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Friday, June 21, 2013

Lesley Cissell: No seminary, no course, no laying on of hands, and yet I’m a minister!


Lesley Cissell’s ordination certificate came via overnight delivery.


Even Lucy charged Linus a nickel for advice, but I can now absolve sins for free.
No, I’m not kidding. On Monday, I became a minister ordained by the Universal Life Church and on Tuesday, by the powers vested in FedEx and overnight charges, I had the certification to prove it!
It’s not that I’m complaining … exactly … but, this was entirely too easy.
The whole thing came about naturally. One of my best friend’s daughters, whom I consider a niece, fell in love and wanted to be married. Like a great number of couples today, they were ambivalent and even antagonistic toward established religion. They didn’t want to get married in a church or by an ordained minister of a brick-and-mortar congregation.

It’s not like they pull out the garlic every time they pass a priest on the sidewalk, but they don’t attend church except on major holidays at their parent’s request and they don’t believe in either eternal damnation or any exclusions from the category of eternal salvation. In their daily world and circle of universal friends, anything goes.
Sound familiar? I daresay this characterizes a lot of people I know, under and over the age of 30.
So, six days before the wedding, the bride and groom have returned to the Michigan town where they met to be married. Most all decisions and arrangements about the important things have been worked out like the dress, the attendants, the venue, the DJ. What hasn’t been determined is what type of ceremony are they going to have and who will perform it. That’s when all eyes focus on me.
Now, come on, I’m just as qualified as the next man or woman or homo sapien. All I need do is provide a valid address and promise I am above the age of 13. Plus, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Her oldest sister was remarried 19 months ago by a close friend who was ordained online. My own daughter and son-in-law were married 21 months ago by his father who was ordained online. But, that’s an interesting story.
When they came to me about getting married, I had a small list of requests, chief of which was that they be married by an ordained minister. They wanted it to be his father which seemed totally reasonable at the time because his father was a former monk.
He’s a former monk who married a former nun and had five kids. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
But, I, in my ignorance of the Catholic Church, assumed that a monk – even former and father of five – would pass the muster … at least as much as a Protestant minister would. I understood that he couldn’t perform Holy Communion, but they didn’t want that at their wedding anyway. It didn’t dawn on me until right before the wedding that he’d have to be ordained online. Even when he showed me his certificate and their official Ohio Marriage License came signed and stamped in the mail, I still assumed he’d had to go through courses and, perhaps, validation by a licensed minister.

The author's pocket clergy clip

A pocket clergy clip came with the ordination package.

Now, even that illusion has been shattered.
All of the Cissell clan, with the exception of my father, are Catholic. In fact, the Cissells are among the first families to found the 18th century settlement of Holy Cross in Nelson Co. which is the oldest Catholic community in Kentucky.
My grandfather was raised Catholic. The nuns kicked him out of school, however, in the third grade and he left home before his 13th birthday. I don’t think he gave the Catholic Church another thought. He wasn’t a church-going man in the early years of his life. My grandmother, however, knew a woman who worked with her in the school lunchroom and who went to the Ninth and ‘O Baptist Church in south Louisville. So, Nanny started taking my dad there when he was little.
Then, when I was small, my grandfather made a public profession of faith in Christ in tiny Penile Baptist in Jefferson County. I remember him being baptized and ordained a deacon on the same day.
Having been reared in and associated with multiple Christian denominations; having lived for a decade next door to the Jewish state of Israel; and having married a Muslim (and having been converted on paper so I could buy a tax-free washer and dryer), I thought I’d pretty well seen it all when it came to organized monotheistic faith. But, that’s just the point – by getting ordained online by the Universal Life Church I’m not restricted to a monotheistic faith, a major world religion or even a spiritual belief system of which anyone has ever heard. My ordination is completely and totally universal, and includes every conceivable definition therein.
When did spiritual come to mean anything and everything not physical, and universal come to indicate no restriction or limitation whatsoever?
I know there are readers out there who are slapping their foreheads and uttering monosyllabic expressions like “duh,” but I’m serious.
Even in the Apostle’s Creed, I pledge belief in “the holy and apostolic catholic church.” For many Baptists with which I grew up that word “catholic” gives them problems. But, I have always hastened to explain that the word with lowercase ‘c’ means universal. It never occurred to me that universal simply referred to the act of living as in “Universal Life Church.” Could my fellow ordained some day include animals or even plants?

I realize that this must seem like much ado about nothing to many at best and hypocritical to some at worst. After all, I did get ordained and am legal in 47 states to officiate marriages, funerals, baptisms and absolution of sins. I have a certificate and pocket “clergy” clip to prove it. I should have gotten the deluxe package because my friend’s brother, who performed her wedding ceremony this past weekend, told me he has a parking pass and a card identifying him as both a minister and a member of the press.
The reason I didn’t order that one? It included a bumper sticker which lumped my ordination in with everyone else’s, including Wiccans, and I just thought that was taking things a bit too far.
I’ve also been told that this could turn out to be an additional revenue stream. My niece’s oldest sister, the one who was married by an ordained friend, told me that the friend who became certified in order to perform her wedding has made enough money doing weddings and funerals to move to Florida. Apparently, the funeral business, especially, is booming down there.

A bumper sticker was part of the ordination package.

A bonus bumper sticker says ‘We are all children of the same universe.’

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two short years ago when I first heard the words: “By the power vested in me by Amazon.com, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” It’s even harder to believe that I can now say it – everywhere but in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee.
Maybe my problem with it is that, as a writer and a journalist, I’ve always believed in the power of words – in their meaning, in their portent and in their aim. If words like “ordained” and “minister” and “universal” now mean anything and all of the above, that amounts to using a sawed-off shotgun where a fine-point pen has always been needed in the past.
If nothing more than brain activity and 13 successive birthdays is required to act as agent for divine and/or human law, why did my daughter pay for law school or take the bar exam? She didn’t even get a parking pass!
It occurs to me as I write this that maybe this is the full extension of the “moral relativism” everyone’s been talking about since Sociology 101. It also occurs to me that for many people I’m overthinking it.
My best friend’s brother, who performed her ceremony last weekend, did a far better job of it than most “real” ministers I’ve known; and, it may seem egotistical, but I know I’m as qualified to perform a wedding ceremony as many I’ve known who graduated from seminary.
The problem is that I can’t believe all my fellow Internet ordained are. And, in our world of Do-It-Yourself truth and the Wild, Wild Web, words and certificates have to have meaning from somewhere or the standard – at least what’s left of it – will continue to fall ever further and further away. After all, the universal belief in nothing is still, by my calculation, nothing.



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