Ordained Minister & Doctorate Degree Frequently Asked Legal Questions
Here are some answers to your legal questions…and a few non-legal questions are answered, too…
Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc. (legally incorporated non-profit) & Theological Seminary
There is a great need for alternative (non-mainstream, non politically motivated) ministers and rabbis to serve the millions of un-churched people in this techno-post-modern Internet Age. For almost 30 years, our mission has been to equip and ordain those ministers, rabbis and clergy willing to pioneer in ministry. Our goal is to have such dedicated clergy-of-the-future (or should we say clergy-of-the-now) in all cities and towns.
The E.I.C. is an incorporated non-profit and non-denominational church that accepts, acknowledges and respects all faiths of the world that are dedicated to the service of the Divine and humanity. Our ministers and rabbis come from all walks of life and educational backgrounds. Many start their own branches of the E.I.C., or start their own totally independent churches or ministries. The minister (or rabbi) may serve a congregation and maintain a pastoral counseling practice / ministry. His or her emphasis may be on teaching or healing or on performing the sacraments and religious ceremonies. Our Ordinations are legal in all 50 States.
Not an Online Ordination, but still quick & affordable
The Church and Seminary credentials you receive are unlike ordinations from other fake churches who ordain you online without screening, without collecting written work from the minister or degree candidate. Such “ordained online” ministers cannot officiate weddings in dozens of States and cities such as NYC, but our ministers are perfectly legal and perform weddings in all 50 states, and all cities.
Our by-laws specifically allow our Church to ordain ministers as the need arises, because we have screened, trained them if they have no experience, reviewed their current work and judged their spiritual commitment.
Are you sure I can officiate marriages in all 50 states?
Yes indeed. Our ministers have been performing weddings (legally!) for a couple of decades now. One of them says: “Before I officiated my first wedding, I did some checking here in California where the requirements are pretty lax, and found it’s true, the federal status [of the Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc.] is all-encompassing. Some states require a little extra paperwork and backup, some don’t; but despite any potential documentary hassles, we’re good to go in all fifty states.” We help you with any and all of that extra paperwork and you can view the state laws on marriage officiants here.
What does my state require if I want to perform marriage ceremonies?
Click here to see a list of requirements by state (and Canada and NYC) for performing marriages. Remember, no state or county or city can regulate whether you become an ordained minister or not, but many have simple paperwork requirements for any minister / clergy whenever they officiate a marriage. As our other ministers do, please let us know if you find anything else for your state so we can continue to keep our marriage laws page updated.
Is the Esoteric Theological Seminary accredited?
When asking if the Seminary is accredited it is important to note we are talking only about the degree-granting function of our Seminary. Ordinations are done by our Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc. and there is never a question whether an ordination is “accredited” or “unaccredited” because there is no such thing as accrediting a church. Churches, ours included, have complete freedom to convey ordained minister and rabbi credentials as they see fit. The question of accrediting only applies to degrees.
Our Seminary does grant religious degrees and does so legally without accreditation because we are exempt from accreditation. Like all other alternative religious schools and seminaries there is no accrediting agency in existence who will accredit us at the present time. Should such an accrediting body be formed the SEMINARY will seriously consider independent accreditation. For the meantime, we are not Christian enough for the Christian accrediting agencies, nor Jewish enough for the Jewish ones, yet our Seminary is not secular enough for the academic accrediting agencies (we don’t grant academic degrees, only religious degrees).
Furthermore, as many other religious degree-granting institutions have chosen to do, we wish to maintain our independence from state interference and regulation. Many seminaries choose not to take part in the accreditation system even though we would qualify easily. (And qualify to pay their $10,000 accrediting fees!) As a religious organization that exclusively grants religious degrees, we do not wish to be subject to any state regulatory or “approval” system. Furthermore the fees for applying for and then annually maintaining accreditation are exorbitant, which would require us to significantly increase our tuition, which so far we have not raised since our founding in the 1980s. There exists a system, a sort of vicious cycle, wherein dedicated devout people with middle class incomes cannot get credentials. Only the wealthy or those able to enslave themselves to twenty years of student loans can afford to pay the accredited institution’s fees. Our alumni include lawyers and doctors who have told us we are a refreshing exception to that glass ceiling. Due to the separation of Church and State, churches and seminaries are entitled to remain independent — in all things being set apart. Therefore we remain unaccredited, technically non-accredited, and exempt from accreditation, by choice.
