As of next week (November 19) I will have been ordained through American Marriage Ministries for two years. Weird, huh? I’m one of the least religious people I know, and yet technically I’m an ordained minister. Why? I was curious. At the time, I was in an ehtnography class, so I spent a lot of time talking about, and thinking about, the ways different cultures recognize milestones and ceremonies. One of those was marriages.
Being a non-religious person, I’ve always wondered how non-religious people handled weddings, funerals, and the like, because all of those I’ve ever been to have had a distinctly religious bent. Whether that’s a 3-hour wedding mass when a friend’s aunt got married, or the touching but very religious funeral service for my grandfather, all of these ceremonies, in my experience, have been tinged with religion. Then, I read about getting ordained online, almost instantly. It really is almost instant.
I logged onto the American Marriage Ministries website, filled out a few forms, and was confirmed as a member of their ranks. There are plenty of licensing “ministries” out there, including Universal Life Church, another biggie. Personally, I love that it is so easy for someone who matters to the couple getting married to officiate their wedding. I love that there are options for the non-religious other than the relatively impersonal city hall/justice of the peace route. While that totally works for some people, it’s always good to have options. So far, I haven’t performed any marriages, and I don’t know if I ever actually will. I got ordained mostly out of curiosity. But I definitely would if someone asked me to.
The thing about being non-religious in America is that in almost everything it makes no real difference (except that people are going to assume you’re religious, especially in this area) but when it comes to celebrating milestones and having ceremonies, your options become instantly limited. But I honestly think that the ease of online ordination for officiating weddings is indicative of a shift in our cultural opinions about these ceremonies. It’s a shift to accepting that there are many different ways to celebrate a milestone – be it a wedding, or a funeral, or a sweet 16. American culture, as a rule, tends to sit back on Christian traditions, which can be a problem for the many Americans who aren’t Christian. Be they Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, or simply non-religious with no opinion one way or another about the existence of a deity, there are millions of people who don’t want to have the traditional church wedding. Instead, with this kind of easy ordination, they could have a friend or family member, a person who has been important to both parties, officiate and make their wedding day truly special. I’m all for it (obviously) because I’m all for anything that expands people’s freedoms and possibilities, even in a small way.