- Universal Life Church
Universal Life Church Leader Andre Hensley Geographical areas Worldwide Founder Kirby J. Hensley Origin May 2, 1962
Separations Universal Life Church Monastery Members 18,000,000+ Official website http://www.ulchq.com/
The Universal Life Church (or ULC) is a religious organization that offers anyone semi-immediate ordination as a ULC minister free of charge. The organization states that anyone can become a minister immediately, without having to go through the pre-ordination process required by other religious faiths. The ordination application, however, must be checked by a human in order to be official; therefore, true ordination usually takes a few days. The ULC’s ordinations are issued in the belief that all people are already ordained by God and that the ULC is merely recognizing this fact.
The ULC has no traditional doctrine, believing as an organization merely in doing "that which is right." Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right for him or her as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. The Church does not stand between the member and his or her belief system.
The ULC's stated beliefs are as follows:
- Objective: Eternal Progression.
- Goal: A Fuller Life for Everyone.
- Slogan: To Live and Help Live.
- Maxim: "We Are One."
The ULC was founded in 1959 under the name "Life Church" by the Reverend Kirby J. Hensley. He operated the church out of his garage. Disappointed with the Pentecostal church, Hensley decided to venture on his own to find his religion. After five years of studying various religions, according to his own statements, Hensley concluded that the proper religion may differ for each man, and everyone is entitled to choose his or her own religion. No one should be criticized or condemned for wanting to practice the belief of his or her choice.
In 1958, Hensley and his new wife, Lida, moved to Modesto, California. There, he founded the first Universal Life Church in 1959 as Life Church, later incorporating in California on the May 2, 1962 as Universal Life Church with Co-Founder and (then) Vice President Lewis Ashmore. Hensley served as the minister of the congregation and President of the Board of Directors until his death in 1999, at which time there were many independent branches of the ULC worldwide. They took out their first advertisement in FATE magazine to reach the metaphysical community. The Modesto congregation grew rapidly. The Church spread throughout the West Coast, and today claims to have congregations located all over the United States and parts of Canada and many other parts of the world. The organization also states it has a membership of 22 million ULC ministers worldwide.
1960s and 1970s USA
During the 1960s and 1970s many people in the USA became ministers in the ULC because they believed that being a minister either would help keep them from being drafted into military service during the Vietnam War or would enable them to get income tax relief as members of the clergy. Both of these beliefs have always been false, as merely being ordained does not exempt a person from compulsory military service, and ministers as individuals receive no tax benefit; only churches themselves are tax exempt. Ministers do have the option of applying for exemption from social security taxes; however, this may entail limitations on eligibility for social security benefits. Also, this exemption applies only to ministers whose income actually comes from religious services and applies only to such income.
The Universal Life Church was referenced by Abbie Hoffman in his 1970 book Steal This Book, which encouraged readers to request an ordination from the ULC, receive notification of the ordination, and then cut out and laminate a card indicating the new minister's ordination. He regarded the ULC as "unquestionably one of the best deals going", but also made the mistake of assuming that a ULC ordination would entitle ordained persons to discounts and tax exemptions.
Upon Reverend Kirby Hensley's death, his wife Lida was elected President of the Church. She served as President until her death in 2006. On January 14, 2007, the ULC's Board of Directors elected the Hensleys' son Andre Hensley as President. He had previously been the office manager of the Headquarters, running the day-to-day business of the Church.
The Church was profiled by the The Modesto Bee in an article, Universal Life Church Still Churning Out Ministers, by Lisa Millegan. This article, which profiles the Church during its transition following the death of its founder, was later republished by Belief Net, a website owned by News Corp.
Ordination and ULC clergy
As of early 2009, ULC was sending out between 8,500 and 10,000 ordination certificates each month. Between 1962 and 2008, it sent out almost 18 million, worldwide.
Ordination in the ULC is free, and what makes the ordination complete is its registry with the ULC home church. People are drawn to the church for many different reasons. Some, including many who have already been ordained into the ranks of more traditional churches, join the ULC in order to express their support for the church's mission to preserve and protect freedom of religion.
