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Requirements for an Ordained Minister License
Learn about how to become a minister and get an ordained minister license. Here, the education and ordained minister licensure requirements and pathways are summarized.
Ordained Minister Career Overview
An ordained minister is a person authorized by a church or other religious body, typically of a Christian denomination, to carry out various spiritual operations such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, and more generally providing spiritual guidance to the local community. Prospective ministers can progress towards becoming ordained along a traditional path or a nontraditional path depending on their reasons for seeking ordination as well as time and financial constraints.
Education Bachelor’s degree
Field of Study Theology, Religious Education/Studies
Average Salary* $53,290 (All clergy, May 2018)
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Become a Minister: 3 Steps
Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step along the traditional pathway to becoming an ordained minister is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in theology or religious studies. Such programs will require students to cover and acquire a foundational understanding of a range of topics which may include:
Whichever denomination an aspiring student seeks to practice within, it is important that they have at least a basic grasp of various religious doctrines and scriptures so that they can instruct members of their chosen church in a competent manner.
Step 2: Go to Divinity School
Most churches will require prospective ministers to hold master’s degrees. Therefore, the next step to becoming a minister is to go to divinity school and graduate with a master’s degree or even a doctorate of theology. Unlike undergraduate programs that equip students with foundational theological knowledge, seminary programs prepare them to be church and community leaders. Divinity degree pathways can include theology, Christian education, Christian practice and, of course, divinity.
Postgraduate programs such as these will typically include core and elective courses so that students can tailor their program more to their needs and also gain hands-on practical experience through internships. Courses may include:
Pastoral care and counseling
Step 3: Get Ordained Minister License: Minister License Requirements
Once an aspiring minister has graduated from divinity school, he or she is ready to complete the ordination process and get an ordained minister license. The nature of the process will vary by denomination. Some denominations may require candidates to first complete a one-year internship, placement and supervision through their seminary. Others may ask candidates to attend an interview in front of a church committee or take written and oral exams. As an example, the National Association of Christian Ministers requires candidates to:
Agree to a statement of faith
Offer testimony about their call to service
Undergo a background check
Pass a theological evaluation by an elder
Nontraditional Path to Becoming a Minister: Get Ordained Online
There are some people who wish to become ordained for very specific purposes such as being able to conduct a marriage ceremony or funeral for friends and family. In this instance, spending years in academia studying is not necessary. Instead, nontraditional ordination can be achieved online, regardless of denomination, in a matter of days by completing a form and paying a fee. Upon completion of this short process, the newly ordained minister will receive a legal ordination credential certificate. In some states, such as Ohio, ministers must also register with the state office in order to legally perform weddings.
This type of ordination is offered by a wide range of multi-denominational religious organizations. These organizations will usually offer access to religious ceremony training materials post-ordination.
Tennessee Says Internet-Ordained Ministers and Marriage Don’t Mix
Weddings in the state were thrown into uncertainty under the new law, which has been temporarily suspended after it was challenged in court.
Erin Patterson at a wedding in Smyrna, Tenn. Ms. Patterson, a Universal Life Church minister, is part of a lawsuit challenging a Tennessee law prohibiting ministers who were ordained online from solemnizing weddings.
Erin Patterson at a wedding in Smyrna, Tenn. Ms. Patterson, a Universal Life Church minister, is part of a lawsuit challenging a Tennessee law prohibiting ministers who were ordained online from solemnizing weddings.Credit…Jason Eaton/Jason Eaton, via Associated Press
By Christine Hauser
July 20, 2019
The house in Chattanooga, Tenn., was the perfect venue for the quiet wedding the two men were planning for August. They would hold the ceremony in the glass-clad sunroom of the house, set on two acres that backed up to the woods. They started to write their own vows. The owner of the house, the couple’s friend Gabriel Biser, agreed to officiate.
But then Mr. Biser, 36, got bad news that brought his friends’ plans, and those of many others in Tennessee, to a halt. On May 21, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed a bill that amended state law to prevent ministers ordained online from solemnizing weddings, starting July 1.
“It’s summertime in the South,” Mr. Biser, a minister who was ordained online in 2015, said. “In the evening, we get fireflies. It is kind of a magic time for us. It was going to be a very intimate ceremony. Then we found out about this law.”
So Mr. Biser, two other ministers ordained online and the Universal Life Church Monastery, the nonprofit organization that ordained them, filed a lawsuit in federal court last month that alleges the new legislative action violates their rights of expression and religion.
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On July 3, a judge blocked the law’ and ordered a trial to be held later this year, court documents show. On Friday, lawyers for the five defendants — four county clerks and the state attorney general, Herbert H. Slatery III — met with the plaintiffs’ representatives to set a tentative trial date in November or December.
Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee in Chattanooga in February. The effective date of the ordination bill he signed into law has been suspended.
Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee in Chattanooga in February. The effective date of the ordination bill he signed into law has been suspended.Credit…Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press, via Associated Press
Critics say the law restricts citizens’ ability to personalize marriage ceremonies that are unconventional. Online ordinations are often procured by friends of gay couples and by those who are officiating at bilingual weddings or weddings that are interfaith, not religious or not affiliated with traditional churches, they say.
