Become an Ordained Minister

A Personal Decision with Many Reasons

When I decided to become an ordained minister, my decision felt a bit like a too-large jacket - heavy, and unwieldy. After all, I did not practice a specific religion, and despite my lifelong interest in biblical and spiritual teachings, I felt like the decision should have required something...more.

I wasn't a Bible scholar, though I am reasonably familiar with the good book's stories and lessons. In fact, my own opinions of those stories often conflicted with the teachings of Christianity, which is the umbrella under which the majority of Americans practice their faiths. Worse, I was a skeptic who had felt judged and found wanting on many occasions due to believers who felt themselves to be superior to me.

"Shouldn't I have more formal training?" I thought. "Will people think I'm a fraud or worse, a shyster?" Though I'd taken comparative religion courses in college, and had read extensive portions of the Tanakh, the Holy Bible, the Qu'ran, and apocrypha like the Dead Sea Scrolls, my studies had been informal at best.

I gave the matter a great deal of thought. My ambitions didn't include preaching or starting a church. I had no plans to lead funerals or conduct baptisms. I merely hoped to provide wedding services for my daughters one day, and perhaps as a favor to friends here and there in the meantime. I hoped my limited expertise would help me find a path to achieve this goal.

It was time to do my research.

If You've Considered Becoming a Spiritual Leader...

What prompted you to consider ministering?

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Training to Become Clergy

The first thing I needed to find out about was the kind of training I would have to receive. I knew that different religions had different requirements. The Catholic religion, for instance, did not allow women to become priests and had rigorous standards for men to become priests. I didn't know what other faiths might require, but I consider myself to be "polytheistic," meaning I enjoy and appreciate multiple religious philosophies and practices. I thought I might have a tough time meeting any ordination standards because of my unusual spiritual views.

I certainly wouldn't be able to return to college to pursue a theology degree, so if that was a prerequisite, I'd be forced to abandon my goal. I discovered that different religions have an array of requirements. One basic requirement is that a candidate is generally expected to be a practicing member of the faith. However, within any one religion, there can be significant differences in ordination processes. Here are basic guidelines, though in a local community or a particular sect, the requirements may differ:



Ordination Requirements
American Baptist
Lutheran
Catholic
Jewish
Islam
Non-Denominational
Ordains Men and Women
Limited
Yes
No
Varies by sect
No
Yes
Theology Degree
Varies
No
Yes
Varies. Usually 4 year degree required.*
No*
No
Master of Divinity Degree
Varies
No
No
No*
No*
No
Must Have Recommendation
Yes
Yes
Yes
Must Apply for the Job and be Hired
No
No
Make a Statement of Faith
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Varies
Abide by Faith-Based Requirements
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Attend Seminary or Specialty Training
No
Yes
Yes
Varies
Yes
No
Complete Background Check
No
Yes
Yes
Frequently
No
No
Complete Internship
No
Yes
Yes
Varies
No
No
Psychological Testing
Varies
Yes
Yes
Frequently
No
No
* Muslim Imams and Jewish Rabbis are viewed as teachers in their communities and while they may not be required to have a specific theology degree, their education on faith-based subjects is critical to gaining acceptance for a leadership role within

Whaddya Know?

Steps to Become Ordained

As a woman who appreciates many religions but doesn't adhere to a single belief system, only the non-denominational option would be legitimately available to me even though some faiths have sects that allow online ordination simply by registering a statement of faith. I could not agree to make a statement of faith for one religion over another, so this idea was not an option for me.

A person who is interested in becoming a spiritual leader for one of the faiths above can initiate the process by talking to their existing clergy, who will then point them in the right direction and explain the steps in more detail.

For someone interested in becoming a lay minister, ordination is available from many online sites, but they should consider their choice of affiliation carefully and make sure their values do not conflict with the church they're seeking to ordain them.

