Monday, August 10, 2009

SALISBURY, Md. | Brides and grooms trying to save money or make their wedding more personal are spurring people to become ordained ministers through a simple, quick process.

“It was as easy as going online. There were 10 Web sites,” said 29-year-old Mitchel Marriner of Salisbury. “I paid the money, and three days later, I got my card in the mail certifying that I was declared an ordained, nondenominational member of the clergy.”

Holly and Branden Hudson of Salisbury asked Mr. Marriner, a family friend, to officiate their March wedding on the beach in Ocean City.

“[The wedding] was a long time coming. We wanted to make sure we could afford the wedding we wanted,” Mrs. Hudson said.

Mr. Marriner didn’t charge them and isn’t interested in starting a church or regularly performing religious services, even though the lifelong ordination licenses him to preside in baptisms and lead worship for only $40.

“I don’t think people are saving a lot of money. They want [online] ordained ministers because it personalizes the ceremony more,” said Stacie Desautels, director of sales and marketing at the Fountains Wedding & Conference Center in Salisbury. She has been in the wedding-planning business since the late 1980s. “It means more to the couple to have someone they know than a minister they don’t know very well,” she said.

A growing number of couples are choosing ministers ordained online to save money rather than choosing ministers who spent years at seminaries or divinity schools who work for traditional denominations.

“Adding a family member or friend to do the ceremony also adds a special touch,” said Kim Heath, wedding coordinator at the Fountains. “For every minister who does an off-site wedding, there is a fee — $100 and up from that.”

Some ministers ordained through brick-and-mortar means are concerned about people with nonreligious motives becoming ministers just to oversee one wedding.

“I have heard about people who go online to be licensed or certified, but I didn’t know that without pastoral training, it legitimized it,” said the Rev. Carol Fields, who has a master’s degree from the Howard University School of Divinity. She is pastor at St. James United Methodist Church in Westover, Md. “I didn’t know that the laws of Maryland legitimized it,” she said.

The cost of a traditional minister at a service is normally $50 to $100, Miss Fields said. A clerk of the court charges around $30 in most Maryland counties.

State law requires the minister of the ceremony, regardless of where he or she was ordained, to have the bride and groom sign and file their marriage certificate at the county courthouse, and the minister must turn in a document.

Rose Ministries, where Mr. Marriner received his ordination three years ago, says its clergy can legally perform weddings and charge fees to lead religious services or open a church. Rose was his pick because “it was the first Web site I came to,” Mr. Marriner said.

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