Some people have turned to the ULC for ordination after being denied by their own church due to their gender or sexual orientation. Others become ordained in order to officiate at the wedding of a friend or loved one. A number of ULC Ministers have become full-time independent wedding and funeral officiants after being ordained through the ULC, and some pursue advanced degrees in a related field to advance their religious educations.
The ULC Headquarters holds weekly church services in a historic church building in Modesto. ULC ministers are authorized by the church to officiate weddings and funerals, perform baptisms or verbal baby naming ceremonies, hold services (also called meetings), and other sacraments and rites regularly performed by ordained members of clergy and part of the particular belief system the minister represents. All ministers in the ULC are also authorized and encouraged to ordain others as ministers in the church. The ordaining minister informs the home church of the ordination, and the new minister's information is added to the official church records.
Charter Universal Life Churches operate ministries and have sprung up that charge a small fee for processing of the ordination certificate, which is allowed by the Founding Church, or Headquarters, to cover advertising and overhead expenses of the Charter Church and which also helps to bring in needed revenue for the ULC Charter Church or individual Minister's Ministry. Ordination is offered via websites such as eBay and websites owned by Ministers.
Advanced degrees and special titles
The Universal Life Church, through its Department of Education, offers a variety of degrees, such as Doctor of Divinity and Doctor of Universal Life. Generally these doctorates require the recipient to take one or more courses, pay a modest fee for the study materials, and, in some cases, pass a test based on the coursework. For instance, the Doctor of Immortality degree is awarded upon the candidate for first reading the book "A New Life – Do You Want It?" (written by the founder of the Church, the Reverend Kirby Hensley) and then correctly answering at least 75% of a set of questions based on the book, as well as making a donation of at least US$25. These degrees are not equivalent to academic degrees like those issued by universities, but are intended for personal growth and are for use within the Universal Life Church. Ministers of the Church may also obtain a variety of special titles, ranging from "Free Thinker" to "Priest." These titles are issued upon request, as all ministers are considered equal and individuals can choose the title that they believe is right for themselves.
Dedicated ULC members state that they truly believe in freedom of religion. In other words, they want every member to be able to pursue their own beliefs without interference from the government, church or other religious agencies, or any other outside agency. Their one creed (or doctrine) is
“ Do only that which is right. ”
Any person may associate themselves with the Church and, if they feel it is appropriate, request ordination as a minister. The Universal Life Church does not issue ministerial certificates to individuals who are currently incarcerated. Any person may be ordained as a minister as discussed above.
Ministers are allowed to follow their own belief system path. For example, ministers of the Church may follow a traditional Christian belief system, they may follow other world religions, they may blend various faith traditions, or they may be agnostic or atheist. The latter may serve as humanist ministers or non-religious officiants. (Humanist ministers or officiants may also be registered by the Humanist Society, a non-related group.
The Universal Life Seminary is one of the many charter churches operated by individual ministers of the ULC. (The Universal Life Seminary is affiliated to the ULC because the minister that operates it is a minister in good standing with the ULC.) The Universal Life Seminary, however, does have some theological beliefs that differ from the ULC Headquarters. For example, the seminary offers a number of courses from a spiritual perspective, as well as some from various religious perspectives, but still very specifically welcomes and promotes people of all beliefs. The seminary does not claim, however, to speak for the Universal Life Church as a whole, but offers one of many paths to interested individuals.
Other charter churches, or ministries, that operate include an Order of Jedi, inspired in part by the philosophy of the Star Wars motion pictures.
The Church is similar in some respects to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), although the two were never affiliated. The ULC is sometimes said to be a liberal church with many conservative members. This aspect attracts some individuals to the ULC who are uncomfortable with the liberal activism and social views held by the UUA. Church meetings typically allow all present to speak, a practice similar to the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, although these two groups were also never affiliated.
