Data gathered by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity suggests that there are roughly 41,000 Christian denominations in the world as of 2020. Of that 41,000, there are four major denominations: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and other traditions that don’t fit neatly into the first three but still classify as Christian. Sounds like a lot but that number doesn’t begin to account for every religion out there.
Just like everything these days, many of these churches have found their home on the internet. Swapping in temples for websites, these religions (if you can call them that since many reject the connotations of the word) tend to have a looser organizational structure. Their members are everywhere and nowhere, courtesy of the anonymity and decentralization that the internet allows for.
Now, you’re probably wondering if that makes them real churches and the honest answer? About as real as any when you get down to the legal side of things. While not all of these churches are officially recognized by the State, the biggest ones are and many of the smaller ones can get by on a technicality because hello, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Whether you’re looking for a fun and weird online church to join for the lulz or you actually want to officiate a wedding for your friends, there’s an online church here for you.
1. Become an Officiant of the United Church of Bacon
Who wouldn’t want to praise bacon? The yummy, crispy, and so bad for your heart breakfast staple isn’t just for cooking. It can now also be worshipped, though “worship” might piss off a few Baconists. Baconites? Baconians? I’m not sure.
What’s clear on their website, though, is that the United Church of Bacon is a humorous form of protest against the special privileges granted to mainstream religions like tax exemptions and contributing to the continued marginalization of anybody that isn’t straight or religious enough either directly or through perpetuating hateful rhetoric.
“As a protest, a group of skeptic and atheist friends had a fantastic idea in 2010. Let’s start a real, legal church with a funny name, and then demand the same rights as mainstream religions,” says the church of Bacon.
They don’t seem to have a lot of teachings, but the ones they do are pretty cool. The church is staunchly against supernatural claims, hence its establishment around bacon which the church knows to be observably real.
They also advocate against discrimination, raise money for charity, and are open to everyone as long as they praise bacon (vegetarian bacon is welcome). Oh, and you can officiate secular weddings by joining them for free.
2. Accept His Eldritch Divinity as a Member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
If you like your food-based churches with a slightly Lovecraftian twist, look no further than the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Out of all the online churches on this list, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this one is the most popular.
After going mainstream, the Flying Spaghetti Monster quickly became one of the most recognizable divine beings in the religious skeptic community. If you thought the United Church of Bacon was troll-y, you haven’t seen a real troll yet.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster jokingly publishes propaganda for its noodly overlord and even posts the hate mail it gets from serious religious types.
As for its less inflammatory beliefs, the Pastafarians (that’s what they call themselves) purport that humans evolved from early Pirates, not primates hence their Pirates of the Caribbean but with Marinara Sauce themed displays at the Fremont Solstice Parade.
If that’s not enough to win you over, their website says that, while they’re not sure what the afterlife is exactly, they’ve been told that FSM Heaven has a Beer Volcano and a Stripper Factory. Personally, I prefer my ethanol-based poisons clear which is why the next one on this list is the one I’m actually ordained at.
3. Join Me and Become a Priest of the Church of the Latter Day Dude
As a priest of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, it is my sworn duty to tell you about the organization but, like, not too hard. That would be against the very principles of Dudeism.
Before you think I got ordained just for this listicle, let me disabuse you of that notion by explaining that I joined the order at 14 years old after stumbling into it via a Reddit thread. While initially done for lulz, looking back on my life, I guess you can say that the Church of the Latter-Day Dude helped me get through my teen years by introducing me to Daoism, a spiritual tradition and philosophy that emphasizes wu wei.
The church of Dude isn’t as mystical or ancient. It originated from the movie The Big Lebowski, a 1998 black comedy film about a guy called the Dude who gets caught up in a kidnapping scheme because of mistaken identity.
What does The Big Lebowski have to do with Daoism? To put it in more serious terms, the movie is pretty much just a playful front for what is essentially an internet-ified version of Daoism for the modern age.
The Church of the Latter-Day Dude adheres to a philosophy of going with the flow, neither worrying about what has been, what is, or what will be. It just wants to kick back with some friends and do whatever, a practice that Dudeists call “abiding” or, as the Tao Te Ching would say, “The Way never acts yet nothing is left undone.”
4. Or Go the Serious Route With the Universal Life Church
Ugh, fine, we’ll talk about a more serious church. Are you happy now?
