Tennessee chapel owner pleads guilty after conducting 600-plus bogus weddings

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2004

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (AP) The former proprietor of the local Wedding Loft pleaded guilty in county court to impersonating a professional in performing more than 600 nuptials in the 1990s. The state legislature has since legalized those marriages.

Brenda Gorst, 64, claimed clergy ordination through ''World Christianship Ministries,'' which her lawyer said was recognized by the IRS as a legitimate church. But prosecutors said nothing but money was required to receive its credentials and investigators obtained ordination for a child and a pet.

The ''Encyclopedia of American Religions'' lists World Christianship among 31 ''mail order and Internet churches'' that issue clergy credentials.

In a plea bargain, Gorst received six years of unsupervised probation if she behaves and returns to her native Britain. Gorst said she committed no crime but didn't want to risk a stiffer sentence from a jury trial.

Gorst sold her chapel in 1999 and left for England, but was caught during a passport check in New Jersey last April when she returned to visit a daughter.

Everything ''was done with lots of love,'' Gorst told the court. ''I helped girls who had no money. I helped put them in a gown and give them a bouquet,'' the Johnson City Press reported.

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