The ULC's logo illustrates the principle of tolerance and acceptance.
The ULC's logo illustrates the principle of tolerance and acceptance. | Source
Ordained ministers can purchase embossed certificates to commemorate ceremonies they officiate.
Ordained ministers can purchase embossed certificates to commemorate ceremonies they officiate. | Source
The ULC provided tools to get started as a Reverend.
The ULC provided tools to get started as a Reverend. | Source
The ULC's Guide to Divinity book provides a basic overview of many of the world's religions, including some I'd never heard of before.
The ULC's Guide to Divinity book provides a basic overview of many of the world's religions, including some I'd never heard of before. | Source

Ordained Non-Denominational Ministers - What They Can and Cannot Do

I ultimately chose to become ordained through the Universal Life Church (ULC), and have been happy with my choice. Based on Christian principles, the ULC encourages tolerance of all faiths and believes that every individual is entitled to a faith system that works for them, a principle highlighted in their logo above. This includes full acceptance of homosexuals, agnostics, and even atheists, which was one of the factors that had precluded me from joining a particular church in the past. The organization was exactly what I'd hoped to find and they offered extensive information that I found helpful.

Their ordination process was a simple online registration, and they did not charge for it. They maintain regular contact with me, and provide guidance and tools at reasonable prices. Their ordination approves me to do traditional ministerial services under the ULC umbrella:

  • Conduct weddings and commitment ceremonies like hand-fasting
  • Bless a home
  • Bless the naming of a child
  • Hold funerals
  • Hold baptisms
  • Provide comfort to those suffering from illness, hardship, or sorrow
  • Conduct sermons
  • Start a church (additional requirements apply)

While I would be interested in establishing a church to study, compare, and contrast the world's holiest books and manuscripts, that's not in my near future, so I won't be starting a church soon or providing sermons. I have not had occasion to preside over any funerals or baptisms, which is a good thing - I'd probably be crying throughout either one!

I have conducted two weddings, with a third one planned, in the months since I became ordained. (To conduct weddings, ministers must comply with their state's legal requirements.) And I'm still a regular person with the same flaws I've always had - too bossy, too brassy, and way too sassy!

Nonetheless, I've found it very rewarding to be able to offer wedding officiant services to my friends and provide them with an important step in making their own dreams happen. I no longer worry that others might find my avocation distasteful, because I'm merely serving as a functionary who strives to provide the perfect wedding ceremony for a couple's special day.

Clerical Vestments - Cassocks, Stoles, and Tools for Clergy

I have chosen not to purchase one tool that many ordained ministers find helpful - vestments.

When an individual becomes a Reverend, he or she might signify their role with vestments. Many churches use cassocks or stoles to emphasize its clerical members when they perform their official duties, but there are no formal guidelines governing what non-denominational clerics wear.

Other tools that can be useful include a ministerial parking permit, a press pass, a ministry badge, and certificates for commemorating important events. These items must be purchased, either from the ordaining authority or from another retailer. The ULC provided booklet titled "Guide to Divinity" free. It provides an overview of many religions' belief systems, but the other tools shown in the photos were included in a starter kit that I purchased along with a couple of additional books containing a variety of wedding, funeral, and and comfort services.

Ordained Ministry and Money Matters

As an ordained minister, I do not have the right to claim special tax deductions because I do not operate a church. I have not accepted pay for the two services I conducted. The ULC has come under attack from the IRS on occasion over its tax-exemption status, and learned some tough lessons about keeping sound financial records and documenting its activities.

In the future, I will probably charge a nominal fee to cover my expenses and time. Many wedding officiants charge $250 for performing a simple service, which may be a boilerplate, one-size-fits-all reading. I was thrilled to be able to provide a unique ceremony that included my friend's daughter when she, her groom, and her child established their new family. It takes a bit of time to write a custom ceremony or to locate and add special readings, so I will calculate a fair price for my time and request a fee based on the amount of time I must spend.

When I do, it will be considered income and taxed accordingly. If I operated a church, I would be entitled to certain deductions based on fourteen criteria described by the IRS and explained simply by the ULC. The organization urges ordained ministers not to seek exemptions they are not entitled to with the reminder that being ordained may confer a title, but ministry is something a person must do, and simply saying a prayer before meals does not entitle a pastor to evade the law.

If You're Thinking of Becoming Ordained

You may feel compelled to get ordained because of deeply held spiritual beliefs, but feel intimidated by the idea of revealing your desire as I was. Don't let those fears stop you from talking to your own church leaders or acquiring ordination through a church that offers online ordination, but please do make sure your behaviors and beliefs are consistent with your faith's practices.

Ministers are expected to hold themselves to a high standard of ethics and acts of service. Once you pledge to take your duties as a minister seriously, you become a representative of your faith and serve as an example for others to follow. If you cannot be a good example, you should not seek to serve as this type of emissary.

