What Are The Legal Things To Consider
So you have received your ordination and you’re ready to start-up your Church, Spiritual Center or Professional Services Business. Now what? How do you get started and how do you define your practice?
Start with the first step; registering as an ordained minister. Doing that is separate from defining a Church or Business. Each state is different, but you will register yourself as a Minister within the county you live in, or the county you will be practicing your ministry in.
Once you are registered in your county, you are registered for the entire state. But not for any other state. Being a Licensed Minister, authorized to conduct weddings, is a state by state thing. You generally can’t register in a state you don’t have residence in. I am registered in Virginia. But I have a lot of family in North Carolina, friends in Maryland and more family in Tennessee. If I’m asked to officiate a wedding in one of those states or any other state, it’s easy enough to apply for temporary recognition.
Each state allows for temporary registration for a specific day. Usually the day of the wedding and with the county where the wedding is being held. You should do this 10 to 15 days prior to the service, or earlier if possible. Check with the state you’re going to. Some have requirements for when you can or must register. But you don’t want to wait till the wedding arrives and find out you can’t because you waited too long.
Register Your Ministry
This is not registering your business or Church. It’s registering you, getting your Ministerial License to practice your brand of religion in your state. The best place to start your registration is to search your County website for information, requirements, fees and paperwork you may need to register your ministry. Some counties will have PDF versions of the forms online. Others aren’t that sophisticated.
If the information you find online seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Gather your ordination papers, degrees, certifications and anything else that proves you have the authority to offer the Ministerial services you’re looking to provide. You may not need them all; but better to have them so you can register while you’re at the Courthouse.
Even if the information online for your county is a little confusing, you should be able to discover the fee required to register as a minister. You want to make sure you have that and can write a check, or bring cash while you’re there. Why make multiple trips if you don’t have to. Most government offices don’t take credit cards. And some don’t take checks, so find out how your County Clerk takes payments for registration fee. More urban areas may take everything, where as out in the middle of nowhere counties, my have limits.
Here’s an example of Fairfax County Virginia’s Clergy registration. Fairfax is a very large county out side Washington DC. It’s a good example of what’s required, for instance they have a requirement for notarized documents. My little county has no such requirement. And as big and sophisticated as Fairfax is, you’ll notice on their form, they don’t take checks.
Once you have your paperwork, head over to your County Clerks office, usually these are at the Courthouse. But you should be able to find their address on the county website. Tell them what you want to do and they’ll help you with paperwork. In this case, less is more. Don’t tell them every detail of what you’re doing. They have a line of paperwork and you’re adding to it. Give them the facts and let them ask you for more info if they need it.
They won’t help you fill out the forms, they’re not allowed to give you legal advice. And right now, all you’re doing is registering yourself as a Minister.
Some Counties will want to see that you’re a Minister in good standing with a your governing body, such as the International Metaphysical Ministry. Some states accept a “Yes I Am” and other states want some kind of proof of that. If you have a copy of your last dues payment, or your last Ministers report; that might be all they need.
Some Counties won’t ask you what form of religion you practice? But it’s really different between regions and counties, even in the same state. Remember you are protected by law for the freedom of religion. I some counties, if they don’t ask; don’t volunteer the information. You never know who is going to have a problem with you not being Christian. So no need to create a bad day for anyone. Especially yourself.
Fill out the forms, pay the fee and you’re good to go. Many Counties don’t even give you card or license with a number on it, or anything that makes you official. I think they all should; but they don’t.
Once you have the receipt in your hands, you are legally authorized to perform weddings. Tada! Congratulations.
Register Your Church / Center
Setting up a Church is a much bigger deal. If you have the financing, I suggest finding an attorney to help you do this. Or contact a business attorney who might be able to direct you to a paralegal service that provides this kind of help at a much cheaper rate. Ask them, if they don’t offer the information freely. Most attorneys understand their fees are expensive for some and they can show compassion and help you out.
You can also start on your own with some research.
- IRS Publication Churches and Religious Organizations – PDF.
- What Constitutes a Church at Legal Zoom;
You don’t have to use their site, but they do give some pretty good information for free.
There are two ways to set up your organization as a legal Church or a legal Business. And each of these have additional considerations. Are you going to be a Non-profit, Not for profit or For profit Church? There are big differences to each. Each one has varying tax obligations, so you have to really know what the differences are and how to proceed.
