From the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate - May 22, 1989 FOUNDER OF CHURCH WILL ORDAIN ANYONE

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---------------------------------------------------------------------- From the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate - May 22, 1989 FOUNDER OF CHURCH WILL ORDAIN ANYONE by Steve Culpepper Advocate Staff Writer They were all there _ ministers, a dervish, a monsignor, a bishop and an archbishop. A saint showed up, too, and another saint was supposed to show but couldn't make it. Even he was there, the founder of the church. That's not "he" as in He but "he" as in, well, just he, the Rev. Kirby J. Hensley, D.D., founder of the Universal Life Church. They gathered last week at Shing's Chinese Restaurant to break a little bread, exchange a few words of encouragement and meet Hensley, the man who made it all happen 27 years ago in Modesto, Calif. Hensley and his wife had stopped through Baton Rouge in their recreational vehicle on their drive back to California from his native North Carolina. Since founding the Universal Life Church in 1962, Hensley said he has "ordained" an estimated 16 million in this country, including a president, a Supreme Court justice, movie stars and even a few cats and dogs. In fact, anybody can be ordained a minister or can receive advanced degrees like doctor of philosophy, doctor of divinity, doctor of religious humanities, doctor of religious science, doctor of metaphysics or a combination of any or all. Hensley said he ordains ministers free of charge. ULC literature lists nominal offering-charges of $10 to $100 for the advanced degrees. Current $5 titles offered include archpriest, colonel, rabbi, Brahman, pastor general, ascetic, gnostic, hadji, evangelist, guru, flying missionary and soul therapist. And of course there's the ever-popular "Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality." Hensley was welcomed at Shing's by an unexpectedly large group of local ULC ministers and those who bear more unusual titles, all headed by the Rev. C. Alan Jennings of ULC, Celebration of Marriage Ministry and Compuchurch. It's reached the point in this story, though, where something should be made clear. Yes, there's a lot to the ULC that's silly, or that appears to be silly. Some of it actually is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. But, according to Jennings, the main point is that ULC means religious freedom, which means freedom to be silly or freedom to be serious or freedom to be nothing at all. "The ULC believes exactly what you believe, even if only in your ase," Jennings said, quoting a member of his congregation. "When Kirby started his church, he put up a sign that said "church,' and people would come up and say, "What kind of church is this?' He'd say, "What kind of church are you looking for?" And if they said Baptist, he'd say, "This is a Baptist church.' If they said Methodist, then he'd say, "This is a Methodist church.' " Jennings said the church "acknowledges the extremely personal nature of religion and validates that. Everybody has their personal religion and most of them, as far as religion goes, most align themselves with a particular denomination. "Probably therein is some conflict. Even with the denomination you choose there's very likely some disagreement. But they don't talk about it and you don't talk about it and you're a good Methodist or Catholic or whatever you are." Hensley doesn't get quite so philosophical about his church. As he pursued God through first the Baptist and then the Pentecostal church, Hensley, who can neither read nor write, said he made a discovery. "I found it was emotion I was after." He said he got interested in religion when he was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal organization during the '30s that put out-of-work or otherwise unemployable people to work on public projects. "I bought a 10-cent dictionary. I thought I'd bought a Bible. I carried it with me 300 miles before I found out different," he said. "But you know what? That shows to me that people just think they think. How many people can walk up to a blackboard and write something nobody even thought before? That's thinkers. Most people just follow, like I was doing. Baptists, Pentecostals, they're all believers, not doers," Hensley said. The ULC founder told of the three pillars of his religion. "Animals' _ and we're all animals _ animals' first instinct is to be free. And if he's free, he looks for food. And if he has food, he looks for sex. And if you have all three then you're in heaven," he said. "You're nothing without any one of those things. "It's like sex, it's heaven when you have it and hell when you don't." It's almost needless to say, but Hensley said that in his church, "Every man is free to believe what he wants to and do what he wants to." Ordinarily, the preacher and the church intercede between man and God. "But I put you between God and me," he said. "It's my business to stand between you and the state. They say you need a piece of paper (to be a minister) and I'll give you that piece of paper. I don't give a s--- who you are." Hensley has had well-publicized run-ins with the Internal Revenue Service. But when it gets right down to it, the courts have found that the ULC is just as valid a religion as the Lutherans or the Catholics or the Presbyterians, he said. "We have 16 million ministers. If all of them take their (tax) write-offs, you can see what'll happen. I'm not out for tax write- offs, but that's why they (the IRS) are after me." Out in Modesto, Hensley holds regular services in his church. "I've got a big church," the 77-year-old minister said. Jennings said neither the ULC nor his local congregation were organized as a tax dodge. "Any individual minister might see what he can reap from it, but that is up to that individual minister," he said. Jennings has been a ULC member since 1976 and created the Celebration of Marriage Ministry under the auspices of the church. Jennings also has created what he calls Compuchurch, which is similar to a computer billboard, but deals in spiritual information, sermons, counseling sessions. "I have people who would never get up and read a sermon, but with Compuchurch they can," he said. Jennings said he's also hoping to build a national network of Compuchurches. "Each Compuchurch is a separate congregation. There are counselors, private chapels. We have the facilities to do the exchange of wedding vows right now," he said. In fact, all Jennings needs to perform a computer-keyboard wedding is a couple willing to do it, he said. "Compuchurch is presently an outreach of a ministry of the ULC," he said. "In the past year it has become a network of sorts. We have people in other states and more than one message base here in Baton Rouge, all offering information on this church. Compuchurch is ecumenical in that we hope to provide a message base for any denomination that would like to use it as we grow. For instance, it might be possible for St. Paul's Methodist in Brownsfield to communicate to Nashville through the network we're attempting to build." Already, a local ULC congregation meets on Compuchurch, he said. Eventually, Jennings hopes to create out of the local ULC congregation a ULC center in Baton Rouge. "I see it as a general place which will benefit the community by serving the ULC ministers, their respective groups and needs. One of the places in the ULC complex would be a place where a ULC minister could hold a wedding. There would perhaps be a library, or a place where people can just gather like we're doing (every Sunday) at Denny's Restaurant right now. We could even provide, and hope to have as part of this whole center complex, a bookstore. It would be a place where the community would be served." ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Textfile courtesy Bernie Ballard, Sysop, SEARCHLIGHT BBS 504-291-4762 ----------------------------------------------------------------------

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