Group hosts ‘pop up’ service in Knoxville for online ordained ministers to stay in compliance with new state law

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – American Marriage Ministries hosted in-person ordinations on Wednesday for online ordained ministers as a way for them to stay in compliance with a new Tennessee law that begins July 1.

The new law prohibits a person who was ordained online from officiating marriages.

The state only finds out if the officiant was properly ordained when the marriage license is questioned in the court of law.

Rep. Ron Travis, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the Tennessee Clerk’s Association brought up the issue because clerks believed too many people were getting ordained online and there was a chance the licenses wouldn’t be valid.

Members of American Marriage Ministries were in Knoxville on Wednesday. They say as soon as the law change happened, they received hundreds of calls and emails from Tennessee online ordained ministers.

“We have 13,000-plus ministers in the state of Tennessee who are just completely disenfranchised,” said Lewis King with AMM.

Beth Green has officiated weddings for more than 10 years.

“It’s hard not to get emotional and a little choked up. It’s like you’re giving them a little gift,” she said.

Green received in-person ordination through AMM on Wednesday because if she hadn’t, as of July 1, she wouldn’t be able to officiate weddings anymore.

“What we need now is not more hatred, more anger, more exclusion. We need more inclusion and just share the love,” added Green.

Many ministers came to this in-person ordination event to strengthen their credentials.

“You want to respect the process. Even if you’re not a religious person or a spiritual person, it’s a big thing,” said P. B. Owl, a Wiccan priest.

“All of our crew was originally ordained online just as a back up, just in case someone who was supposed to marry the couple got lost in traffic, forgot to show up, or they completely didn’t hire somebody. All of which has happened with some of the weddings we’ve done,” said Lindsay Barrows Ruggieri, a wedding planner with Custom Love Gifts, Events and Prints.

AMM says the ordination these ministers received lasts a lifetime.

“You’re helping someone have one of the happiest days of their life,” said Owl.

“I feel a lot better knowing that we still have the opportunity to marry somebody,” added Barrows Ruggieri.

To ministers, like Green, the words ‘Ordained in Tennessee’ mean so much.

“Gives it a new meaning then what it did even yesterday,” she said.

The Knox County Clerk’s Office says they’ve issued 433 marriage licenses from May 22, the day after the bill was signed into law, to June 25.

The clerk’s office says that’s about 16.7 percent more than the same time period last year.

The Knox County Clerk’s Office adds there’s really no evidence that this change is directly impacting the number of applications they’re processing because they see an increase in all services year after year.

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