UI students serve as ordained ministers

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | MAY 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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Dan and Carrie Wohlers said they long knew they didn't want a traditional wedding.

So when the pair finally decided to tie the knot in 2009, they knew exactly who to ask to do the honors.

University of Iowa Ph.D. student Brett McCormick.

McCormick isn't studying religion. He hasn't gone through three years of divinity school. And he's definitely not a priest.

But he has guided one couple through their wedding vows.

McCormick represents one of 115 students at University of Iowa who have been ordained through the Universal Life Church Monastery — an online ordination program that legally allows anyone to preside over a wedding, depending on state and county laws. Such ceremonies are legal in Johnson County.

And according to officials from the Universal Life Church Monastery, online ordination has become especially popular among college-age students — primarily because of the Internet and its ability to make information about diverse traditions more accessible.

"I think that with this age group, information is more available," said Universal Life Church Monastery President George Freeman. "When I was a kid, we were raised like our parents, and we always followed in our parents' shoes, whereas now there's more information and explanations, and people tend to choose their own path in life."

And after a 30-second process of entering a few pieces of demographic information onto the Universal Life Church Monastery's online database, anyone can preside, almost anywhere in the world.

They ordain almost 1,000 people daily, Freeman said.

Freeman said he started the website as a part of the Universal Life Church Monastery in 2006 in order to provide people of all faiths with the freedom to practice in unity.

And that's exactly what the Wohlers did two years ago, when they asked their lifelong friend to officiate at their wedding.

"My wife and I aren't very religious, so we had thought maybe having a priest would be too impersonal," Dan Wohlers said. "We thought Brett, who's been a friend of ours for over a decade, seemed like the natural choice."

And McCormick, who's known the pair since they attended middle school together in Cedar Rapids and shares a home with them in Coralville, accepted their offer.

"It meant a lot to me that my friends allowed me to be that involved in something that means so much," the 33-year-old said. "I care a lot about my friends."

And even though the Wohler's wedding was the first he officiated, McCormick said, it only took moments for him to gain confidence as he read vows the two prepared from inside a notebook.

"It felt a little awkward, but when Carrie was smiling and Dan was smiling, and I realized I was doing fine, any nerves I may have had about public speaking disappeared," McCormick said. "I just realized it had nothing to do with me, but with them getting married and I was always keeping that in my head."

Overall, McCormick and the Wohler family said they were happy with the result.

"I think the upside is that not everybody's unity fits neatly into what's been done in the past," McCormick said. "And I think this allows for other unions to transpire without needing to jump through some of the hoops that may have been present in the past."

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