- What’s the Difference: Non-Profit and Benefit Organizations – Score.org
- Non-Profit vs Not For Profit – Score.org
Because of this, many people set up legal Spiritual Centers. You have choices here too. You can set up as a Limited Liability Company (LLC), Sole Proprietorship, or incorporate into an official Corporation. Each one of these have different organizational requirements. How you report taxes, who operates the business, what your liability requirements are and much more. Today most new businesses are set up as LLCs. Even if they grow into a large company, they remain a LLC. Such as Ben & Jerry’s; they’re a LLC.
- Compare Business Structures at Legal Zoom.
- Choose Your Business Structure – SBA.gov
While you’re at SBA, sign up for their newsletter. You’ll find a TON of information along with small business seminars you’re going to like.
Regardless of which you choose, your ministry must have a separate checking account, a set of its own books, its own identity for reporting financials to the government. Never mix your finances with your legal organization! So you will need an IRS tax identification number. They’re free and easily to get. But don’t get it until you know what type of organization you’re going to have. Because it will make a difference in how you apply for the tax id.
- How To Apply for an EIN – IRS.gov
Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Once you know what kind of organization you’re going to have, time to set it up. I can’t go into all that, it will take up pages and pages. But whether it’s a Church or Business you will want to create a business plan. Don’t do anything else until you have a plan written down. There are tons of sites to help you learn what’s needed in a plan, even more places that offer templates for a business plan. You might even search online for someone who has a Church/Business like yours that may have put their business plan online. That’s how I started mine.
- Create Your Business Plan – SBA.gov
- Business Planning Templates – Score.org (multiple templates for different kinds of businesses)
- How To Develop a Business Plan Workshop – Score.org
An attorney can also help you with writing a good business plan. If you need a mentor to help guide you, I suggest you find the SCORE group in your area. These are organizations supported by the Small Business Administration to help mentor and guide you through the process. They provide 1 day classes to help explain what you need, how to get it done from all aspects of business. In this case, you want to learn all the same things for a legal Church as a legal Business. Because you face the same questions in setting up the organization. It’s worth it! Really! Even after you get your organization up and running, you can meet with your mentor once a month, or once a quarter through out the life of your business. They’re always there to help guide you. And if you take their course, that mentoring is free. I love these people!
Also look for organizations who opened their doors and are doing what you want to do. Usually you should do this with organizations at the other end of your state, or a neighboring state. Someone who you will not be in direct competition with. Ask them questions about how they got started, what challenges did they face, how did they overcome this issue or that block? Most people don’t mind sharing how they attained their success with others they’re not competing with.
If you want to open a Metaphysical Church, get on Google and search for one. Call them up, tell them what you want and ask if you can schedule an appointment with a founder of the church or center. Remember their time is valuable, they’re running an organization. Be respectful and ask them for their time.
Church / Center Charter
There are two kinds of Charters. A Corporate Charter is required if you are incorporating your business or Church. It is a written document filed with a U.S. state by the founders of a corporation detailing the major components of a company such as its objectives, its structure and its planned operations. If the charter is approved by the state government, the company becomes a legal corporation. Also referred to as “charter” and “articles of incorporation”.
But any organization that provides services to the public should have some form of Charter that define the rules or regulations of how the services are to be provided and how the employes are required to operate and conduct themselves.
These documents are important, primarily because this is the first thing someone outside your organization is going to look at, if they have issues with you, what you do, or with those who are authorized to represent you in some way. So be careful what you say, and say what you mean. Words are very important here. They also protect you from internal issues, as they clearly outline a code of conduct for everyone (including you) during the operation of your organization.
Clan Charter –
Your Charter is the whole collection of all your documents about your group. Be it a metaphysical church, a pagan clan/coven, or a spiritual center offering services.
Principles Of The Organization
Why do you gather, what are the basic reasons or mission of your group.
Principles Of Belief
What are the basic tenants of faith practiced in your spiritual organization.
What is your pledge of faith?
In pagan groups, this could be a troth of beliefs, a pledge to the coven, a Rede or promise of self to the divine honored in the group.
Dedication and Initiations
Not every religious path use these rituals as part of their practices. But if you do, you should define what they are. In Paganism we have four different rituals to consider through a persons life.
- For a baby, we conduct a Paganing, similar to the Baptism of a baby in Christianity.
