By Cathleen Falsani, Staff Reporter
Actually, that’s “The Rev. Falsani,” thank you very much.
While trolling the Internet for media gossip and religion news recently, I stopped by the Universal Life Church Internet site and got myself ordained.
Online. For free.
Then for $10, the nice folks at Universal Life Church sent me a clergy identification card for my wallet and a nifty ordination certificate that’s taped to the wall behind my desk at work.
For another $10, I could have had my choice of religious titles, including “Apostle of Humility,” “Dervish,” “Mother Superior,” and the intriguing “Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality.” A Doctor of Divinity degree is $25 (“no test required”). And a Certificate of Sainthood (“excellent gift item!”) is $10.
But even without the certificates, bells and whistles, as an ordained Universal Life minister, I can perform weddings. Just like Joey Tribbiani on “Friends.”
Really. I checked.
“In Illinois and in most other states, if both parties believe that someone was authorized to marry them, even if the person is not qualified to perform the ceremony, the marriage will not be invalidated,” said Scott Burnham, spokesman for Cook County Clerk David Orr.
In the 1940s, New York law required that the person performing a wedding be affiliated with a religion recognized by the state, but that law was struck down. And in the 1980s, a wedding performed by a Universal Life minister in Mississippi was challenged, but the court upheld the marriage as legal, Burnham said.
“They’re loose when it comes to marriage ceremonies,” he said.
Radio personality Steve Dahl should know. As an ordained Universal Life minister since 1979, he has married more than 50 couples, and last year he performed a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple.
“That’s not legal, but that was pretty fun,” Dahl said recently. “I take it seriously in the sense that I do believe in marriage–I’ve been married for 23 years–I’m always kind of flattered that people would want me to do it. Incredulous, but flattered.”
Dahl performed his first wedding for two couples at the Carnegie Theater on Halloween 1979 after a listener responded to a Universal Life Church ad in the back of Rolling Stone magazine and had him ordained. Since then, he has married couples in Chicago, Las Vegas, on every island in Hawaii, and once in a tub of Jell-O, but that’s a long story.
Earlier this year in Mexico, Dahl presided over a funeral of sorts when a listener presented the disc jockey-cum-pastor with a Dom Perignon bottle filled with the man’s wife’s ashes and proceeded to toss them into the water off the coast of Cozumel.
“I do think that in a bizarre way it fosters some dialogue about dogma and all that kind of stuff,” said Dahl, who is Lutheran but with his wife, Janet, raised his three sons as Roman Catholics. “I mean, when you see that just anyone can say something and it’s so, you have to think a little bit about some of the other stuff that you always take as gospel.”
Since 1959, the Universal Life Church has ordained more than 18 million ministers worldwide, said Brother Daniel Zimmerman, spokesman for the Modesto, Calif.-based church and head of the Universal Life Church Monastery in Tucson, Ariz. Since establishing a Web site in 1995, the church has ordained 437,000 people online.
Some mainstream clergy say ordaining anyone–no matter the person’s age, training or sanity, for that matter–is dangerous.
“If everybody is ordained, then the kind of status that clergy have had really doesn’t mean much, does it?” said the Rev. Marti Scott, superintendent of the Chicago Northwest District of the United Methodist Church. “It basically says that it doesn’t take any special skill to be a pastor, like it does to be a lawyer or a brain surgeon.
“Then there’s the question of who is responsible if that [ordained] person misuses their orders. It’s kind of the separation between church and state taken to the extreme, where ordination is meaningless.”
Zimmerman, 52, an ordained Universal Life minister since 1972, insists anyone can be ordained.
“Ordination is just a legal thing,” he said. “You can marry them, you can bury them; hatch, match or dispatch them; take care of spiritual needs from the womb to the tomb, from the sperm to the worm, and from the erection to the resurrection.”
It’s amazing what can be done with just the click of a mouse.