The process one must follow to be ordained varies greatly from denomination to denomination; even church to church. According to Universal Life Church, “Ordination is the preparation people undergo in order to be a minister and perform certain religious rituals and ceremonies affiliated with the church. It sets one apart from a regular churchgoer and gives all the tools for how to be a pastor.”
Because ordination does set you spiritually apart, education, training, blessings and often rigorous interview work are examples of what kinds of things are required to complete the process.
Ordination doesn’t always lead to pastorship or preaching duties at a brick and mortar church. Some people seek non-denominational ordination in order to perform a wedding ceremony for a friend or loved one. The Universal Life Church offers online ordination programs. The video below explains the process.
Warning: The majority of U.S. states recognize a Universal Life Church ordination, but not all do. Check your state laws before proceeding. These ordinations are not accredited through a theological governing body.
Catholic Ordination Requirements
If you are considering Catholic ordination, there are several rules applicable to all men aspiring to the priesthood. There is coursework involved, as well as personal and faithful scrutiny. The following list of ordination requirements was published by the Archdiocese of St. Louis:
- You must be a baptized and confirmed Catholic male normally between the ages of 30 and 55. By Canon law, the earliest you can be ordained is age 35. Men 56 - 60 years of age will be considered if in good health and men over 60, when applying, will need to write a letter requesting special consideration and the reason why.
- You must be active in and in good standing with the Church and your parish. At a minimum, this means:
- You are faithful in attending Mass and regular in Confession.
- Prayer is integral to your life.
- You cannot have been Catholic, formally joined another Church and returned to Catholicism.
- You must be willing to serve the Church under the direction of the Archbishop.
- You must be in good physical health – sufficiently active and energized to endure the rigors of the formation program and later the demands of ministry. Physical stamina is essential.
- You must be able to study and pass the courses. Courses are taught at an upperclassman level. Academic achievement is important.
- You must be able to make a substantial time commitment to formation for a total of five consecutive years. Time commitments are two nights each week, plus several Saturdays each fall and spring semester and three weeks each in January and July. All classes meet twice weekly. You must reserve additional time for reading, studying and prayer. In addition, there is a weekend retreat each year that men and, if married, their wives are required to attend. Note: Time and availability are a critical key factor in deciding whether to continue the application process.
- You must have three years of established residency in the Archdiocese. If you converted to Catholicism, we generally consider men who have been Catholics for five years or more.
Read the complete list here.
Once you have determined that your calling is ministry and have chosen to seek ordination, the real work begins. Usually, candidates for ordination need the support of their pastor or priest. A denominational committee must get behind a candidate as well.
Seminary is usually mandatory for those who seek ordination. A Master of Divinity is usually the degree candidates seek. The accrediting body for seminaries is the Association of Theological Schools. It’s a great resource for anyone pursuing theological education.
According to Ken Collins’ website, you do not have to attend a seminary that is affiliated with the denomination you plan to serve. Most full-time seminary programs graduate in four years, but it can take three to eight years depending on how many hours of study a student takes on at a time.
Collins says: “The Master of Divinity program includes courses in the Old and New Testaments, in biblical interpretation, in preaching, in biblical languages, in the history and practice of Christian worship, in counseling, in curriculum development, in church history, in sociology, in ethics, in theology, in music or art, in preaching, and in non-profit administration, among other subjects.
The seminary also requires an internship, during which you work at a local church, a charity, or a chaplaincy at a hospital part-time. It’s possible for a Presbyterian student at an Episcopal seminary to do an internship in a Baptist church. They don’t let you out of seminary without giving you some practical experience under supervision.
Unlike academic degrees, the Master of Divinity program does not require you to write and defend a thesis, but it does require you to undergo an internship and usually a practicum or two.”