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History of the Universal Life Church (ULC)

The following information is offered as a historical record of the Universal Life Church.  Every ULC Church and Ordained Minister has the ability to choose how their church is ran and what religion their church will follow.  Athens Universal Life Church is operated as a Non-Denominational Christian Church and it’s Senior Pastor is ordained as a Non-Denominational Christian Minister.

ULC International Headquarters

601 Third Street
Modesto, California 95351

Bishop Kirby J. Hensley, Founder and President

Not reported.

The Universal Life Church was born out of the vision of its founder, Kirby J. Hensley. Hensley, born in 1911, was a self educated Baptist minister who was deeply influenced by his reading in world religion. He began to conceive of a church that would, on the one hand, offer complete freedom of religion, and could, on the other hand, bring all people of all religions together, instead of separating them. Out of his growing conviction, Hensley founded the Universal Life Church in 1959.

The Universal Life Church has only one belief. They believe in that which is right and in every person’s right to interpret what is right.

The Universal Life Church has no creed or authoritative book such as a Bible. Those wishing to learn about the Church can obtain its periodical Universal Life and other materials that it publishes from its international headquarters.

No specific ethical guidelines except to do “what is right.”

The Universal Life Church has no specific holidays, though local congregations celebrate a wide variety of them. There are two gatherings (conventions) each year in the spring and in the fall, at which the members and ministers meet for celebration and to conduct business.

The Universal Life Church has a very loose structure. The ULC ordains anyone who wishes by presenting them with a certificate and a set of instructions on how to form a congregation. Each member minister relates directly to The Board of Directors at International Headquarters.
Congregations are completely autonomous. The Church operates the Universal Life University located in Modesto. The university offers courses by mail as well as classes for resident students.

Ministers ordained by the Universal Life Church may perform any of the functions normally associated with the clergy, including the conducting of weddings, funerals, etc. Specific roles are determined by the minister and the local congregation.

Group worship is not required, but local congregations are required to hold regular meetings. The Universal Life Church allows its congregations complete freedom of Worship.


None. No restrictions on cremation or autopsy.

No restrictions.

The Universal Life Church is not opposed to military service, though it respects the individual opinion of its members.
The Universal Life Church is open and accepting of people of all religions. It is opposed only to those religions that attempt to deny religious freedom. Any minister in the ULC can ordain new members.

Hensley, Kirby J. A New Life  Do You Want It. Modesto, CA: Universal Life Church, 1983. 74pp.
The Buffer Zone A History of the Universal Life Church Modesto, CA: Universal Life Church, 1986. Unpaged.
The Condensed Bible and Testament of Today. Modesto, CA: Universal Life Church, n.d.
A Textbook about the ULC. Modesto, CA: Universal Life Church, n.d. Unpaged.
These books are available from ULC International Headquarters.

Andre Hensley, President of the Board
601 3rd St.
Modesto, CA 95351
(209) 527-8111

The Universal Life Church (ULC) is a modern, non-denominational church started by Kirby J. Hensley. This new approach to religion, first known as the “Life Church”, began in 1959 in Modesto, California and has since come to be practiced by ministers from around the world.

Why Hensley Founded The Universal Life Church

As part of its inclusive, non-denominational nature, the Universal Life Church espouses the idea that there is no one true religion.Kirby Hensley grew up in a Baptist family. Not being content with just one interpretation of religion, he made a point to observe the practices and belief systems of other Christian churches. What Hensley did not find in these churches was a religious message that personally fulfilled him. By founding the Life Church, Hensley hoped to find his own religious calling. He believed that there is no “one size fits all” religion; instead, he believed that it is up to every spiritual person to develop a personally-crafted faith system of their own. Hensley incorporated his church as the Universal Life Church on May 2, 1962 in order to apply the concept of universal religious freedom.

What The Universal Life Church Represents

The Universal Life Church represents a message of utmost devotion to the concept of religious freedom. It is a message echoed in the Constitution of the United States of America, that we all have the First Amendment right to exercise religion as we see fit. The Church espouses religious freedom by making no attempt to regulate or interfere with the messages preached by its pastors and shows respect for the rights of others, such that no one should be infringed by its members’ practice of religion. When you get ordained through the Universal Life Church, you are treated as someone who is free to preside over your own interpretation of religion.


