How to obtain a minister's license

Becoming an ordained clergy has risen over the last decade due to more family members and friends being asked to perform wedding ceremonies, funerals and baptisms, as well as the growing popularity of independent ministries and liberal church communities. Ordination is the legal authority to perform all religious services. Any "ordained minister" can legally solemnise a marriage. Most state laws declare, quite simply, that weddings can be performed by "any currently ordained clergyman or religious authority of any religious denomination or society." Though there are very traditional ways to become a licensed minister, there are also ways to do it quickly.

Study at a seminary. The traditional way to get ordination, of course, is through a Bible College or Theological Seminary. Although the primary purpose of a seminary is to prepare its students for religious service, it can also serve as a traditional academic institution, providing specified religious studies education that awards degrees like any other university.

Research your option online. Many websites are available to those seeking to be instantly ordained. While not everyone finds the Web's path legitimate from a spiritual perspective, it is perfectly legal in the United States.

Narrow your options and choose a site. The Universal Life Church is a popular Web-based minister-ordination organisation. To gain a clergy certificate from the ULC, mail the group a self-addressed, stamped envelope or apply online. Of all the instant-minister programs online, the ULC is the most liberal and non-denominational available. It claims no particular religious affiliations and asks only that its clergy "do that which is right."

Complete the process to be ordained online. Visit any one of the ULC sites, such as or, or any other of the many online ordination sites and click on the ordination link. All you need to do is supply your full name and address.

Have your credentials mailed to you. Some Web-based ordination sites will provide a way to print your credential at home, but it's important to have the credentials mailed to you. A mailed credential will have the original seal and signatures, which are important legal documents. Ordination certificates without the original signature and seals are meeting with more and more problems in many states.

Choose a title that best fits the religious work that you do. Reverend, Minister and Pastor are common titles in Christianity, while Evangelist or Missionary will denote a more specific type of ministry, moving from church to church and participating in international revivals. Chaplain is most often designated for work in hospitals and rescue missions. Many more titles are available to the ordained clergy, including Elder, Deacon, Preacher and Bishop, among others.

Be aware of the laws in your state. Most states make it very simple for any ordained clergy to perform weddings, but a few will require you to file a copy of your certificate of ordination; register your name and address with the state or county and/or present a copy of your credentials. Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New York City (only NYC, not the state of New York) and Virginia are states that require this, but specifics vary, so make sure you check the laws in your state before performing any religious ceremonies. Nevada, Ohio and Rhode Island each license their own ministers.


On Sept. 2, 2007, the Tyndale Theological Seminary won the constitutional right to practice as a seminary without state government interference. Many seminaries elect, however, to acquire accreditation so that they may offer academic degrees. Several major accreditation agencies specialise in traditional religious schools.


The only U.S. state that may give you problems with an online ordination certificate, like that from the ULC, is Tennessee. Tennessee's state laws require that ordination be a "considered, deliberate and responsible act." If you are ordained in the United States, you will not be able to perform wedding ceremonies in Canada.

Things You'll Need

  • Copy of ministry practice regulations in your state
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About the Author

Based in New York, Jillian Downer has been writing travel, fashion, and active lifestyle articles since 2004. Her work has appeared in "Travel + Leisure," "Outside Magazine," "Women's Health," "Footwear News," and "US News & World Report." Downer holds a Master of Arts in comparative literature from New York University.