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The State of Alabama does not ordain or otherwise license ministers, according to the Alabama Attorney General's Office of Public Information. In order to perform as a minister in Alabama, whether that means running a church or simply performing occasional weddings on the weekends, you simply need to be ordained as a minister by a duly recognized seminary or other religious organization to be legal in Alabama.
Decide whether you want to attend a real seminary (usually a four-year program) and become ordained by a major institution, or if you simply want a document available online that will make you “legal.” If your ambition is to be pastor of a mega-church with a TV ministry, credibility will be important. Therefore, you should give serious consideration to a seminary run by a major college or university, such as Columbia University. If you only want to perform a few weddings a year as a favor to friends, a simple certificate from a recognized online issuer is sufficient.
If you want a career as a pastor, you should consider one of the more prestigious college programs. In addition to Columbia, Harvard and Princeton also operate highly regarded theological seminaries. As in any other career endeavor, credentials matter in the ministry. Your career arc will reach higher with an ordination from Harvard than it will from Southern Methodist University, even though SMU also has one of the country’s most respected seminaries. A full list of accredited seminaries is available from the Association of Theological Schools. To save money and time, but still get a real theological education, attend a community college in your area or online.
If your only aspiration is to perform weddings, visit prisoners or operate a small community church, all you’ll need is a credible online ordination. Among the most longstanding and popular issuers of the easy ordination for the masses is the Universal Life Church, whose existence predated the Internet by decades. Today, it has a number of credible imitators, online and via the mail, such as World Christianship Ministries.
If you’re going the cheap and easy route, do an independent analysis of just how well-known and respected is your prospective issuer of an ordination. Not only will you lack credibility if you’ve chosen a fly-by-night operator selling pieces of paper, but you risk the chance that Alabama (and many other states) will refuse to recognize you as a minister.
John Buchanan has been a professional journalist since 1970. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. He is also the former president and creative director of advertising and marketing agencies in Los Angeles and Miami and a business consultant. Buchanan studied journalism and creative writing at New School University and the University of California, Los Angeles. He resides in Cocoa Beach.