Back around early 2000 I was reading an article on Slashdot, and in the forum somebody had stated how he became become a minister via some web site. Reminded me of Rev. Jim from Taxi, when he filled out an application from the back of Rolling Stone.
As I read the forum I learned that the people who offered to make you a minister from the back of Rolling Stone charges a fee of about $100. There was another outfit that charged about $30, I was mildly interested, but that was still too much money. Finally somebody mentioned the Universal Life Church (ULC) had an ordination program that was free. Free had made me more interested, 10 minutes later I was ordained and absolved of all my sins. The power of the Internet!
After filling out the form and becoming a minister I was able to print out a neat looking document that said I was a minster. I was working at the University of Phoenix, and I told all of my work colleagues, who were impressed. A few of them spent 10 minutes online and became ministers as well.
My very catholic mother-in-law was not impressed.
I researched the ULC website a little more, and did a few searches through Google, all to find out what powers I had. It turns out I can do weddings in my state (Arizona). The couple getting married needs to obtain their Marriage Certificate from the state. After the ceremony the officiant (the minister) needs to gather signatures from the couple getting married as well as two witnesses, typically the best-man and the maid-of-honor. After the signed marriage certificate the officiant needs to get it recorded ASAP.
Some states require the officiant to be registered with the state to perform weddings. Some require long registration, fees, and more. Fortunately Arizona was simple and didn’t require all of that nonsense.
A few months go by, and I was with friends at dinner, and I discussed my being a minister. As typical, everybody thought it was neat and or funny. Well, my wife’s friend Jen was about to get married. Her husband was a Catholic guy from Lebanon, and this was about 6 months after 9/11. This put a rush on the already planned marriage, for the sake of his immigration status. He was legal, but temporary with about a year left. Would the government allow that full year with his heritage and the current state of affairs? She was going to get married in Canada somewhere, but she still wanted to have a ceremony for the rest of her family and friends that couldn’t get up to Canada.
I worked with her over the course of a few months and she came up with everything she wanted said, including vows, and order of everything. I read the readings and vows a few times every night, so I could keep reading to a minimum.
The wedding was held at the Asian Cultural Center and the ceremony went off without a hitch! I had performed my first ever wedding, even if it was only ceremonial. After the ceremony we sat around and did the typical reception stuff, including consumption of beer. That was until one of the guests of our party brought another woman from an adjoining party to see me.
That night the Asian Cultural Center had a second wedding scheduled, and the bride-to-be of the second wedding was missing her minister, and she hadn’t even heard her from the minister they hired.
I explained to her I was just one of those guys who filled a form out on the internet to become a minister. I didn't have a church, and my flock consisted of about 3 people during my life that I convinced to obey me. She didn’t really care, she was here to get married for real (not ceremonially) and everything was about to come crashing down on her dream wedding. I finally agreed to perform her ceremony, we were going to do a quick rewrite of the vows and readings of the ceremony I had just done, and knock another on out of the park.
They wanted to pay me for my services, but I didn’t know how much to ask for and I didn’t really want to profit from my homegrown Internet based religion.
We prepped our roles, but at the last moment her minister showed up. Something about traffic issues and a dead battery on her (female minister) cell phone. I gave the bride the option to pick whomever she wanted with absolutely no hard feelings from me. I think she wanted me to perform the ceremony, but she finally picked her original minister.
My minister duties were the topic of lunch the next week at work. After the story died down I thought that was it with my minister duties. My religious mother-in-law didn’t think because I was a Reverend I could get away with saying a few words and get out of church. A decade later and I'm still trying the same old argument with her, even getting my father-in-law working on my side, but only to lose out every time.
A few months later my buddy from work, Rich, invited me to his wedding. Rich was trying to buy a new home, but would use the large backyard of his future in-laws for the ceremony. I threw on a coat and my wife and I went off to a wedding, all the way out in Avondale, AZ. As we walked up to the door Rich quickly opened the door an ushered me in.
It turned out Rich hired some old guy to be his officiant, and he hadn’t called or showed up either. Rich needed me to quickly prepare, and do his ceremony. We jumped on the web and did some quick scrape-and-paste to throw together a reading, and some vows. It was pretty simple and non-religious, but got the point across. I performed the wedding, and then sat back with my wife for dinner and cocktails.
About an hour into the reception I asked one of the groomsmen for the best man. He found the best man, and I asked him if he was holding the marriage certificate. He wasn’t sure where it was, he hadn’t seen it. I explained how I needed to get everything signed by the wedding party, then I had to record the document Monday morning as a public document to make everything official, or it could become null and void.
I had the groomsmen all rattled, and they told Rich about my concerns. A few minutes later Rich pulled me aside in a less than gentle manner and said,
"Stop asking questions and your mouth shut. I'll explain the situation to you Monday morning at work."
I played along and went back to the table I was assigned to (way off in the back). I explained the situation to my wife to her dismayment. We both talked privately about it, but couldn't come up with an explanation.
I figured it out on the way home, just as we were about to merge on to the freeway back to Phoenix. I used to be a mortgage originator (loan officer). Rich was retired from the US Navy. Rich just bought a new home. Rich wanted to use teh VA for his loan to get the best possible rate, and least closing costs. It would have taken him much longer to save the down payment, so he would have used the VA for a home loan. The VA has a zero down payment program, and even allows you to roll some of the closing costs into the loan. It has allowed millions of vets that would otherwise be unable to get a home, get a home. The problem was the VA only allows former military personnel, and spouses to be on the loan. The income from an unmarried, non-veteran, could not be used to qualify for the loan. The only was Rich with qualified income for the new home. He would have needed to count income from both him and his fiancé, and the only way to count income from both of them was if they were married.
I deduced Rich was already married, before I performed the ceremony to the family and friends. I told my wife,
"I think they have already snuck off and gotten married, and this was another ceremonial wedding?"
Sure enough, Rich and his wife got married legally through the Justice of the Peace, in order to qualify for their loan. The wedding I officiated was only for show. Most of the attendees didn’t know what I knew, because it was kind of a last minute thing. I don't think many people at all knew, because he really wanted me to shut up at the wedding, and not talking about recording the marriage certificate.
I wonder what the rules are in MN?
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