I came across an article about an 11 year old preacher that was an ordained minister. While watching the video of his interview and clips of his preaching I couldn’t help but shake my head at this idea. But good sense got the better of me and I wanted to know if that was even possible for his religion and to answer the question of if he could perform his duties with any degree of competency. Turns out he isn’t the first young child to become a minister. A quick web search shows children as young as 4 years old preaching but not ordained. For me, the idea of child clergy took me by surprise.
Reading the commentaries from the article has been an eye opener. It seams that the vocal majority disagrees on the coulds and shoulds of a child minister. Various reasons were offered as to the reasons for this nonacceptance; a lack of maturity, a lack of education, disagreement on the doctrine of who is qualified to be ordained, a questioning of his calling, a wondering if this was scam and or an abuse of child labor laws. Most of these reasoning’s could be applied to an adult, except for the child labor laws. What is it that created such a visceral reaction to a child minister? Is it the idea of a lost childhood or perhaps having a child in spiritual authority over an adult that creates this reaction? I’m not sure what the reasons are even though I feel a vague “wrongness” to the whole idea.
I thought I knew how clergy became clergy; one graduates divinity school, receive confirmation and ordination from the religious authority one serves and become registered with the state as a minister. I didn’t see how any of that was possible for an 11 year old child. I had to look up this topic on the web. Just what does it mean to be ordained? What does it mean legally? How does one become ordained?
“To be ordained means;
In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of, ordination is sometimes called an ordinand.” 1
“Legally, ordination means that;
To become ordained, from a legal perspective, means only that the individual may officiate marriages. That is the only sacerdotal (priestly) duty with which the states have any legal concern. Each of the states has it’s own state wedding law, which are enacted by the state legislature to specify which individuals may officiate marriages. Most states make broad definitions to include anyone that any church, denomination, society or religious organization deems qualified or designated to officiate marriages.” 2
To become ordained in the United States means that a religious tradition has agreed and set one apart as clergy. However, this is not a legal based ordination, insomuch as there is no legal body in the US government that regulates who may or may not become clergy. There is no way to register with the government as clergy. It is confusing to have two different meanings for the same word, especially so when one definition is religious and the other is legal. There are laws in the US regulating religious organisations and religious practice, including the rite of matrimony. Most can be argued as necessary for everyone to enjoy a level of civil harmony. But the laws surrounding marriage sets forth guidelines as to who may officiate marriage. Being authorised to perform legal marriage is not in any way ordaining a minister.
It turns out that it is totally possible to have an 11 year old ordained minister. The religious organisation he belongs to agreed that he was indeed a minister and set him apart as one. I don’t know what their requirements are for their ministers and I’m not sure that it really matters as I’m not a member of that organisation. I don’t know if this young child is authorised to perform legal marriages. But I can see that it is possible for him to legally do so.
Not knowing what all is required of him in the role of minister, I am unwilling to form an opinion about his ability perform his duties with competency. But as a mother, I feel he’s capable of preaching as it’s not that much different than acting. I don’t feel he has the life experience to counsel adults with adult issues. I’m not sure I’d trust him to be able to counsel his peer group without guidance either. At the bare minimum, I could consider this as an apprenticeship for life long ministry.