I had an email late last month from the Universal Life Church, reminding me it’s been eight years since I was ordained.
When my daughter and son-in-law were getting ready to be married, I joked that I should get ordained so that I could perform the wedding. A week later, my daughter called me and said, “We would really like that.”
ULC has an online ordination process, which some might discount, particularly those who spend time in seminary and go through a more rigorous process. I get it. But for me it made absolute sense.
I have felt the call to be a priest since I was a child. Literally.
I remember holding worship services with a friend in the basement of our house in Flint. I organized communion, with sips of Tab from champagne glasses and M&Ms for bread. I was elementary school-age.
I also had one of those tiny Cracker Jack-type toys in the shape of a black Bible. When you held it up to the light, you could read a prayer inside. I remember it being at least part of the Lord’s Prayer, but I can’t be sure. I do recall reading it during communion.
We weren’t Roman Catholic so I’m not sure where I got these ideas.
When we attended church as a family, it was at the nondenominational church (which I’ve since learned is a member of the American Baptist Church) down the street. I remember Sunday school, where we received books. I remember one about Telemachus. It was a slender volume with a lime green fabric cover.
When I was older I walked to other churches: an Episcopal Church, a Methodist church and an RC church, all downtown. I was always drawn back to the pomp and circumstance of the RC service, the robes and bells, the sit/stand/kneeling, the prayer book.
The Episcopal service is so similar; why I preferred the Roman Catholic I can’t say. But I wanted to be Catholic.
And yet I always left the service rebellious. I hated the “I’m not worthy” leanings of the prayers and preaching. Even as a young’n, I knew or suspected or hoped I was; that God saw me differently.
As an adult I joined the Episcopal church, was confirmed in one and worked for one. Then I worked for the diocesan office. I went to General Convention, the national triennial gathering. I saw the inner workings of the EC, experienced the deeply flawed leadership at every level — its political and narcissistic nature and damaging fallout.
People excused it by saying, “Well, we can’t expect better. It’s a human institution. Humans are flawed.”
I did expect better. Absolutely I did.
Throughout this time, I felt ordained and yet knew seminary and hoops-jumping to be accepted into a broken institution was not my path. I knew God had something else in mind for me, had already tagged me for ministry.
So ULC ordination made complete sense. As a minister I can legally perform weddings. If the state needs that documentation, then there it is. But God doesn’t need it.
I’ve done a couple of weddings, and performed last rites and the funeral for my father. When radical Episcopal friends and I got together back in the day, I presided at communion, even though officially ordained priests were present. We referred to the institutionally endorsed ordination process as bestowing “magic fingers,” or in our more cynical moods “going to the dark side.”
These days I rarely attend church. I was a victim of that flawed narcissistic leadership and left the church that had been my everything for years. Now I call myself an Episcopagan, a mystic, if anything. I am profoundly spiritual, but my image of God –and my relationship with God — continues to transform.
One thing I am certain of: Humans are indeed too flawed to have that kind of power over our spiritual lives. My ordination makes me a companion on the journey, nothing more. No magic fingers, no dark side.
You’re welcome to come along.