Does your Seminary have the Authority to legally grant degrees?
Yes. The Esoteric Interfaith / Theological Seminary is permitted to operate in the state of Arizona, pursuant to Title 32 A.R.S. § 32-3022(E) and A.R.S. § 32-3001 as a post-secondary religious degree granting institution. Its parent organization Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc. is a 501(c)3 IRS tax exempt religious organization. Arizona is famous for its religious liberty laws enshrined in the Arizona state constitution and statutes. “Religious liberty is our first freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”
The Seminary follows all the laws of our state for the granting of religious degrees and comes under Arizona’s religious liberty-friendly statutes allowing non-profit organizations with IRS 501(c)3 status to grant religious degrees as part of a clergy training program. The Seminary’s religious degrees are thus exempt from accreditation, conferring well-deserved credentials to people working in spirituality and religion. We have alumni using their credentials in all fifty states, and on all seven continents (except Antarctica!)
What is your refund policy?
We want you to be happy with your credentials from the Seminary and Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc. We have only once been asked for a refund, so here is our official Refund Policy: Send your certificate and wallet-card credentials back to us with a written request for refund. The Church Board of Directors will consider your refund request and depending on the length of time since your payment, we’ll issue either a full refund or a partial one. Please understand that after thirty days, most organizations will not refund you at all, but we will consider refunds requested in good faith and following the above instructions.
Tuition for the Esoteric Theological Seminary’s degree programs is non-refundable once the course materials have been sent out, or the diploma has been physically issued to the graduate. No one has ever asked for a degree tuition refund, but if you need a refund, please contact us. We want you to be happy with your degree.
Transcript fees are non-refundable.
When Can I set up my own Church?
Once you’re an Ordained Minister by a legally recognized Church such as our Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc., you can establish your very own church. You don’t have to call it Esoteric Interfaith Church, you can name it whatever you choose. We can issue you a founding charter (for $45 paperwork fee) if you want one, otherwise you can draw one up yourself, or do Articles of Incorporation. Un-incorporated churches are churches who do not become incorporated in their state. They are just as legal as incorporated churches and usually have a founding document (charter) as opposed to Articles of Incorporation.
What about Tax Exempt status, how do I get that?
Most people find a CPA or attorney to help them fill out the 501c3 tax exempt application (c3 is the type of exemption you’ll get, it’s part of publication 501). Once approved you’ll be tax exempt whenever you buy anything from Office Depot, Sams, local car dealer, wherever. If it’s supplies for your church, for your healing practice, etc. it’s covered. Cars and vans, copiers and computers, count too. One of our ministers, Dr. Nikki, does outside consulting work to help you write Articles of Inc., by-laws, file the necessary forms, etc. Write to us if you want to contact her. Several people have used StartChurch.com successfully for the entire process. (But be warned: they are very fundamentalist Protestant Christian).
Can I draw up the legal papers for 501c3 myself?
Yes, certainly. A few people do, but most get help because the application process is so involved. Drawing up addenda for our 501c3 application years ago drove me near-to-crazy, so the non-profit attorney we finally hired was very helpful!
What about doing the incorporation papers myself?
This is easier than the 501c3 application to do by yourself. We recommend using StartChurch.com’s resources. Get their packet for your state. IMPORTANT TO NOTE: You do NOT have to become incorporated. If you remain unincorporated, as many churches do in order not to fall into the business corporate side of religion, we can help you with a church charter or other founding document.
What are the two steps to getting non-profit status for my healing center/church that I plan to create after becoming ordained by you? How do I start my own Church?
You can start your own church instantly, but to get IRS 501c3 or non-profit tax exempt status, you must first incorporate.
