It was nine months before their wedding that my friends Vissy and Harry sat me down for a “We need to talk” moment. It had all the signs of a scolding, and for a moment, I thought I was getting formally de-friended. What they wanted, in fact, was a favor: would I be willing to get ordained as a minister and officiate their wedding?
My first two thoughts, in order, were: “What an incredible honor” and “How absolutely insane.” Though I’ve studied religion, my friends know that I gave up its practice more than a decade ago. Besides, over the course of my entire adult life, I have managed to maintain precisely one real relationship — and that for barely two years. I am as qualified to conduct a marriage ceremony as I am the London Symphony Orchestra. What the fuck do I know about marriage?
I must’ve said that last bit aloud, because Harry responded, “Who cares?”
Neither of them was religious, added Vissy, and she wanted the ceremony to be conducted by someone close to them — someone who really knew them as a couple. She didn’t want me to say what a priest would say, or a minister or a rabbi or a justice of the peace. Nor did she want me to repeat, for the billionth time in a wedding ceremony, some archaic sonnet about unending love. Instead, she wanted a friend because of the meaningful things a friend would say. “Why would I want some stranger leading one of the most important days of my life?”
I had to admit, it was a good point. So, happy, honored, and daunted, I accepted. Thus, an Irish-Jewish atheist, a binge-drinking, chain-smoking hedonist — distrustful of marriage, contemptuous of religion, and without the slightest desire to participate in either — became ordained as a minister and prepared to officiate a wedding. The hypocrisy alone makes it the most religious thing I’ve ever done.
So I had my charge, but some questions remained. Like, what am I going to say? And, seriously, what the fuck do I know about marriage?
The home page of the Universal Life Church (ULC) Monastery (themonastery.org) greeted me with a slogan that both inspired and diminished confidence: “Over 20 million ministers ordained worldwide!” I tried not to feel like a McNugget as I clicked INSTANT ONLINE ORDINATION, and filled in my name, e-mail address, and street address. One tap of the SUBMIT button and I was done. A few days later, I received an e-mail welcoming me to the fold.
And that’s it. That’s all there was to it. Though some states (like Massachusetts) require an additional certificate, I am now qualified to perform legal wedding ceremonies in all 50 states. The only stated caveat is that one must be a human (so the ULC can’t ordain, say, a sheepdog) and use one’s full legal name. I admit the title “Reverend” has a monastic ring to it, as if I had to memorize the Latin Mass in cloistered austerity, but I could’ve done the whole thing on my iPhone.