While some people think becoming an ordained minister means going to seminary for years, many Penn State students have found they can become ordained online in minutes.
Cole Reinert said he was ordained by the United National Ministry, and he said the online service required him to write about his relationship with God.
Reinert (senior engineering science) said it was important to the ministry “that you believe in Jesus Christ and things like that.”
Reinert said he underwent a background check to receive a certificate of good character.
After the online game, Reinert said all he had to do was wait for his minister’s license to arrive in the mail.
Reinert said her cousin was getting married in January, and she asked him in the summer of 2021 if he would officiate the ceremony, which he was “really excited” to do.
“It was a great experience to not only be there and be able to do my cousin’s service, but also to be the representation of God there,” Reinert said.
Reinert said several bridesmaids and friends of her cousin told her they got married during the pandemic. Some of them told him that their ministers had fallen ill the week of the wedding, prompting a quick search for a “relief minister”.
Hearing about those experiences inspired Reinert to post on a State College Facebook page that he could be an alternate minister for marriages if needed.
Reinert said that in the future, he would be happy to organize weddings for his friends – or even strangers.
He said he was raised in the United Church of Christ.
“My family, my grandparents, everyone was very involved in the church,” Reinert said. “I entered at an early age.”
Reinert said he “found his faith through the people, through how much everyone in the church cared about each other.”
He said celebrating his cousin’s wedding gave him a closer connection to God.
“You’re the one bringing him into the room and making sure everyone is aware of his presence,” Reinert said.
Reinert recalled the pastors and “mentors” he had over the years, and it was “a great feeling to be on that side,” he said.
For Katie Smith, who graduated from Penn State in December 2021, getting ordained and having a wedding was always on her to-do list — so when her friend told her about their engagement and the search for a minister, she jumped at the chance.
It was “something that I thought was a little clunky and would be kind of fun for friends to do,” Smith said. “It’s like anything else in public speaking, in my opinion.”
Smith earned degrees in psychology and Spanish and said she was ordained by Universal Life Church.
The ULC makes the ordination process free and “ridiculously easy,” said Smith, who has described herself as an agnostic.
Smith said she and the couple were worried about possible legal issues related to her online ordination. Out of “excess caution,” they decided to have a self-union wedding ceremony, a tradition Pennsylvania Quakers are known for, in August 2021.
Smith said some counties in Pennsylvania can challenge the legality of online ordination.
Neither the bride nor the groom in Smith’s wedding were religious, but both of their families were deeply Christian, according to Smith.
“They needed to have someone who was a minister, but they thought having their girlfriend with colored hair would be a good way to stick with them,” Smith said.
Smith said they wanted the wedding to be short, so they used “one of those very basic patterns you can find online.”
All Bible readings and references to God were removed, with Smith reading a poem about love instead, Smith said.
Smith also served as bridesmaid at the small wedding, which she said had a maximum attendance of 20 people.
“It was a nice little wedding,” Smith said.
Smith said she doesn’t think she would ever perform weddings for anyone other than her friends.
Smith said the couple’s parents were “polite” to her, although they didn’t approve of her not being a real minister.
Parents pushed the couple to find a minister from one of their churches, Smith said.
“I helped set up Eve, so they had no reason not to like me as a person,” Smith said.
For Parker Fitzgerald, he was disappointed with his CV when he left high school. He found ordination to be one of the most popular online “resume boosters”.
“I wasn’t in disbelief, but I never even considered it a possibility,” said Fitzgerald (young international politician).
Fitzgerald said he also earned a certificate for handling gunpowder tools, often used in shipbuilding.
“I was just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what was sticking,” Fitzgerald said.
In addition to putting his certification on his LinkedIn, Fitzgerald said he has yet to use his ordained minister status, although he “would love to,” especially if one of his friends gets married.
Since Fitzgerald said he loves public speaking, he thought about putting an ad on Craigslist and making it a “side hustle.” He said he would be “much cheaper” than other ordained ministers people could find.
Fitzgerald is “surprisingly” not religious at all, although he “always finds out about things religiously.”
“I was thinking [religion] would have been a bit of a prerequisite for being an ordained minister,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said he was ordained by Universal Life Church, as was Smith.
There are two definitions of marriage — the legal definition and the spiritual definition, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said the legal definition is “much more prevalent these days.”
“To me, a marriage means so much more than just the spiritual bond of two people on a religious level,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it shows stability. I think it shows maturity and I think it shows loyalty – all things that aren’t inherently religious.
Unlike students’ experiences with online ordination, Allison Maus, associate pastor of campus and young adult ministries, went to Princeton Theological Seminary for her master’s degree in theology and worked at the State College Presbyterian Church for four years.
She was ordained in June 2021.
Maus said pastors speak of their profession “with a sense of being called [by God].”
“It’s not just like, ‘Oh, I just decided to be a pastor. I’m going to do this, but there’s this call from God and the community that fits in,’ Maus said. It can sometimes seem intimidating.”
Since being ordained, Maus is now able to perform the sacraments, the communion of which has become her “all-time favorite thing”.
She said she has yet to perform a baptism or conduct a wedding, although she is preparing for both, and has also taken on a greater leadership role within the church.
In addition to performing a wedding ceremony, Maus said it was also her responsibility to guide couples through premarital counseling.
The premarital counseling led by Maus will be “an opportunity to have a conversation about things in life that are perhaps more difficult for people to address, or perhaps need mediation or a space for reflection,” she said.
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Maus said a couple she counsels before marriage were ‘really intentional’ to have a church leader perform the wedding ceremony and ‘not just a friend or uncle who was ordained online “.
“They wanted someone to think ‘what’s the meaning of all this?'” Maus said, referring to the wedding ceremony.
Maus has described herself as “an expert at organizing a ceremony”, saying the weddings are “similar” to a regular church service.
While student ministers are legally allowed to perform marriages after fast-track online registrations, Maus said she was not threatened by the trend of online ordination.
“Weddings are such a small part of my job, so I don’t feel like it detracts from my experience or the time I spent or the work I do,” Maus said.
Maus said she thinks Christians should try to have their ceremony performed by a pastor – especially if they want a service with scripture reading and prayer.
“I’m used to speaking in front of a crowd, keeping space, giving meaning and accompanying people in big life decisions,” Maus said.
Maus said she understands why some people wouldn’t want a pastor to perform the service.
Marriage “is such a personal thing, and fewer and fewer people feel connected to congregations,” Maus said.
Maus said people are being motivated by a “more individualistic approach” to the church and society as a whole, contributing to more online ordination.
Another reason to become ordained online, Maus says, is that many pastors won’t perform same-sex marriages.
However, Maus said he met gay Christian couples who still wanted to be married in a church by a fully ordained pastor.
“They were like, ‘No, I’m going to get married in church, my faith is such a big part of my life. I want a pastor to affirm and say these things that he would say in anyone’s wedding. else in mine, during the ceremony,” Maus said.
For Maus, the church as a whole is adjusting.
“I hope we become more open and understand that God operates in the world — not just in the boxes that we created and may have lived in in the past,” Maus said.
Maus said anyone who wants to get married should contact a pastor, even if they don’t want a pastor to conduct the ceremony.
“I wish I could still sit and talk with people,” Maus said. She said she hoped to be able to offer her knowledge to “add value to people’s experience”.
Maus encouraged people to marry in churches for the “additional metaphor of: ‘It’s about more than us, it’s about our community, it’s about a life of faith’.
“Churches can also be so beautiful, so use them.”
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