Ordination September 16, 2012

I’m back from the 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering in Medford, Pennsylvania. Denton CUUPS is my spiritual home, but Druidry is my tribe, and there is nothing like spending a long weekend in a wooded campground with 103 fellow Bards, Ovates, Druids, members of AODA and members of ADF. I’ll have much more to say about the ECG in the coming days, but tonight I want to write about a very personal event.

On Friday night I was ordained as a priest in the Universal Gnostic Church.

During the years I’ve been a leader in Denton CUUPS I’ve been asked to officiate numerous rites of passage: non-legal handfastings, child namings, initiations, funerals. I have occasionally been asked about doing weddings and I’ve had to decline – in order to legally perform weddings most states require ordination: a formal consecration and authorization by a religious governing body.

After saying “sorry, I can’t” one time too many last year, I knew it was time to be ordained. But how?

I could have gotten an online ordination from the Universal Life Church. Texas will recognize it and I know several people who’ve done that so they could officiate a friend’s wedding. I have no problem with anyone who’s ordained through the ULC, but it didn’t seem right for me. If I was going to be ordained I wanted an earned ordination… plus I knew I was no expert on weddings and I could use some experienced instruction.

My UU congregation could ordain me. Unitarian Universalism is a congregationalist religion and all ministers are ordained by congregations, not by denominational leaders. A couple people suggested this, but I felt like that would put Denton UU in a difficult position. While the congregation has the right to ordain whoever they want, the denomination would not look favorably on going outside their strict requirements. I think the UUA needs pathways to ordination that don’t include the traditional (and very expensive) three years of seminary, but that’s another topic and a campaign I have no interest in undertaking. My calling does not include being pastor of a church.

My Druid order, OBOD, does not ordain. But the Ancient Order of Druids in America does, so last Summer I contacted Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer and asked what their requirements were and how much “transfer credit” I’d have by virtue of having completed the OBOD Druid grade. He said AODA was in the process of revising its ordination requirements and the new program wouldn’t be ready for several more months.

But by virtue of his position as Grand Archdruid, John Michael Greer is ex officio an Archbishop in the Universal Gnostic Church with the authority to ordain priests.

I had never heard of the Universal Gnostic Church. It has roots in a Dutch church that split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 18th century and in the writings of the early Christian gnostics. It includes a few American Universalists who declined to join with the Unitarians in the 1960 merger. It is a sacramental order whose only doctrine states that all that exists is part of one divine source, and is an independent order with few congregations.

I was looking for a legal, earned ordination. This was an available path – the connections with Universalism and Gnosticism were a nice synchronicity. After some discussion I started studying under John in July.

The course of study was appropriate for what I wanted to do – learn how to better lead rites of passage for others. There were books to read, questions to answer, and ceremonies to write. Lots of ceremonies to write! There was also a fair amount of research into the laws surrounding marriage, which vary widely from state to state and location to location.

I completed the work in May. A gnostic ordination must by done by laying on of hands, and since John (who lives in Maryland) and I were both going to be at the East Coast Gathering, it made sense to do it there. I’m grateful to Lorraine for making time in the schedule for me, to those who helped with the ceremony, and to everyone who came out to affirm my calling and witness my ordination.

What changed on Friday night? On the surface, I can now legally officiate weddings in Texas and in most other states. That’s all. I’m not changing churches, I’m not changing careers, and I’m certainly not changing my beliefs and practices.

But on a deeper level, much has changed. An ordination is an initiation: the work of preparation, which had been simmering for months, was brought to a boil. A transmission occurred: part metaphorical, part metaphysical, and part literal. This represents a major milestone on the spiritual path that began when I was born, went through several false starts, took off with an epiphany on Thanksgiving night 2001, and led to me kneeling in a field in Pennsylvania while a Gnostic Archbishop performed the rites of ordination.

So now I’m ordained and can legally officiate weddings. I’m not looking for a side job – I already have a full time job and DUUF and CUUPS keep me busy most weekends. I’m not looking to take work from Rev. Pam or other professional ministers who do this as their primary occupation.

But if a couple wants a Druid, Pagan, or other nonordinary ceremony, I’m available. And though I can perform state-sanctioned marriages, I’ll also be happy to officiate for marriages the state doesn’t have the good sense and compassion to recognize.

As for me, this represents an accomplishment and a milestone, but it is not the end. As I discussed last week, I’m being called to some deeper work: deeper study, deeper practice, deeper service. I’m not sure exactly where that deeper work is going to lead, but I know what I need to do to get started.

Further down the path we go…

Gnostic Archbishop and Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer, Gnostic Priest and Druid John Beckett
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