Archives For Online Ordination

I’ve often thought the NY Times wedding pages are a good harbinger of the trends to come. Long before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ died a relatively quiet death and well before a seeming cultural consensus settled about homosexuality, the NY Times posted wedding announcements celebrating gay couples like they we just ordinary couples.

That’s not a comment on the rightness/wrongness of the issue; it’s just a comment that the Times foreshadow future trends.

So here’s another trend.

Those same wedding pages this week wrote a story about the ever-increasing trend of couples getting friends, duly vested in made-up online religions, to preside over their ceremony.

As much as I refuse to pimp myself out to marry couples who are just treating me in the same way they do the caterer, it’s also depressing that an increasing number of people prefer to circumvent any faith element in their wedding altogether.

This is the cultural climate in which we’ll need to figure out how to do Church into the future.

Here’s the article…and before you get your friend to perform your wedding after a few minutes on Google make sure he/she is legal.

IN the days leading up to their August wedding at the Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island, Kinara Flagg and Paul Fileri chose Andrew Case, a friend and former law school classmate of Ms. Flagg’s, to officiate.

In some places, online ministers may need backup.

In the eyes of the couple, Mr. Case, who had become a Universal Life minister through a quick online ordination, was the right man for the job. In the eyes of the law, however, Mr. Case, who was not a part of an active ministry, was officiating in the wrong county.

An increasing number of couples are steering away from traditional religious and civil wedding officiants in favor of friends and relatives who become ordained through online ministries. But many couples are unaware that while New York State recognizes marriages performed by those who became ministers by the power vested in a mouse, there are five downstate counties where such officiants are not technically legal.

Ms. Flagg and Mr. Fileri, who knew that Suffolk County on Long Island, which includes Shelter Island, was among the handful of no-online-minister zones in the state, obtained their marriage license in Monroe County (where Mr. Fileri grew up and which recognizes online ministries), making their wedding a legal union after all.

“It’s surprising that Suffolk County does not recognize these online ministers,” Ms. Flagg said.

Neither do the counties of Nassau, Westchester, Putnam or Dutchess, owing to a 1989 ruling by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in a case involving a Suffolk County couple who were then embroiled in a divorce. In that case, the court ruled that the couple’s marriage and prenuptial agreement were void because their officiant was a Universal Life minister.

Though Ms. Flagg speaks for many married couples when she says “we wanted a friend to marry us, someone who could speak about us to our friends and family, rather than a person who doesn’t really know us and recites a lot of formulaic vows,” it remains that Connecticut, Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, a part of Pennsylvania and (of all places) Las Vegas do not necessarily recognize the credentials of officiants who were created, for better or worse, through such online ministries as the Universal Life Church, the Church of Spiritual Humanism, Rose Ministries and the Temple of Earth.

For many years, New York City also did not recognize online ministers, but in 2006 began allowing them to officiate at weddings in the five boroughs. But the appellate court’s ruling still holds for the other counties. (In September 2007, a couple in York County, Pa., who had been married two months earlier by an online minister received a call from a county clerk who told them that a judge had ruled that ministers who do not have a “regularly established church or congregation” cannot perform marriages under state law. Their marriage, they were told, might not be valid. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union advised them to seek help from the organization if the legality of their marriage was ever challenged.)

New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, a Westchester County Democrat, who has been trying since 2005 to pass a bill in Albany that would give online officiants legal power to marry couples throughout the state, said, “We need to change the law so that people everywhere can be legally married by online ministers.”

“I have had lots of conversations about this issue with the Judiciary Committee staff in Albany, and everyone knows something needs to be done,” Ms. Galef said. “I’m not quite sure what is blocking this bill. Is there opposition from priests, rabbis and other clergymen who see this as both a competitive and economic thing? I just don’t know.”

The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, who once served in a no-online-minister zone at the United Community Church of Wantagh on Long Island, in Nassau County, and is now pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, Kan., said that he understood why some states still do not recognize online ministers.

“In some places, there is still an understanding that certain qualifications have to be met by a minister or a justice of the peace before they are legally able to perform marriages,” he said. “And I agree with that.”

Here’s the rest of the article.