- A Coming of Age Ritual, which would be similar to Jewish coming-of-age ceremonies: Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah.
- A Dedication Ritual similar to Confirmation.
- An Initiation, similar to 1st Communion.
You want to define which (if any) of these you will practice in your organization.
1. Dedication of faith
All faiths have some sort of dedication for an individual to pledge their actions and energy to their own path of faith.
A Pagan dedication is not facilitated by a Priest/Priestess; it’s up to the individual to design and implement. A dedication in my tradition can be practiced alone by the individual or shared within the Clan. But the individual practitioners make this request on an individual basis. And it can include the entire gathering of the Clan, or only select people, even non-Clan members such as family or friends who the individual wants to be present.
2. Initiation within the Clan
For us a person must be invited into the Clan. They can’t merely show up and be welcomed into Clan services, rituals etc. Once invited they are formally initiated into our Clan family.
Formalized Area Of Study
Members of a group need to know what is expected of them. Providing a formal outline of study and practice helps to organize those expectations. If you’re a Church you might have “Sunday School” for kids. You might provide educational programs for adults. If you provide any kind of certification at all, or any form of a “graduation” certificate, you will need this section of your charter.
Code Of Ethics
Any formal organization acting in some form as a spiritual education and/or service group MUST have a code of ethics. Only your approved and authorized representatives sign these; whether or not they are employees. And they MUST be signed on a periodic basis or when ever they are changed. If they’re not changed every two or three years should be ok. But once you set your interval, stick with it!
Of all the documents about and for your organization, a Code of Ethics is THE most important. It tells your representatives what is expected of them and what they agree to and what they will be adhered to. It lays out your authority to hire, fire and everything in between those who represent YOU and your organization in the world.
If you’d like examples, you’re welcome to visit my Clan’s site for our Charter
- Clan of the Forest Moon – Charter is on the Right
Legally Registering Your Services
Here comes some sticky legal things to consider, regardless of which type of organization you’re establishing. Each state has its own laws and requirements for what kind of services you may want to offer at your Church/Center. So you need to find out what kind of certifications or licenses you need.
For instance if you want to provide Spiritual Counseling, some states will require you to hold a certain degree, be licensed with a certain organization and carry certain kinds of insurance. You can’t practice counseling willy nilly.
Same goes for any kind of healing. Even if it’s holistic or spiritual healing; you may need to be certified or licensed in your county or state before you can legally practice those services. The last thing you want to do is face legal action with an unhappy client and find out you’re in bigger trouble because you didn’t legally obtain authorization in your state to perform those services. And you have to be careful with how you use the words counseling, therapy and definitely psychology. Make sure you understand the licensing requirements for your county and state.
Finally if it has the word “spiritual” in it, it’s not generally covered under medical insurance plans. Some progressive states are making some broad exceptions with that. But not many. So you’re best leaving that question up to your client to discover from their insurance company. Not only is it different state to state, it’s also different from one insurance company to the next.
Once you hold your grand opening, you’re going to want to start advertising. Actually that starts way before that; but when is really up to you.
These organizations are based on two important things, your reputation and word of mouth. If you’re even slightly thinking about opening some kind of spiritual organization you better start protecting your reputation now. It’s your biggest asset.
Start up a business account on FB, Twitter, what ever social media site you like using. Create a LinkedIn account for yourself. Make connections and share verifiable information about yourself, credentials and whatever else you’d like to announce to the public.
Create a website. I recommend creating a Blog. People don’t want to check a static website anymore. They want interaction, updates, news, announcements and so on. So time to get creative. The first part of that is figuring out a name for your organization that’s unique and will represent your organization. For instance Spring’s Haven, is my “haven” of quiet, loving spiritual gathering, services and companionship. Second big part of that, is making sure your business name translates to a good web-address.
- 21 Most Awkward Website Names On The Internet – Huffington Post.
How you market your services is up to you. But you might create varying market plans for different audiences. So think of this as Know Your Audience. If you were standing before a Pagan crowd, you’d use certain words, labels or titles that you wouldn’t use if you were presenting a lecture to Christians about what you do and what you offer. Do the same thing with your marketing. Try to be as inclusive as possible and you’ll reach a broader audience.
I hope this helps to get you started on thinking about your dreams and bringing them into reality. Good Luck!
~ Springwolf 🐾
© 2014 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.