ULC Case Law
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Only a small minority, much less than 1%, of Universal Life Church ministers go on to start their own churches. Most people who get their minister license through the ULC choose to perform wedding, baptismal, and burial ceremonies with it, and never entertain the notion of leading a congregation. This shouldn’t stop you from starting you own ministry if doing so has been your dream, however.
Of the handful of ministers that do start their own churches, almost all of them find the experience to be highly rewarding both emotionally and spiritually. The rigors of starting your own church, which our staff knows from personal experience are immense, are outweighed by the payoffs of fulfilling your life’s calling. The ULC Monastery could not be more supportive of our ministers founding their own congregations, and we pledge to do all in our power to assist you with your endeavors.
Please note that it is not necessary to become ordained through an online ministry in order to start a legally-recognized church. This is exactly what the presiding chaplain of the Universal Life Church Monastery did when he founded our organization. Brother G. Martin Freeman was a layperson, and not ordained through any church, when he founded the ULC, but this did not stop him from being able to start his own ministry. The Free Exercise Clause of the US Constitution gives citizens like you, like G. Martin Freeman, the ability to found your own religion and/or church; you do not need the blessings of a currently-existing legally-recognized church or the government to start either.
In short, a person who founds their own church can do everything that leaders and ministers of the larger, more conventional can. After, all being the leader of your own religious organization gives you the same power possessed by the Pope of the Catholic church. The duties and responsibilities you can take on as a religious leader include:
Presiding over worship services
Leading studies of religious texts
Officiating weddings, funerals, and baptisms
Ordaining your own ministers
Providing spiritual counseling services
Working as a chaplain
This is an incomplete list. You will be able to perform a variety of other services for your community once you start your own church, depending on its spiritual and social needs. Remember: you will be your own “boss” once you start a religious group, and will thus more or less be able to do what you want to.
The first and most rudimentary step is to register your church with your state and/or federal government. There are several ways you can go about doing this. The first way, and the one that most churches take, is to register as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation with the IRS. Our ministers should note that the ULC Monastery is not registered in this way because doing so would limit the political statements our church could make; our church status would be revoked by the federal government if (read: when) we spoke out in favor of the social causes we champion. The second registration method, the one that the ULC Monastery took and the one we advise you to take, is to register as a non-profit organization with your state. This type of filing will allow your church to promote a variety of political and social causes while keeping it in the same standing as conventional churches.
The second step, which is arguably equally as important as the first, is to learn about the tax laws pertaining to churches and non-profit organizations. There are a number of free websites, educational books, and online seminars available that will teach you all you need to know about church tax laws. Failure to adequately research these laws could very well result in massive legal and financial difficulties for you, not to mention revocation of your church’s filing. As you may or may not know, the IRS is very sensitive when it comes to money – particularly their money – when it believes people may be skirting tax codes. This fact applies to churches just as much as it does individuals and for-profit corporations and it thus behooves you to take the necessary precautions to keep them – and their legal team – away.
Sample corporate by laws and articles of incorporation, which you can use as templates for filing your own church’s paperwork with state or federal governments, can be found on themonastery.org.
Speaking of taxes, we highly advise against starting your own church to gain tax-exempt status or to pay less of them. The IRS is particularly vigilant of individuals and organizations who conspire to pay less – or no – taxes, and will ruthlessly charge back taxes it believes they owe them. Also, defrauding the government is never acceptable so please refrain from doing so.
An excellent resource for learning how to start your own church is the Ministers Network, the ULC social network. A handful of ministers there have started their own churches (and in some cases, many churches), and are generally delighted to help their fellow ministers do the same.
Finally, do not hesitate to contact us if you need additional guidance in starting your own church. You can reach us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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