The ULC has no traditional doctrine, believing as an organization merely in doing “that which is right.” Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right for him or her as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. The Church does not stand between the member and his or her belief system.

The ULC’s stated beliefs are as follows:

  • Objective: Eternal Progression.
  • Goal: A Fuller Life for Everyone.
  • Slogan: To Live and Help Live.
  • Maxim: “We Are One.”


The ULC was founded in 1959 under the name “Life Church” by the Reverend Kirby J. Hensley. He operated the church out of his garage. Disappointed with the Pentecostal church, Hensley decided to venture on his own to find his religion. After five years of studying various religions, according to his own statements, Hensley concluded that the proper religion may differ for each man, and everyone is entitled to choose his or her own religion. No one should be criticized or condemned for wanting to practice the belief of his or her choice.

In 1958, Hensley and his new wife, Lida, moved to Modesto, California. There, he founded the first Universal Life Church in 1959 as Life Church, later incorporating in California on May 2, 1962 as Universal Life Church with Co-Founder and (then) Vice President Lewis Ashmore. Hensley served as the minister of the congregation and President of the Board of Directors until his death in 1999, at which time there were many independent branches of the ULC worldwide. They took out their first advertisement in FATE magazine to reach the metaphysical community. The Modesto congregation grew rapidly. The Church spread throughout the West Coast, and today claims to have congregations located all over the United States and parts of Canada and many other parts of the world. The organization also states it has a membership of 22 million ULC ministers worldwide.

1960s and 1970s USA

During the 1960s and 1970s many people in the USA became ministers in the ULC because they believed that being a minister either would help keep them from being drafted into military service during the Vietnam War or would enable them to get income tax relief as members of the clergy. Both of these beliefs have always been false, as merely being ordained does not exempt a person from compulsory military service, and ministers as individuals receive no tax benefit; only churches themselves are tax exempt. Ministers do have the option of applying for exemption from Social Security taxes; however, this may limit eligibility for Social Security benefits. Also, this exemption applies only to ministers whose income comes from religious services and applies only to such income.

The Universal Life Church was referenced by Abbie Hoffman in his 1970 book Steal This Book, which encouraged readers to request an ordination from the ULC, receive notification of the ordination, and then cut out and laminate a card indicating the new minister’s ordination. He regarded the ULC as “unquestionably one of the best deals going”, but also made the mistake of assuming that a ULC ordination would entitle ordained persons to discounts and tax exemptions.


Upon Hensley’s death, his widow Lida was elected president of the Church. She served as president until her death in 2006. On January 14, 2007, the ULC’s board of directors elected the Hensleys’ son Andre Hensley as President. He had previously been the office manager of the Headquarters, running the day-to-day business of the Church.

The Church was profiled by The Modesto Bee in an article, “Universal Life Church Still Churning Out Ministers”, by Lisa Millegan. This article, which profiles the Church during its transition following the death of its founder, was later republished by Beliefnet, a website owned by News Corp.

Ordination and ULC clergy

As of early 2009, ULC was sending out between 8,500 and 10,000 ordination certificates each month. Between 1962 and 2008, it sent out almost 18 million, worldwide.

The ULC Headquarters holds weekly church services in a historic church building in Modesto. ULC ministers are authorized by the church to officiate weddings and funerals, perform baptisms or verbal baby naming ceremonies, hold services (also called meetings), and other sacraments and rites regularly performed by ordained members of clergy and part of the particular belief system the minister represents. All ministers in the ULC are also authorized and encouraged to ordain others as ministers in the church. The ordaining minister informs the home church of the ordination, and the new minister’s information is added to the official church records.

Many charter Universal Life churches have been launched which operate all manner of ministries, and which offer ordination via websites and on eBay, through which small fees for processing ordination certificates are often charged. Such small fees are permitted by the founding church’s headquarters in order to to help cover the charter church’s advertising and overhead expenses, and to generate revenue for its ministry.