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Comments 24 comments

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

It's really neat that you became an ordained minister to participate in your daughter's lives. A lot of times, people think they have to belong to a particular denominational or want to lead a congregation to become a minister - now they know otherwise!


twinstimes2 profile image

twinstimes2 4 years ago from Ohio

I didn't know this at all about you...how cool! Great information! Anyone looking to take the same journey will appreciate your research! Well done!


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you both! And thank you also for allowing me to include your own very thorough research about becoming a Catholic priest, Twins!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Wow Jellygator! You never cease to amaze me. I had no idea you were ordained. This is a very well researched and laid out hub. Excellent work!


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma

What an amazing article! I had no idea there was a Christian based church that practiced that much tolerance. I have really considered the idea of becoming ordained to perform certain ceremonies for people who don't belong to any specific church, but like you, I couldn't find a comfortable niche. Thank you for all the wonderful, well-researched information!


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, Tammy and Sharkey11. Hope you get some mileage from it, Sharkey.


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

Congratulations on becoming an ordained minister. It is a big step in your walk of faith. God will work many wonders through you.


eHealer profile image

eHealer 4 years ago from Las Vegas

Hello Jellygator, you are very diverse and interesting in your hub topics. Unfortunately, I've known people that become ordained so they don't have to pay taxes, but the guidelines insist they start some kind of church. Thank you for the great information! Voted Up, Jelly!


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, Marlene and eHealer, and for such kind compliments. Yes, I think too many people who get into ministry of any kind do it for the wrong reasons, but I hope to demonstrate that otherwise to the best of my ability - and tax evasion wouldn't be a part of that!


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

I hear you, jellygator. I am an ordained minister, myself - nondenominational. I became an ordained minister because I felt called to make a bold statement about my commitment to the Lord and to serve. I have a church charter and the whole bit, but I never claim tax deductions because my reason for becoming ordained started purely as a way to force myself to live up to the title of something more than who I was. I know you (and maybe not others) understand exactly what I mean by that comment. You are now in a position where when you honor who you are, good things will happen for you and your loved ones. It's not a miricle, it's a reality. Welcome to my world. Lots of love and blessings to you, my dear sister in Christ.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

You have certainly posted some very useful information on this subject. Your discussion on the purpose and why it is needed is very inspiring. I think it is wonderful for a person to pursue a career where they are helping others in life. Well done.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you both for stopping by! Nice to meet you, Marlene.


starbright profile image

starbright 4 years ago from Scandinavia

Very inspiring hub - thank you for sharing.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, Starbright!


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

Congratulations, JellyGator! Hub of the Day - that's awesome.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Glad to see you won the Hub of the Day!! Hurrayyy!!!! Still a great hub. :)


Tricia Ward profile image

Tricia Ward 4 years ago from Scotland

What a really interesting hub. Really well written. Thanks People obviously get ordained for all kinds of reasons that I had never considered. Blessings


Feras Fares profile image

Feras Fares 4 years ago from Dubai, United Arab Emirates

very nice


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

Such an interesting hub. You do a great job of incorporating your personal experience while still making this an informational piece for those who might be interested. A great guide. Voted up and useful. Congrats on getting hub of the day!


lovebuglena profile image

lovebuglena 4 years ago from Staten Island, NY

Interesting hub. Thank you for sharing.

My mom is an Eden Energy Medicine Certified Practitioner and she recently applied to become a Healing Touch Minister and she was approved! :-)


coffeegginmyrice profile image

coffeegginmyrice 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

Wow, what a beautiful huge step in your life. You will be there and perform your services to your own daughters' weddings for sure. God Bless You and more, jellygator!


bodylevive profile image

bodylevive 4 years ago from Loachapoka, Alabama

Congrats to you! Hub of the day is great. Very well put together. I do share your views, I am non-denominational. I can't stand man-made restrictions such as what I should not wear and all those unimportant sacrifices that has nothing to do with being a Christian. Every one that is related to my blood line is under the denomination of baptist except me. My cousins tell me, "you have always been strange". I don't consider having the freedom of choice strange. Voted up-useful


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

For sure! :) Thanks, Andy!


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA Author

Bodylevive, I'm glad you're able to celebrate your beliefs in a way you feel comfortable with. I don't think that makes you strange. I think it makes you genuine. Best wishes and thanks for the votes!

LovebugLena, Congrats to your mom!

And to everyone else who commented, thank you so much for your kind words and votes of confidence!

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