Find the Perfect Officiant for Your Ceremony
Sometimes we get lost in the party planning aspect of a wedding. There’s so much to cover – from choosing a venue to renting the right furniture – of course the logistics take a lot of attention. But no one in the “wedding business” wants planning to get in the way of a bride and groom enjoying their big day.
In the midst of wedding planning, it’s important to remember that no matter how much fun the party is going to be, the ceremony is the reason it’s all happening which is why you want to do it right and put ample amount of time into selecting the perfect person.
An officiant of a civil ceremony can be a member of a religious organization, but does not have to be. He or she is simply the person legally recognized by the state to lead and validate a wedding ceremony. Their technical legal responsibilities are quite straightforward: get ordained, get the bride and groom to exchange I do’s, and file the marriage license; the details and specifications are up to you!
First things first, know the difference between a minister and officiant.
A Minister, Reverend, Pastor, Preacher, Rector, Priest etc. is an ordained professional and has the education and credentials from a specific denomination. Their credentials come from a seminary, church or ecclesiastical college. Most have had a church where they performed all the duties of a trusted spiritual leader. Along with this title comes the respect they are due for the education the experience they possess. And this translates into someone who can help you create the ceremony that is right for you. An officiant is usually someone who has completed a course of study from an online company or college in the art of performing a wedding. There are schools that train wedding officiants with very good curriculums to back up the title and these pros will do a lovely job of presiding over your wedding. This is ok if they are honest about it and tell you up front that they are not a Minister or call themselves Reverend.
How to begin…
As a wedding coordinator, I’ve seen thousands of ceremonies. And it pretty obvious when someone hasn’t put much time or thought into who was going to perform the ceremony. They can tend to lack originality, the ceremony sounds like its scripted, and the officiant seems to have just met the couple minutes before the ceremony given there aren’t any personal touches to embody who they are as individuals and together as a couple.
Below are some tips and tricks to help you find the perfect person to officiate your ceremony!
The key to finding the right person, is starting early! This way you won’t feel rushed into making a last-minute decision and you avoid running the risk of finding the right person, but they are already booked on your wedding day. Many officiants book out far in advance so they have ample time to dig deeper into the couple’s relationship and get to know them.
I suggest trying to book at least 1 year to 9 months ahead of time. This way you can take your time and interview a few so that you are 100% confident and comfortable with the person you end up choosing.
Always meet them in person. As with anything else, first impressions are everything. You will know right away if you feel comfortable with them and if their personalities match with yours! Many times, your venue will offer officiants and ministers on their vendor list AND they will offer a vendor night where you can come and meet all of them in one night! I would highly encourage you to take advantage of their list, especially if you aren’t completely set on using someone already. The more options you have and the more people you talk to, the more confident you will feel when you make your decision.
Being comfortable with them is the first sign of a perfect match. You will know instantly if someone makes you feel comfortable. Keep in mind you are trusting this person with your most important and intimate 20 minutes of your life. You want to feel comfortable in their presence for the sake of your wedding day and to make the process as seamless as possible. They are going to want to spend time with you prior to the wedding day, maybe even offer some pre-martial counseling.
Might seem obvious, but make sure they are the same affiliation as you. Maybe they aren’t personally practicing that religion, but many times people can do multiple types of ceremonies. Make sure they can accommodate your needs!
At the end of the day, you are technically “hiring” this person, but it is so much more than a business transaction. It is a sacred union and you are trusting this person with the most important day of your life. They should take this as seriously as you do and seem genuine about caring about giving you the BEST ceremony for you two. This means they take the time to get to know you and make it as personal as possible.
Look for someone who has a very similar personality type as you and your fiancé! This will almost guarantee that your ceremony will be everything you want it to be. The officiant should be the voice of the ceremony, but they are projecting YOUR voice.
Talk price! Discuss their cost of the ceremony and ask detailed questions such as; what is included with that? Pre-marital counseling? Do they charge extra for traveling or charge for your legal registration? What if they stay the whole time?? There are some venues, such as a yacht wedding, where the officiant stays the entire night!
Make sure your officiant can sign your license. Every state has different procedures for clergy. In New York City, for example, an officiant must be registered with the City Clerk’s Office—even a justice of the peace or a judge from another town—for at least 24 hours before they can sign the license. Some religious traditions offer a spiritual ceremony but expect the couple to be legally married at the Clerk’s office. Don’t assume, always ask, if the officiant is fully prepared to make the ceremony legal in your state.
Read reviews online! If the person has performed multiple ceremonies, with this day in age with Yelp and the internet, chances are there are reviews of them somewhere! While not all reviews are 1000% trustworthy, it is always smart to do your research and see what others say about your potential officiant to validate your own opinion!
Go with your theme! If you are having a wedding with a theme or your venue is something other than traditional, then this might be for you! If you are okay with straying away from the traditional feel, then don’t be afraid to get creative! Bring your personality into the ceremony! For example, if you are having a wedding on a yacht, have a captain officiate the wedding! It is a subtle detail that brings your theme to life and makes it seem like you paid close attention to every detail!
Where to look…
If you are looking for a minister or want something traditional, look within your own spiritual community (i.e. at church) or within your family circle. Chances are, they know you best!
As previously mentioned, use the vendor list provided by your venue! They may not know you personally right off the bat, but that can change with time. This list is usually comprised of a bunch of very experienced professionals so you can be sure to trust them with your ceremony! They will take the time to get to know you over the course of your planning process and put together a great ceremony customized to you two!
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want!
Be upfront with what you are looking for in the ceremony. If you aren’t completely sure then have a simple conversation and see what their suggestions are!
Ask tons of questions!
Some commonly asked questions to ask yourself AND the potential officiant when looking:
Are there any religious or cultural rituals you’d like to include in the ceremony?
How do you feel about the word ‘God’?
Do you want any songs or readings in the ceremony?
What did you like about the last wedding you attended?
What did you dislike?
Do you want the officiant to refer to a script or improvise?
Will you write your own vows?
How long do you want the ceremony?
Do you want to have a rehearsal before the wedding?
Do you want a more formal or humorous ceremony?
Will you hold a religious or secular ceremony?
Have you budgeted for a wedding officiant?
Is experience an important factor in selecting a wedding officiant?
What are your expectations of the wedding officiant?
Will you follow a traditional order of service according to your faith or create your own ceremony service?
Will your wedding venue play a role in an officiant's availability?
Will you be required to attend premarital counseling?
What happens if the officiant cancels at the last minute?
Will the officiant perform your ceremony if you are not married in his/her church?
Will your wedding day affect the availability of certain officiants?
Finally, always allow them to ask you questions. The sign of a great officiant is one that collects stories from the couple – talk to them about how they met, what they like about each other, and funny memories. He also suggests talking to the friends and family of the couple to get a sense of where they each came from.
Regardless of who you choose, a minister, officiant, family member, or the captain of the ship, you should feel comfortable with them, have a clear idea of what you want for the ceremony, be able to perform a ceremony of the same religious affiliation, and click with your personality as a couple. Go with your gut and you will be fine!