Before you answer, “I do,” you need to decide who’s asking the question. The right officiant can make sure your ceremony is as personal and meaningful as your relationship itself. You have plenty of options, from religious leaders, to judges, to any of your close friends. The important thing is not who officiates your ceremony, but how well they mesh with your values and beliefs, and how open they are to your ideas.
Finding Your Wedding Officiant
You should start your search for a licensed wedding officiant as soon as possible; beginning a year ahead of time is a smart way to guarantee your date. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to find someone suitable who is available on your wedding day. Location may also be a factor in your search, as many officiants cannot travel long distances without charging extra fees.
Different states have different guidelines for who can legally perform weddings and be a wedding officiant, so be sure to check local laws before setting your officiant (or wedding location) in stone. If you absolutely have your heart set on an officiant who is not eligible to perform in your state, you will need to file a marriage license separately from the ceremony to ensure your union is legal.
If you’re having a religious ceremony, the easiest way to find an officiant is to go through your religious organization. Most places of worship have designated officiants who will guide you through a traditional ceremony every step of the way.
Some faiths require pre-marital counseling or other traditions beforehand, so ask about conditions you’ll need to fulfill. If you are getting married in a religious venue like a church or synagogue, using a religious officiant may be your only option.
If you want a quick and purely secular process, a county clerk can issue you and your fiancé a marriage license (as long as you’re both over 18). The fee is usually $35-$40 but varies by state.
Some states require a waiting period or blood tests. All states require a ceremony of some sort to “solemnize” the event, but the form this takes is up to you. You can go to a Justice of the Peace or your City Hall for a quick secular ceremony, but it won’t come with many frills or space for guests.
A friend can get ordained (over the Internet, even) specifically for your wedding, no matter their religious affiliation or lack thereof. Boat captains and pilots, while widely believed to have the power to marry people, must get legally ordained before they are official.
Some states even offer would-be officiants temporary designations for the day of your ceremony, for a small fee. But be sure your friend is someone you can trust with such an important responsibility. Good friends are not necessarily good public speakers.
In order to be confident with your officiant’s legitimacy, you can ask to see their license or certification. Religious officiants will have documentation from their organization. If they are a member of the Universal Life Church (the most popular source of internet-ordained officiants), they will be able to present you with a Letter of Good Standing or an Ordination Credential. Only you can decide what institutions meet with your approval.
Sculpting the Wedding Ceremony with your Officiant
It’s your wedding. What type of ceremony do you want? Different officiants specialize in different styles, and it’s important to find a good match for yourself, your fiancé, and your families and guests. Some officiants will not perform certain types of ceremonies, so be sure to discuss your wishes thoroughly beforehand. The options are many, from formal or religious to playful or non-denominational, incorporating the traditions of one culture or merging several. You may also hire an officiant to perform renewals of vows and civil unions.
Expect to meet with your officiant at least a few times before the ceremony in order to give them a clear idea of what tone you expect. Many couples make the mistake of assuming they want a “regular” ceremony, without realizing their needs are actually quite specific. Do you want a secular ceremony with some religious touches, or a religious ceremony without certain elements?
Most couples fall somewhere in the middle of a long, complex scale. It helps to discuss your relationship style and expectations with your officiant in detail so they can craft a ceremony that’s right for you.
Schedule a meeting with your officiant after the initial meetings, when the first draft of the ceremony is complete. Often, after seeing it on paper, you will realize there are additions you’ve forgotten to communicate. The more open and honest your initial meetings are, the fewer drafts you will have to go through (and the happier your officiant will be).
Communication is essential. Be clear about how much control you want over your ceremony. Many officiants are happy to hand you the reigns and let you customize your experience. Most offer packages with ready-made vows and ceremonies you can select. Still others specialize in guiding you through a specific, customary ceremony. You may wish to combine two traditional ceremonies, as in the case of an interfaith union; make sure you select an officiant who has experience and approves of the type of ceremony you request.
Be sure to let your officiant know what you expect in terms of outfit, ceremony length, and levity. Do you want to tell the entire story of how you met, or would you rather keep it brief and get to the reception? Is your officiant allowed to ad-lib? You want to strike a good balance between keeping your guests awake and keeping your stuffed clown collection a secret.
It’s proper etiquette to invite your officiant and their significant other, if they have one, to your wedding reception. If they don’t know you well, they won’t stay long, but it will be seen as a nice gesture. Ideally, your officiant will be someone you have a rapport with and would like to see again.
Although it’s not mandatory, most officiants appreciate a tip after the ceremony ($50-$100 is a good starting point), especially if they don’t charge a fee. Designate a friend or family member ahead of time to make sure the tip gets into the right hands, since you will probably be distracted on your wedding day.
Civil officiants like judges and clerks aren’t allowed to accept tips unless the ceremony happens outside of their official office hours. Most religious officiants consider their tips a donation to their organization. Feel free to ask the officiant’s organization what is appropriate.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.