Step 1: First you must incorporate, which means ordering the packet for a corporate seal, writing up some Articles of Incorporation for your organization and Bylaws, too, in some cases, then filing them at your State’s Secretary of State Ofc. or Office of Taxation and Assessment. (See startchurch.com for more info or see below for other firms who do this for a fee)
Step 2: Then once you get your state charter in the mail you take it to any accountant or lawyer who is familiar with non-profits. S/he can shepherd you through the IRS forms for getting non-profit, 501c3 status. Or do it yourself by using the advice and manuals found at startchurch.com
There are also online firms that offer this service now for as little as $250, such as LegalFilings.com. Lawyers who specialize in corporations are good at writing articles of incorporation and bylaws and can smooth things over easily at the Sec’y of State’s office when the charter application is filed. You pay your State a fee of around $25 to $100 for the charter/filing. I know people who have done it themselves, but many use attorneys or CPAs. Most states only require you to draw up the Articles of Incorporation, write your Bylaws, and fill out a short application and they’ll give you a state issued charter. This turns your church or organization into a “legal entity.” Startchurch.com’s products once again will answer all these questions. They are strict fundamentalist Christians, and the hundreds of Bible verses they insert into their work may make you cross-eyed, but they know their legal stuff. You can stop after incorporating your organization, or proceed to file IRS forms for non-profit / tax exempt (501c3) status.
I would like detailed info on the IRS tax exemptions available once I become legally Ordained.
The best thing for you to do is to call the IRS form & publications ordering line (the number is 800-829-3676). Ask for publications 501, 557 and applications 1023 and 1024—-those have to do with tax exempt status for organizations. You can also download this info from irs.gov. If you are counseling or healing others, no matter how tiny your practice, you are already an organization, and once you become a minister you can call yourself a church, which is a non-profit organization.
ALSO: ask to be sent the forms and publications used by clergy members when they file their income taxes each year. The IRS line is open 24 hours a day. They offer the option to have things faxed to you, but I don’t advise it—you’re talking over a hundred pages here. You’ll want the nice hard copy forms and their explanatory publications for your permanent records, anyway.
You’ll get the info straight from the source. None of our staff here are tax experts, we have a wonderful accountant, though, who says, “have ’em ask their accountant or order the tax publications themselves…” Order all the publications and booklets and forms dealing with clergy and churches. They’ll send you a fat packet, should answer ALL your questions!
Can I still accept money for my minister / clergy religious services without getting tax exempt status?
Yes, definitely! Due to the separation of Church and State doctrine in the United States, any ordained minister can accept money for their services, counseling, readings, weddings, ceremonies, etc. If you don’t want to go thru all the hassle of filling out forms and paying the expense to get your 501c3 tax exempt status, (average attorney’s fees for this are $850 and the process can take months) you can remain an Ordained Minister at the head of an unincorporated church or pastoral / healing counseling ministry. You accept suggested donations for your services. They used to call them “love offerings,” but now most people use more accurate terms such as: “healing, reading or counseling session for a suggested donation of $20….” etc. You simply say “suggested donation”—and then set whatever amounts you deem appropriate.
What are some good suggested donations for my services?
Whenever I perform a wedding, I ask for a suggested donation of $150, which used to be a sort of minimum standard fee for most ministers across the USA. Now the norm has gone up to $250, which is fine — and many ministers charge more. Do your research on some wedding minister websites, see how much they ask for. Baptism or Baby Naming is usually the same suggested donation as a wedding. Counseling or reading sessions bring in anywhere from $15 to $100. House blessings can ask for a suggested donation of up to $1000. I’ve never charged that much for anything. However, many ministers rely solely on their spiritual ministering skills to support their families, so it’s okay to ask for higher amounts. Don’t break anyone’s financial back, however, so nothing back-breaking comes back on you. I know ministers who suggest hefty donation fees. Again, as long as you are fine with it, and your customers are fine with it, it’s fine. Just be sure to file your income taxes at the end of the year as a clergy member – pay an accountant to do it, makes life so much simpler. (The above mentioned tax forms & publications explain this process). Check your yellow pages and call around first to get a feel for whom you might want to work with.
How do I get into your website’s Practitioner’s Directory?
This service is Free to all our ministers and alumni. Get your entry for the Practitioner’s Directory to us as soon as possible, sending it via email is best. Our site is getting heavy traffic, and we want to have every geographical region covered with a minister/practitioner. The entry should have either your email address or your contact phone number, and it should certainly say your city name if you want to do in-person counseling sessions, or build a local telephone clientele. Check out the Practitioners Directory for ideas how to write your entry.