There are several ways to become a priest online. Some are as easy as providing an electronic signature and some personal information. Others involve coursework in areas like Bible study, world religions, and ministry.
The quickest method is to sign up with an online church that offers free instant ordination. There are many online churches to choose from, and people who are interested in becoming a priest should be sure that the church is in good standing with the federal government and that it has official non-profit status. Applicants enter their name and basic information and are provided with an e-mail certification stating that they are an official minister of their chosen church. This process is extremely quick, and ministers can have their certification within minutes, which is a definite positive for those in emergency situations.
There are also online schools that offer coursework in ministry. Some will not allow ordination without completing coursework, while others offer it in addition to the ordination. Those who complete the courses receive special certifications in various religious and spiritual topics. Some schools even offer enough coursework to have an associate's or bachelor's degree, although only a handful are accredited universities.
Many of these online churches offer kits for those who are entering the ministry. For a one-time usage of the ordination, the kits may not be necessary, but those planning on a career in baptisms and weddings can find that these kits come in handy. They provide items like a clergy car tag for special parking, official printed certification, books with common prayers in them, and decorative marriage certificates for the couples the new minister may marry.
There is debate in the legal community about the validity of someone who becomes a priest online. In some US states, marriages have been overturned because the state refused to recognize marriages performed by an online minister, saying that these churches do not meet the qualifications necessary to be a recognized religious institution. These decisions have all been quickly followed by action by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which countered the state's argument by saying that this de-certification is unconstitutional and violates a citizen's freedom of religion.
For example, a 2007 decision in York County, Pennsylvania, overturned the validity of online ministers in that state. That decision was followed by the ACLU bringing test cases before various county courts in Pennsylvania, and in early 2009, the test cases once again validated online ministers there. Given the number of pending cases, it is always a good idea for those interested in seeking to become a priest online to check with their state laws to ensure any services they perform with an online ordination will be considered legal.