The licenced minister application

This is the text of the form — it fits on two sides of half-sized piece of paper — used by applicants for a letter of license in the Universalist Church. I pulled this from a filled-in example from 1920 in Indiana, but variant date back to the 1880s and forward to the 1950s.

Interesting stuff.

Universalist Church licence application (detail), 1920

Form 1.

Application for License

To the Committee of Fellowship of the [State] Universalist Convention:


I desire to devote my life to the work of the Christian Ministry, in the Fellowship of the Universalist Church. I respectfully apply for a Letter of License to preach under its auspices. The motives are expressed on the other side of this paper. I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as follows:

The Universal Fatherhood of God;
The Spiritual Authority and Leadership of His Son Jesus Christ;
The Trustworthiness of the Bible as Containing a Revelation from God;
The Certainty of Just Retribution for Sin;
The Final Harmony of All Souls with God.

And I freely acknowledge the authority of the General Convention, and assent to its laws, promising to co-operate faithfully in all measures that may be devised by the General Convention, and by the State Convention with which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of our Church.

Fraternally yours,


I hereby certify that the above named [Name] is a member, in good standing, in the [Church name] Universalist Church.

[Name] Pastor


Why do you desire to preach?

What led to this desire, and under what circumstances?

Why do you see to preach under the auspices of the Universalist Church?

What preparation have you had, or what experience in public address?

How long have you been a member of the church named on the other side?

What further references as to personal character can you give?

Have you applied for License to any other Committee? If so, to which, with what result?



By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Fascinating! Seems a very low hurdle for license. But also seems to promote preaching as a routine lay activity. I note language around obedience, in reference to the state and general conventions.

    Interesting that your material is from Indiana. As an aside, the Indiana State Convention was historically a weak convention compared to neighboring Ohio and Illinois. Churches were clustered tightly in certain regions: along the Ohio River, along the National Road, a large church in the city of Muncie, and a cluster around Logansport (home of the short-lived Universalist college, Smithson College). The Convention was decimated by bad investments in the Great Depression, and by in-fighting over the correct approach to scripture. Both the historical-critical crowd, and the metaphysical-symbolic crowd were dogmatic about the errors of those who did not agree with their own position. By the 1950’s the Indiana Convention had collapsed down to 5 congregations: a dormant church in Galveston; and variously active congregations in Muncie, Oaklandon, Manchester (not the college town but an unincorporated village near the Ohio River), and Terre Haute (a federated church with the Unitarians). Today only Muncie, Oaklandon, and Terre Haute remain.

  2. @Russell.

    There are definitely pros and cons to promoting preaching as a more common lay activity, that also does not require a very high hurdle. Cons might include poorly formed preaching skills, and lack of theological education.

    Pros might include a more democratic pulpit, a more economically flexible systems for accomplishing public spoken ministry, and a more serious commitment to incarnating the “priesthood of all believers” (or perhaps even James Luther Adams’ “prophethood of all believers”).

    As the UU community continues to wrestle with the changing economics of ministry, we will probably have no choice but to re-examine some of these issues.

    But… Any re-examination of licensed preachers probably needs to also include a strong look at the accountability piece, with regards to obedience to the General Convention and State Convention. Obedience is not a spiritual practice contemporary UUism is at all comfortable with.

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