Dedicated ULC members state that they truly believe in freedom of religion. In other words, they want every member to be able to pursue their own beliefs without interference from the government, church or other religious agencies, or any other outside agency. Their two creeds (or doctrines) are

Do only that which is right.
Every individual is free to practice their religion however they like as long as their actions do not impinge upon the rights or freedoms of others and are in accordance with the law.

Any person may associate themselves with the Church and, if they feel it is appropriate, request ordination as a minister. The Universal Life Church does not issue ministerial certificates to individuals who are currently incarcerated. Any person may be ordained as a minister as discussed above.

Ministers are allowed to follow their own belief system path. For example, ministers of the Church may follow a traditional Christian belief system, they may follow other world religions, they may blend various faith traditions, or they may be agnostic or atheist. The latter may serve as humanist ministers or non-religious officiants. (Humanist ministers or officiants may also be registered by the Humanist Society, a non-related group.

The Universal Life Seminary is one of the many charter churches operated by individual ministers of the ULC. (The Universal Life Seminary is affiliated to the ULC because the minister that operates it is a minister in good standing with the ULC.) The Universal Life Seminary, however, does have some theological beliefs that differ from the ULC Headquarters. For example, the seminary offers a number of courses from a spiritual perspective, as well as some from various religious perspectives, but still very specifically welcomes and promotes people of all beliefs. The seminary does not claim, however, to speak for the Universal Life Church as a whole, but offers one of many paths to interested individuals.

Other charter churches, or ministries, that operate include an Order of Jedi, inspired in part by the philosophy of the Star Wars motion pictures.

The Church is similar in some respects to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), although the two were never affiliated. The ULC is sometimes said to be a liberal church with many conservative members. This aspect attracts some individuals to the ULC who are uncomfortable with the liberal activism and social views held by the UUA. Church meetings typically allow all present to speak, a practice similar to the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, although these two groups were also never affiliated.

Legal status

Main article: Legal status of the Universal Life Church

Since its inception, the Universal Life Church has come into legal conflicts over such issues as the validity of ordinations and the tax-exempt status of the organization. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ruled that the Church was tax-exempt some years, and not tax-exempt other years, based on the annual filing statement required of non-profit organizations.

Authority to solemnize marriage

A large number of people seeking ULC Ordination do so in order to be able to legally officiate at weddings or perform other spiritual rites. This aspect of the ULC has provided relief to interfaith couples or same-sex couples experiencing difficulty in getting their union performed in a religious atmosphere. Some people living in remote areas also use their status as ordained ULC ministers to meet the marriage officiant needs of their communities. However, except in Mississippi, where marriages performed by ULC ministers have been recognized as valid, the solemnization of a marriage by a minister of the Universal Life Church (who is not otherwise authorized) may result in the validity of the marriage being under a cloud.

In the United States, the requirements for entering into marriage are determined by state law. Courts in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia have ruled that, under applicable state law, ULC ministers are not authorized to solemnize marriages and a marriage at which a ULC minister officiated therefore is not valid. North Carolina law subsequently was amended to validate marriages performed by ministers of the Universal Life Church prior to July 3, 1981. The Supreme Court of Mississippi has ruled that Mississippi has a less restrictive statute and recognizes ULC ministers as able to perform valid marriages in that state. Lower courts in Pennsylvania have split on the issue.

Several major countries are also quite restrictive. In Canada, ULC ministers have been authorized to solemnize marriage in only a few local jurisdictions. In many other countries, ULC ministers have no authority to solemnize lawful marriage. Some ministers avoid this complication by meeting requirements to solemnize a civil ceremony, which might include being registered as a notary public or a justice of the peace. In some places, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, religion and government are one, and anyone caught promoting a religious practice outside of the government complex can be subjected to severe punishment.

In many countries, including much of continental Europe, Turkey, Japan and the countries of the former Soviet Union, only marriages performed by the state in a civil ceremony are recognized legally. It is customary for couples who wish a religious—or any other—ceremony to hold one separately from the civil wedding.

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