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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

UC Davis faculty, students double as ordained ministers

When two of veterinary pathology professor Stephen Barthold’s friends decided to get married, deciding who would officiate the ceremony became a dilemma. Hiring an unknown local minster, rabbi or priest to marry them would be impersonal, they felt.

So Barthold stepped in and did the job himself.

“My own daughter was married outdoors several years ago, and they approached a clergy man in the area. He refused to marry them unless they got married in God’s house. There was something wrong with that logic, and that the forest and mountains are a lot more fitting than a man-made structure. That motivated me to accept the job,” Bathold said in an e-mail interview.

For many people, online ordination to become ministers is a convenient opportunity to administer and oversee wedding, baptismal and funeral ceremonies for family and friends.

Andy Fulton, who works for the Universal Life Church Monastery, one of the websites that offers online ordainment, said that approximately 15 percent of all marriages in the United States are performed by unconventional, online-ordained ministers, and that its popularity is sure to grow over the next decade.

“Look at it from a college student’s perspective. Why have an old, white-haired geezer perform your wedding ceremony when you can have a friend or family member perform it? Your marriage ceremony can be more fun and intimate when ministers perform it,” said Fulton in an e-mail interview. “It makes sense to have someone who is truly special to you perform your wedding on a day that is supposed to be one of the most important in your life.”

Generally, online ordination is completely free. However, it is frequently necessary to acquire ordination credentials and other forms of documentation before a minister can legally perform wedding ceremonies. In California, it is possible to perform legally recognized wedding ceremonies without purchasing any documents, but specifically at the Universal Life Church Monastery, the majority of ministers will end up spending under $20 to obtain necessary materials.

Universal Life Church Monastery can be accessed at www.themonastery.org. Other websites include Rose Ministry at www.openordination.org and Spiritual Humanism at www.spiritualhumanism.org.

First-year nutritional biology graduate student Danielle Cooper said that faith in and worship of the gods were always important in her life, which prompted her to learn in a more formal setting and use her license as a minister to give back to the community.

French and Italian professor Noah Guynn has officiated two weddings. One couple was very low maintenance and only wanted to be guided through a set of rituals they had chosen. The other couple wanted to meet numerous times before the ceremony to brainstorm ideas and discuss the significance of marriage.

“I found it totally exhilarating! I was nervous at first, though in the end it’s not all that different from the experience of standing in front of a crowded lecture hall. It’s important to provide a certain amount of gravitas but also to make people laugh from time to time,” said Guynn in an e-mail interview.

Like Guynn and Barthold, academic affairs analyst Crystal Barber became ordained so that she could participate in the marriage of her close friend. She was responsible for meeting with the couple and talking to them about their lives, how they met and what they wanted in their marriage ceremony. For Barber, it was an honor to participate at that level.

“I’ve only done one, on the hottest day of 2009, in the rose garden of the state Capitol. My dress zipper melted, I had a major wardrobe malfunction and the groom took off his shirt and gave it to me to wear,” Barber said in an e-mail interview.

Brad Henderson, University Writing Program lecturer, became a minister to officiate at the wedding of his friends. For him, his role as a minister simply consisted of following a script that was created by the wedding participants. The experience as a minister was very rewarding for Henderson, as it is for many other ministers who are given the opportunity to oversee important ceremonies for their family and friends.

“The wedding, my first and only thus far, was beautiful and moving. I thoroughly enjoyed presiding over it and felt emotionally and spiritually nurtured by the process,” said Henderson in an e-mail interview. “I do like speaking in front of groups, and I do like leading group activities. The minister role was a great fit for me.”

PRISCILLA WONG can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


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