Dismissing God Along with the ‘Reverend’

By Mark A. Taylor

When I was a kid, my parents told me how we should view the fellow who delivered the Sunday sermon. We most certainly would never call him “reverend.”

“He’s just a man like every other man,” my parents said. “We don’t revere him.”

Years later, when I became a minister, no one called me “reverend.” But I was quickly introduced to two of the tasks people seek “reverends” to perform: funerals and weddings. And soon I came to feel fulfilled by the former while I often dreaded the latter.

Not that I was ever happy someone had died, of course. But when I spoke at a funeral, I knew I could confront and comfort people who just might listen.

Not so at many weddings. Too often I felt like a fixture required by law, politely tolerated, largely ignored. I had little hope the preoccupied bride and groom would ponder my important statements about fidelity or perfect love or the church, the bride of Christ.

So maybe I should feel good about a newspaper article I came across last month. It reported that the Universal Life Church will grant a minister’s license to just about anyone who applies for it. The article quoted couples who wanted a nice wedding in a special setting (not the local courthouse) without the trappings of church. They simply found a family member or best friend to pronounce them husband and wife with a license from the Universal Life Church, easily available via the Web. It’s simple. It’s legal.

And I find it very disturbing.

One woman got a license so she could perform weddings for people who use her boat marina every summer. She charges $50 apiece and has performed about 40 weddings the last two seasons. Another Web certified minister distributes his card at resorts and hotels. He charges $100 for his services.

It reminds me, in objective black and white, how much God and the church have been marginalized in our culture.

I guess recruiting a Universal Life minister may be more honest than dealing with the minister of a church you don’t understand or intend to attend. Just get your brother in law to tie the knot at the local park. And it’s not that I think ministers deserve some special position or privilege. I don’t feel bad that most of society has long ago quit revering ministers.

But realizing so many have so little reverence for God or regard for his Son’s church that grieves me.

Many churches refuse to perform weddings for people with whom they have no relationship. When more follow that policy, the Web licensed ministers will get busier.

Even so, I’m guessing the Universal Life Church folks don’t get asked to perform many funerals.

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