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“This is a backdoor attack on the L.G.B.T. community, impeding our ability to be legally wed,” said Mr. Biser, who has officiated at ceremonies for four gay and straight couples, all of them friends, since he was ordained. “After doing a few of these myself, there is a certain intimacy about having somebody you already know officiate. They always say, ‘We could not imagine this day without you being part of it.’”
Couples who want low-cost “backyard weddings” or who plan to customize their ceremonies will also be affected, said Lewis King, the executive director of American Marriage Ministries, which ordains ministers online. The organization quickly dispatched a team to Tennessee to conduct ordinations in person after hearing about the law.
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Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
“Look at the groups of people who are negatively impacted by this law,” he said. “L.G.B.T. couples, now if they want to get married, they have to go to a government office and maybe get married by someone who does not respect who they are. Courthouse weddings are going to be in English. These groups are completely sidelined by this law.”
But the state argues that by explicitly banning online ordinations, the new law, Public Chapter 415, does not significantly alter Tennessee law, which has always required ministers to be ordained after “considered, deliberate and responsible” preparation. An ordination that takes little more than a “click of a mouse” is not sufficient to authorize a person to solemnize marriages, Mr. Slatery, the attorney general, argued, according to court documents.
State Representative Ron Travis, a Republican, said it was impossible to determine online whether a person had the “care of souls,” as the law states.
“Just because you pay $50 and get a certificate doesn’t mean you’re an ordained minister,” Mr. Travis said, according to WATE-TV.
The opposition in Tennessee reflects a clash with a growing trend in the United States to privatize marriage and personalize weddings by distancing them from the state or established religions.
Ministers ordained online can officiate at weddings in 48 states, with the exception of Virginia and some parts of Pennsylvania, according to the Universal Life Church Monastery, which says it has ordained more than 20 million ministers nationwide. But rules can vary by county, as in New York State.
Tennessee had not explicitly ruled out online ordinations before Public Chapter 415. Mr. Slatery’s court rebuttal to the lawsuit said that online ministers could still officiate at weddings, but that the couple would still need to “have their marriage solemnized in the state.”
How to Become a Wedding Officiant
Thinking about becoming a wedding officiant? Follow these 5 steps to make it official.
By The Zola Team
how to become a wedding officiant
Photo by Zola
The First Look ✨
Do your research ahead of time: Check the relevant jurisdiction’s marriage laws to find out what requirements exist for officiating weddings.
You’ll likely need to get ordained, but luckily the process is cheap and easy online.
Finally, you may need to register with the state in order to officiate marriages.
Officiating the wedding of friends or family is an honor that allows you to play a special part in the big day. That said, if you’ve never officiated a wedding before, it can be difficult to know what you need to do in order to legally perform the marriage. If you’re in this situation, you’re in luck: we’ve done the research for you. Below, find details on how to become a wedding officiant or jump straight to a step depending on where you are in the process:
Start the process early.
Check the state’s marriage laws.
Register with the state.
Plan the ceremony.
5 Steps To Become a Wedding Officiant
The timeline and process to become a wedding officiant may vary by organization and state. We’ve outlined the most common steps you’ll need to follow in order to become a wedding officiant.
Step 1: Start The Process Early
The time it takes to become legally able to perform a wedding ceremony varies depending on the state’s regulations. To be safe, we recommend starting the process as soon as you’re asked to do the honors so that you have plenty of time to receive any important documentation and to resolve any issues you might encounter along the way.
Allocating extra time will also be crucial should a new officiant need to be secured for the wedding in the event of complications registering with the state.
Step 2: Check The State’s Marriage Laws
Every state has its own set of law and regulations for what’s required to become a wedding officiant. Familiarize yourself with the state’s laws regarding officiants to understand what steps you need to complete to legally marry people.
Particular counties within a state (like in certain parts and wedding venues in Virginia) may not allow individuals who are not members of the clergy or civil servants to perform marriages. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to check the city laws as well.
Find about your State’s Marriage Laws.
Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola
Step 3: Get Ordained
For individuals who are not already ordained members of a clergy or civil servants authorized to legally marry people ((judges, court clerks, etc.), the first step is to become ordained. This sound intimidating, but becoming ordained is as easy as applying online through the ordination organization of your choice.
Most online ordaining services do not require you to be a member of a particular religious faith and typically the process is free.
There are hundreds of options for becoming ordained online to officiate weddings. To choose the right one for you, we recommend considering the following:
Does the organization represent your beliefs and values?
Does the organization have resources, such as sample ceremonies, to help you officiate your first wedding?
Is the organization a federally recognized 501(c)3 religious organization? Pro Tip: If not, then your ordination is likely not legal.
Step 4: Register With The State (If Required)
Once you are ordained (and have received your certification of ordination), refer back to Step 1 to see if you need to register with the state. In some states you only need to be ordained to perform a marriage, while others require that you register and/or obtain special licensing (with fees that vary by state).
In some states, you must supply a letter of good standing from the ordaining organization to register.
Step 5: Plan the Ceremony
Congratulations – you’ve completed all of the legal requirements and are ready to plan the ceremony. Make sure to sit down with the soon-to-be-wedded-couple to better understand what they expect from their ideal ceremony. Be sure to ask questions about the couple’s story, making sure to understand the specific details, inside jokes, and themes they’d like to incorporate into their big day. Once you’ve nailed your script, make sure to practice! Study the ceremony’s order of events and rehearse your presentation.