Scenario #1: You’ve decided on all the details important to you for your Big Day — the dress, the venue, flowers, etc.
But wait! You’ve got to get someone to celebrate your vows, and you’re not in a traditional church.
Scenario #2: You want to add a meaningful touch to your nuptials by having your brother, who introduced the two of you, officiate the ceremony. But he’ not a religious minister. What do you do?
Occasions like these call for the services of an officiant — the person who can legally perform an act of marriage. This is a growing option for those who don’t prefer a conventional, faith-based ceremony, who are planning a destination wedding or who want a unique memory for the day.
The officiant is the most important element of the day. Without one, your marriage would not be lawful.
But it’s more than just delivering the words. “They’re your guide, your stage manager, your director, your Zen master,” says Rev. Annie Lawrence, an ordained interfaith minister and licensed wedding officiant in New York City.
This is the time to not only consider the words, but your feelings, emotions and relationship dynamics.
And so, don’t minimize this element in wedding planning, as your ceremony, not the reception, is the centerpiece of the day. Make securing an officiant a major priority, allowing sufficient time to have a worry-free experience.
Generally, officiants tend to fall into four categories: a) Denominationally based — someone who is part of a church or religious organization; b) civil/non-religious, such as a justice of the peace or a judge; c) independent professional — someone who can include any religious preference among any element of your choice. They are usually experienced and resourceful, providing lots of support in your planning process; d) friend or family member, someone recognized by the state as being ordained to perform a marriage ceremony. No matter whom you choose, be sure to verify their legality and professionalism.
If you don’t have someone in mind to perform your wedding, check out Wedding Officiants.com. The site connects couples with experienced professional wedding officiants all over the country and around the world. Thinking of having a friend or close relative marry you? It’s mandatory that he/she is legally recognized by your state and/or county. Hiring someone who was ordained online doesn’t make it legal. Each state has its own laws as to who is legally able to marry you.
Even though the officiant may “know” you, it still takes time to learn what you, as a couple, want or don’t want in your ceremony. Make sure that this personal connection has the physical and emotional energy to harmonize with your day. You don’t want to ask someone who is over-scheduled, as they might have to bow out at the last minute.
SEEK & FIND
There are several ways to find an officiant. Start by getting referrals from married friends and relatives. Your event planner and even the venue staff are additional sources. It can be someone who’s at the venue regularly and knows the layout, or a planner who has a listing of possible contacts that meet with your vision. If you’re totally stumped, there’s a wealth of online resources. However, you’ll want to check out their credibility and availability.
MEET & GREET
In choosing your officiant, you’ll want someone who shares your values and beliefs. According to Chicago-area officiant Rev. Jocelyn Ross, a connection must be made. “It’s wise to have an officiant who knows the various ceremonies and traditions of many faiths,” she says.
Meeting up with the officiant is the first step in the process. Rev. Lawrence points out that “many meetings take place virtually on FaceTime and Skype to accommodate time zones and work schedules and allow for the comfort of speaking from home.”
DOLLARS & CENTS
Since price is a major consideration, Rev. Ross advises staying within budget as closely as possible, but remember the extra touches that can add to the basic cost. Joining ceremonies like sand, candles, bell-ringing increases the final totals.
Pricing varies according to the officiant and is based on more than just showing up at the ceremony.
Communication/meetings, preparations, creativity, time and travel all add to the cost. Those 15-20 minutes that your guests experience is preceded by anywhere of eight to 20 hours of preparation. A ball park figure could range from $250 to $500. But of course, that could be lower, or higher depending on the circumstances and the city you are married in.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Upon meeting, expect the officiant to ask you points, including your love story, the roles your families play in your lives, how you want to remember your ceremony, family dynamics, the theme of the day, etc.
As the couple, you need to ask specific questions, too. We suggest getting the fee out of the way and asking if there are any add-on costs. You may also want to ask what the most moving wedding the officiant celebrated was, what he/she thinks is the main responsibility as an officiant, does he/she allow for personal touches like personally written vows, readings and music, the timeframe of the ceremony, rehearsals, etc. Also, should the license be brought to the ceremony, or will it be signed beforehand?
TAKE YOUR TIME
According to Rev. Ross, the standard timeframe to find and book an officiant is six to nine months in advance of the wedding. “This is definitely not a rush job. The officiant’s job is to make you feel like you are the #1 love story in the whole world.”
Moreover, be respectful of your officiant’s time by honoring all meetings, deadlines, rehearsal and ceremony times. The officiant you choose is with you to celebrate your story to all those near and dear on your wedding day. And you never know, it can be the start of a wonderful relationship that can go beyond, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”