Unlike the other online churches on this list, the Universal Life Church has no jokes to make or hills to die on aside from its two core principles. They’re quite simple, really. Rule #1 is to do only that which is right and rule #2 is that everyone is free to practice any religion they want. This means that you don’t have to believe in any specific capital G God or gods to be part of the Universal Life Church, Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Bacon included.
On the about page, the church explains that they are a “non-denominational religious organization” that has provided legal ordinations to “over 20 million ministers worldwide.” Wow.
The Universal Life Church doesn’t stop at ordination. They maintain a dedicated ULC Training Center that contains all of the information you need to be a capable ULC minister. The directory contains information about everything. They have info on how to officiate weddings, baptisms, and funerals as well as delivering sermons, starting a church, and performing alternate ceremonies for people of different religions.
5. Celebrate Reason as an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism
Like the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, the Church of Spiritual Humanism has its roots in a philosophical tradition. In this case, that philosophy is humanism. So, what exactly is humanism?
It’s a secular philosophy that’s centered on human agency, dignity, and reason that traces its roots to the Enlightenment era. As a matter of principle, humanists believe in human rights, reason, and well, that’s about it. But not all humanists are that clinical about their beliefs hence the Church of Spiritual Humanism.
If, like the Spiritual Humanists, you acknowledge that religion and spirituality have a role to play in human welfare but that both ultimately need to yield to reason and scientific discovery, you might be interested in getting ordained as one of their ministers.
Other than the aforementioned beliefs, you don’t really have to do anything to be a practicing Spiritual Humanist. They do, however, recommend connecting to the universe and to humanity through learned optimism and meditation.
6. Embrace the Tenets of the American Marriage Ministries
Last but not least, we have the American Marriage Ministries, a non-denominational church openly established for the purpose of giving everyone the power to officiate weddings for anyone.
The American Marriage Ministries is proudly IRS 501C3 certified as a non-profit church, leaving the legal status of its marriage ceremonies undisputed. As the website states, the church’s ordinations grant people the full legal authority to conduct marriage ceremonies anywhere in the U.S.
Of course, every church has its core tenets and with the American Marriage Ministries, it doesn’t get more simple or clear. The church believes everyone has the right to marry regardless of race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. It also holds that couples have the right to choose who solemnizes their marriage and that everyone has the right to officiate a wedding.
The American Marriage Ministries provides a Minister Ordination Package in exchange for a small fee. The package contains everything you usually need to get through the bureaucracy at the local government level.
It comes with a minister’s manual, a signed and notarized letter of good standing with the American Marriage Ministries, and an Official Ordination Certificate that you can frame and hang in your house.
That said, some of you might be wondering if you’ll be able to officiate a wedding if you get ordained with any of the churches on this list. Like every good answer to a legal question, the answer for this one is: it depends.
If You Get Ordained at an Online Church, Congratulations, You Can Probably Legally Marry Two People to Each Other
So can you legally marry two people to each other if you get ordained at any of the above churches? The answer is, generally, yes. However, that depends on the jurisdiction you’re in.
Broadly speaking, an ordination at any of these online churches can vest you with the power to officiate a wedding. Yes, even the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster provided that you’re getting married in New Zealand.
Sure, the church isn’t recognized as a religion under federal law, but unless there’s an obscure law that can dissolve your marriage the moment you return to the U.S., you’re going to stay legally married.
If you want your food-themed wedding to stay firmly on U.S. soil, you might want to go with the United Church of Bacon. The crispy church often celebrates weddings in Las Vegas.
It’s not clear whether they can marry you anywhere in the U.S. like the American Marriage Ministries. But thanks to the Full Faith and Credit Clause, all you really have to do is find a state that acknowledges your officiant and get married in that state.
The same holds true for couples wanting to be married by a Dudeist priest or by a minister of any organization on this list.
As to which states count, I hear California is pretty Dudeist friendly. Under 400(a) of California’s family code, any priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination can officiate a wedding. You just need to secure a letter of good standing from your church.
Meanwhile, the state of Washington allows ministers from any state to perform marriage ceremonies in Washington provided that the minister counts as “any regularly licensed or ordained minister or any priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any religious organization.”
Quick disclaimer, though, I’m not a licensed lawyer. This is just me trying to give you an idea of how to go about getting married via online ordination. Make sure to check local state and county laws to get a definitive answer.