Sunday, September 07, 2014

Mail-order rights to rites


Till now, I avoided the Universal Life Church, a.k.a. The Monastery. Any hippie or hipster leanings I've had stopped short of what some deride as mail-order ordination.

Instead I hiked uphill with my respect and affection for marriage. The five I have performed — solemnized in nuptial lingo — started with petitioning the governor here. That is the state law and one of the inspirations for this blog, along with promoting marriage equality. Yet the process sounds a bit grander than its reality.

One of my early posts here over a decade ago was on what was then the physical process of earning the wax seal on the one-day certificate of solemnization. Alas, over the years and the five marriages, the official process of getting the right to sign a couple's license has lost much of its theater.

Even the stodgy secretary of the commonwealth's office uses technology to simplify, streamline, and in the process demystify getting the paper. You can apply online and be pretty set in a week.

I confess that I enjoyed the formality of petitioning the governor. In reality, that surely fell and falls to some petty functionary in the secretary of the commonwealth's office. Now that would lack drama in the telling.

On the other hand, three years ago, a chum from my professional association asked if I would solemnize his daughter's wedding when she and her beau were on a prolonged visit during their break from their French college. Of course I would, although that would run afoul of our general law Chapter 207 §39. That law limits one-day solemnizations to one per calendar year.

I filled out the application to the governor's office and in my cover letter noted that this would be second marriage that year. Much to my surprise I got a call from Gov. Deval Patrick's top aide, saying that would be fine.

Note that California has done this right. For the longest time, Massachusetts was alone in this splendid method of letting family and friends conduct marriages for loved ones. When California was looking at pending passage of marriage equality, it passed but better legislation. There, you can get the privilege much as you would a marriage license, no high ranking officials involved at all. Plus, you can perform as many as you'd like.We need to catch up with the leapfroggers.

Recently when the sister of a family friend asked via that friend if I'd perform her wedding, I agreed. Then I considered the logistics. There wasn't much time. More important, they knew place but were unsure of the date. The one-day law requires exact details of the couple, the city of marriage ceremony and the date. If anything changes, you need to re-apply.

That sent me to the Monastery. I wanted the flexibility that comes with just being able to sign the license after the ceremony. Lackaday, the residual theater goes away here.

I did apply and got my credentials of ministry quickly. However, while in many states, that's all you need, Massachusetts adds a layer.  While it is free to do you, to perform marriages here, you must get on an approved list. That includes:

  • Being a Massachusetts resident
  • Providing a copy of ordination papers
  • Sending an original letter of good standing in the church that ordained you

That took a few extra days to assemble the paperwork. It also highlighted one of The Monastery's clever funding wrinkles. The packets of documents with ordination do no include a letter of good standing. In states that require one to have on file, it requires another order ($18 more, plus $18.50 shipping, in a #10 envelope).

There is an Emergency Minister's Package ($64.99, plus shipping) that includes the letter. You would suppose that more expensive and grander sounding packages would have it all, but they do not. To their credit, The Monastery does have some packages for states with convoluted laws, like California, NYC, NY state same-sex, and Nevada extras.

The key point is that you should work several angles if you go with the Monastery. Find out from the secretary of state where you might perform marriages before getting ordained this way. Then you can safe effort, time and money returning to order the surprise essentials.

Note too that after submitting everything to get on the marriage list here, I found they don't notify you. You need to call them and make sure they got the paperwork and certified you an officiant.

On the other hand, if you are in Massachusetts and expect to perform a single marriage, go with petitioning the governor. It's only $25 pus a stamp, and comes with the cachet of explaining how you, a non-minister/not-JP got to do that.

I would note to anyone deriding ULC/Monastery ordination, it's a several steps down from a divinity school degree, plus the fellowship process many churches require. However, it is a solid step up from the self-ordaining crowd. I know people who call themselves ministers, saying they got a personal call from God, and others who give themselves ecclesiastical titles (Bishop is big in one father/son mega-church around here). It's made-up stuff and America is just one country with a long history of ministry-because-I-say-so.

For the pending wedding, I met with the couple. As with each of the previous weddings, I planned, customized and produced the ceremony and vows. Unlike the many weddings I've attended, mine are what suits and what will be memorable to the couple and attendants.

I suspect ministers, justices of the peace and others who conduct weddings get as tired of the cant as the guests do. When my eldest son married, I dickered with him and my future daughter-in-law considerably on wording. They really only knew what they didn't wants (like nothing from the Bible). In the end, I drafted my own concept, figuring that was the next round of negotiation. Mirabile dictu! They were pleased and we went with it.

At their reception, a minister and a JP asked for copies of the ceremony. They were tired of delivering the same repeatedly. As with so much of life, creativity trumps cliché.

I'm likely to report here on how this wedding goes next weekend. While I'll miss turning in the designation of solemnization with the signed license, they'll be just as married.



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