Answering the call to marry

Members of university community become ordained ministers online


Photo by Kristina Bornholtz

Steven Majstorovic, political science professor, is a legally ordained minister for the Universal Life Church. He conducted the ceremony for his son’s wedding.

To become an ordained priest, minister or rabbi by organized religions, one can attend a four-year undergraduate program, followed by four years of seminary. Or sign on to the Universal Life Church online, input your personal information and instantly become ordained.

The Universal Life Church Monastery has ordained a long list of celebrities, including Conan O’Brien, Sir Ian McKellen and Bryan Cranston. But alongside the more famous ministers is an even longer list of everyday people ordaining themselves just because they can, even students and staff at UW-Eau Claire.

For Heather Spray, a senior history and Spanish double major, what started out as a fun fact for classroom icebreakers turned into an unbreakable bond between friends as bride, groom and internet-ordained minister.

One day, she mentioned in class that she was an ordained minister by The Universal Life Church, and her friend Breana Stanley, now an Eau Claire graduate, took interest. It was only natural when Stanley got engaged to her now-husband, Neil Stanley, Spray would officiate the wedding.

“The fact they wanted me to be a part of the day was probably the coolest thing,” Spray said. “For the rest of their lives, they’re going to remember their wedding. It’s really special. It’s really cool to be able to stand up there with two of their friends and help them get that done.”

Professor of political science Steven Majstorovic said when he first heard about The Universal Life Church, he laughed it off. But when his son asked Majstorovic to marry him and his fiancée last spring, Majstorovic turned to the online monastery to get ordained.

“What was going through my mind as I did this was that it’s the ultimate, ultimate culmination of over 550 years since the Protestant Reformation,” Majstorovic said. “What [Martin Luther] was really saying was, ‘You know what? You don’t need a church hierarchy or a priest to converse with God.’ And eventually something like this organization is the ultimate – everyone can be their own priest.”

Majstorovic noted one of the most special parts of the ceremony was when he was able to pull in elements from a variety of beliefs and combine them as he married his son and daughter-in-law. He included a moment of silence for reflection and prayer for the couple, and for a groomsman who was unable to attend because he is working in Sierra Leone with medical missionaries in the middle of the Ebola outbreak. When he spoke about the rings, he talked about the power of the infinite.

“And instead of saying, ‘I pronounce you husband and wife,’ I said, ‘Now, it is our great pleasure to announce that you are completely and, like, totally married,’” Majstorovic recounted with a smile.

Not only did Majstorovic perform the ceremony that bound his son and daughter-in-law as man and wife, he played the electric guitar as the wedding procession entered and exited the room, with a special mashup of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

For others, like Mark Hayes, a junior information systems major, ordination is a talent laying in wait. Hayes said he became ordained with The Universal Life Church one night when he was hanging out on the computer with coworkers.

“I never have really done anything with it,” Hayes said. “I just took my online certification and paid my five dollars and that was it.”

Hayes said ordination was something that he’d seen on TV and decided he wanted to see what it was all about. Moments later, after he had put in his information, Hayes was an ordained minister, and it was as easy as that.

In the end, he hopes to join the ranks of Spray and Majstorovic and join his friends and family in holy matrimony at their request. All three said they represent a choice to involve their loved ones in a marriage ceremony, to take a ceremony to a more personal level.

“My dream is to marry two people that I know really well,” Hayes said. “To marry these two people and know that they’ll be everything that marriage is supposed to be.”