though quite a few Humanist's seem to do this.

So, now, like Rev Stuart Campbell, I remain,

Yours faithfully,

Rev Gordon