More Dogs on Main
October 28, 2011
My niece called the other day and asked if I would marry her. She is a bright, attractive young woman, but even in Utah, where these things are not unheard of, it seemed wrong. But I had misunderstood the question. She and her boyfriend were planning to get married, and needed somebody who could ride a mountain bike to officiate at the ceremony. They were looking for somebody with a little more personal connection than a county clerk or an Elvis impersonator. Somehow, my name had come up.
Of course, this is a country of laws and rules, and we can’t have just anybody running around performing weddings willy-nilly. Only those who are specifically authorized by the state of Utah can perform weddings. So we had to figure out how to get on that list.
Lots of elected officials can perform weddings. Members of the legislature can do it under some circumstances, but only if they can gerrymander the seating in the church. It’s hard to imagine a wedding performed by a member of the legislature as being legitimate. But I wasn’t about to stoop to trying to get into the legislature. I have some standards. So the other alternative was to become a member of the clergy.
Becoming an ordained minister seemed like a daunting task, and the wedding is coming right up. Apparently years of skiing and biking with Father Bussen wasn’t enough to qualify. I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. But it turns out you don’t need years in a seminary to become an ordained minister. No visions, snake handling, secret handshakes, or lightning bolts are required. You can do it online. And while the state of Utah puts great importance on having the wedding performed by a duly ordained minister, they don’t have any standards at all about what constitutes either a church or an ordination. The test, as far as the state is concerned, is pretty much, "Well, if you say so."
To be on the safe side, though, I decided I’d better get an official ordination off the Internet. There are a surprising number of options there. One organization had a formal-looking certificate of ordination available, and offered a wide range of titles from the sort of generic "reverend" or "pastor" to a more impressive "apostle" or "prophet." They also could make me a rabbi. Nobody was ordaining mullahs, gurus, or shamans, at least not on the sites I found. There probably are online sites to become a mullah, but in addition to the certificate of ordination, you get an FBI file opened up.
Some of the sites had tests you had to take before they would ordain you. Some required a profession of faith, renunciation of sin, and pledges of eternal devotion. Some got kind of snoopy. In the end, I chose to be ordained by a church with a more simple test of qualifications: "Do you have $25?" I went with them mostly on the basis that they took PayPal, while the site that could make me a rabbi or prophet wanted my credit card number. Somehow, when the whole premise of the transaction seemed like a bit of a scam, I wasn’t about to hand over my credit card number to them, even if they were prepared to confer a Doctor of Divinity degree, with a diploma suitable for framing, for an additional $39.95.
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One of the big online ministries is the Universal Life Church, which was very popular among airline pilots back in the day when they were getting paid. Despite making their living flying planes from one publicly financed airport to another, there was no group of people more opposed to paying taxes than airline pilots in the 1980s. There were several pilot/ministers who claimed their houses in Park City were churches and exempt from property taxes. About twenty pilots also claimed to be living in a single-wide trailer outside of Evanston, Wyoming, where there is no state income tax. It’s hard getting by on a pastor’s salary.
I don’t think you have to be a pilot to become a Universal Life Church minister. It seems to be the Episcopalian equivalent of the online ministries. As a boring, mainstream, name-brand, online ministry, it was a little more expensive than the bargain denomination. It seemed a little establishment. I went with the less doctrinaire Open Ministry. So I guess we’re all good to go. The wedding will involve mountain bikes, and I suppose I’m now the Rt. Rev. Tom of the Church of the Little Chain Ring. Now join with the choir in singing, "Will the Derailleur be Unbroken." The collection plate will be coming around shortly.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for 25 years.