Hatch, Match, and Dispatch
I write historical romance so I do a lot of research.
For part of the upcoming Montana Marriages series I wanted my hero to fill in for the circuit rider when he was out of town, which opened up some really interesting lines of research.
What really makes a minister back in the old days?
I mean really, think about it. Were their seminaries? Yes. Harvard was one. Princeton was one. Did all ministers have to attend them? Not sure.
Could anyone declare himself a minister? Some churches now let you do that. And, if you declared yourself a minister, could you perform weddings? I mean it’s dealt with often in burials, whoever’s handy says a prayer and leads everyone in “Amazing Grace.” But a wedding is different. It’s a legally binding contract between two people, right? Besides being a vow before God. So does a minister have to be licensed?
I want my hero, Red, from book one, Montana Rose (releasing July 2009), to perform a marriage ceremony in book 3.
Now these days, you can get a license and call yourself a preacher over the Internet. It’s wide open. I mean, sure it’s a huge commitment if you want to be a Catholic priest, but you wanta be a pastor in the church of Elvis Presley? No problem.
I Googled “Minister License Free” for the purposes of this post and, yikes, it’s easy.
>>>>Become an ordained minister legally by our online Christian ministry for free. . .within the 50 United States ordination by mail<<<<<
>>>Free ordained minister credentials<<<<
There were 1,980,000 hits. Try ordain.org.
No idea what’s on these sites but it sure looks easy to legally do baptisms, weddings, and funerals: That is to Hatch, Match and Dispatch. You know the baptisms and funerals, sure, anyone can do that. But marriages? That’s a legal, binding contract that takes serious steps to break. It seems like it’d be harder to be able to do those.
We think of the Pilgrims as seriously conservative, right? They’d take their vows before their parents and TADA! they were married. Everyone accepted it. And when a circuit rider came along, he’d bless whatever marriages had begun, however long ago that was…and maybe baptize their children while he was there.
So that’s interesting and fine. But for my book, I’d better come up with a real marriage. My editors assured me it was the right thing to do. :)
The thing that makes this especially hard is how much information I DID find. I found a site that listed every church in every town and in many cases; the number of members, the day the church was opened, a description of the church building, sometimes photos, the name of the pastor, and where he went to college. I mean I found serious DETAILS here.
What really struck me, though, is how few pastors, how few towns, how few people. Guess what else? How few women!
The population in Montana in 1880 was 39,000. Actually 39,129, yes they took a census. And they knew how many members belonged to each church. It was harder than I expected and also fascinating.
You know. . .the west was really empty. The boom towns created by a gold strike were few to begin with and very often abandoned completely when the gold ran out.
Do any of you have info on ordination of pastors in 1880 Montana? What do you find in your research that surprises you? And how would be EVER do it without the Internet?