Since its inception, the Universal Life Church has come into legal conflicts over such issues as the validity of ordinations and the tax-exempt status of the organization. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ruled that the Church was tax-exempt some years, and not tax-exempt other years, based on the annual filing statement required of non-profit organizations.
The Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse, Inc., also known as simply The Monastery, broke away from the ULC Headquarters in 2006. There was some litigation resulting from the schism due to the fact that The Monastery controls the ulc.org website. The ULC Headquarters in Modesto and The Monastery now operate as two unaffiliated entities. Much to the ire of ULC ministers The Monastery uses the ULC name and claims to have been founded in 1959, thus acting as the progenitor church rather than a break-away. Confusion between the two groups persists as The Monastery operates a number of other websites and is present on new social media sites, such as Facebook.
Authority to solemnize marriage and other rites of the church
A large number of people seeking ULC Ordination do so in order to be able to legally officiate at weddings or perform other spiritual rites. This aspect of the ULC has provided relief to interfaith couples or same-sex couples experiencing difficulty in getting their union performed in a religious atmosphere. Some people living in remote areas also use their status as ordained ULC ministers to meet the marriage officiant needs of their communities.
Within the USA, all 50 states theoretically authorize ministers who are ordained and authorized by their church to officiate marriages. In most states, ordination as a minister is the only requirement for a minister to be able to officiate lawful weddings. Some states require additional documentation, such as a "letter of good standing" or that the minister present his or her credential of ordination and register. One state[which?] also requires that the minister must be a United States citizen, and some states specify that the minister must be at least 18 years of age (although this is probably a presumed requirement in all states, since the minister will attest to a legal document).
Some states do not even require actual ordination, but permit those who declare themselves to be ministers to officiate marriage. ULC ministers wishing to perform legal weddings should refer to the local authority in the jurisdiction where the marriage is to occur for specific information about jurisdictional issues and requirements.
Outside the USA, some countries are very liberal in this regard. Japan, for example, will recognize anyone who claims him- or herself to be a minister, regardless of church affiliation. Many developing countries are also quite liberal in their restrictions and definitions.
On the other hand, several major countries are quite restrictive. In Canada, ULC ministers have been authorized to solemnize marriage only in a few local jurisdictions. In many other countries, ULC ministers have no authority to solemnize lawful marriage. Some ministers avoid this complication by meeting requirements to solemnize a civil ceremony, which might include being registered as a notary public or a justice of the peace. In some places, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, religion and government are one, and anyone caught promoting a religious practice outside of the government complex can be subjected to severe punishment.
In many countries, including much of continental Europe[specify], Turkey, Japan and the countries of the former Soviet Union, only marriages performed by the state in a civil ceremony are recognised legally. It is customary for couples who wish a religious—or any other—ceremony to hold one separately from the civil wedding.
The Universal Life Church authorizes its ordained ministers to perform weddings, baptisms/naming ceremonies, and funerals. They may hold meetings and services. The church also allows its ministers to perform other rites and sacraments to fulfill the needs of the congregation. The church has a course which qualifies its ministers to provide religious counseling.
- ^ Demographics from Adherents.com
- ^ Universal Life Church Headquarters Web Site, http://www.ulchq.com/, retrieved 2008-04-08
- ^ a b c d e Ashmore, Lewis (1977), The Modesto messiah: The famous mail-order minister, Universal Press, ISBN 0-9189-5001-5
- ^ Sue Nowicki (March 7, 2009). "Universal Life Goes On; Andre Hensley brings own beliefs to late father's church". Modesto Bee. http://www.modbee.com/life/faithvalues/story/622795.html.
- ^ Welcome to the official website for Universal Life Church, International Headquarters
- ^ Private e-mail correspondence with Church President Andre Hensley.
- ^ "Humanist Society Web Site" (in English). http://www.humanist-society.org/.
- ^ "Statement of Beliefs Site" (in English). http://www.ulcseminary.org/statementofbeliefs.php/.
- ^ Correll Law Marriage Laws Site, http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/Table_Marriage.htm, retrieved 2007-09-14
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