What Is a Wedding Officiant
“An officiant is someone who officiates at (i.e. leads) a service or ceremony, such as marriage, burial, or namegiving/baptism. Officiants may be ordained by any denomination as members of their clergy, or by secular/Humanist or Interfaith/Interspiritual religious bodies. Officiants differ from Chaplains in that Officiants serve the unaffiliated public at large, while Chaplains are usually employed by an institution such as the military, a hospital or other health care facility, etc. The term “Officiant” also includes Justices of the Peace, celebrants, notaries, and other people empowered by law to perform legally-binding private ceremonies.”
So, in basic terms, a wedding officiant is the person who leads your wedding ceremony. They must be legally recognized to do so by the state in which your wedding takes place. If you are having a religious ceremony, your officiant will need to be qualified in the eyes of that religious organization as well. Some religious groups specify where your ceremony must take place as well. For example, the Catholic Church requires that your ceremony take place within the church building.
The legal responsibilities of the officiant vary according to state laws. Generally speaking, your officiant’s signature on your marriage license signifies that he or she knows of no reason that you are not qualified to be married in that particular state. For example, you are of age or have parental consent, you are not currently married to someone else, or seeking a same sex marriage in a state that does not allow them. Their signature also means that they have witnessed you sharing your wedding vows and have officially pronounced that you are partners in marriage in the presence of witnesses (one or two of whom will also be required to sign your license).
In the past, most weddings were conducted either by religious clergy or civil officiants such as judges, justices of the peace, and ship captains. In recent years, it has become popular to have a friend or family member be your wedding officiant. This is accomplished by going on-line to sign up for ministerial credentials with a religious group such as the Universal Life Church that offers them without any requirements of training, dogmatic beliefs, or religious/spiritual practice. Their only requirement is that you ask to be ordained. According to their website, they have granted over 20 million ordinations to date. On-line ordinations take advantage of the separation of church and state by limiting the legal right of the state to challenge the religious organization’s authority and rules regarding to whom they grant ordination credentials. Some states and local jurisdictions, however, are beginning to challenge the legitimacy of on-line ordinations, so be sure to check out any controversy in the jurisdiction where you plan to be married.
Whether you are choosing to have a friend or family member officiate or are looking for a seasoned officiant, be sure to consider how their personality style, personal beliefs, and understanding of their role will influence your ceremony. Typically, your wedding officiant will have the greatest influence in setting the tone of your ceremony, so choose wisely.
Why Officiants Love Wedding Planners And Why You Will Too
A wedding planner is a wonderful asset. This endorsement may sound odd coming from a wedding officiant, but I can tell you that, from my perspective as an officiant, wedding ceremonies with planners go much more smoothly.
Things are tough all over and for everybody, so a bride and groom may consider foregoing the planner and tending to the details themselves, or to a reliable friend, but honestly, with all the money being spent on the wedding, this is one area where your money is well spent.
Frequently, wedding planners have a preferred list of vendors they know they can rely on for excellence.
A wedding officiant and planner working together on a wedding officiant, florist, photographer, and maybe even your music vendor at a reduced rate as a courtesy to the planner who referred them to the couple. These discounts may end up practically paying for the planner.
Planners think of every detail and communicate them to every wedding member involved. They have a cool head, and won’t let the bridezilla in you rear its ugly head because planners eliminate that stress in the first place.
Your planner will explain every last detail to every participant involved so that misunderstandings between vendors and the couple are minimized if not completely eliminated. Maybe couples don’t think of the officiant as someone to consider, but keep these next few examples in mind to see what can go awry if you don’t have someone paying close attention to your change of plans.
Despite having a contract with my couples, and providing them with a word for word copy of their ceremony weeks if not months prior to their wedding date , there are still occasions when I’m at the helm about to officiate, and a unity candle or sand kit is presented unexpectedly. It seems obvious I know, but if it isn’t in the agreed upon ceremony, it isn’t going to happen, especially if you didn’t pay for it. A planner would have made sure your officiant knew of your change of plans if you forgot to communicate that to your officiant.
Another faux pas is setting the time. Whatever time is on the contract with your officiant is the time the wedding is going to happen. Officiants usually have multiple weddings on any given day and the change of even a half hour either way may preclude an officiant from being able to officiate your wedding. And you won’t be able to expect a refund either. No officiant, no wedding ceremony, it kind of kills the day. A planner will make sure this detail is made crystal clear and more than likely will put the couple on a schedule so that everything runs smoothly and on time that day.
Everyone loves a beach ceremony. They are so romantic, and pleasant for everyone. And what is more adorable than your five year old son, daughter, niece, or nephew being the ring carrier? Do I have to spell this one out? Without someone to dutifully make sure those rings are securely on that pillow, well, imagine the entire party on its hands and knees searching for your wedding bands in the sand. Trust me, it happens. The officiant will remind you to take care of this detail, but the planner will make certain it’s been taken care of.
These points are only from an officiants point of view, but think of all the mishaps that will be avoided when multiplied by every vendor you have. Their focus is on their aspect of your day. The planner’s focus is on your entire day. A good one is worth her/his weight in gold.
Duties And Responsibilities Of A Wedding Officiant
Qualified wedding officiants vary from Priests, Rabbis and clergy to city officials, clerics or even celebration specialists. It is important for a wedding officiant to know their duties and responsibilities that come with it.
The duties of a wedding officiant vary depending on the couple and the ceremony and location. Each wedding ceremony is unique and should be treated as such by the person performing it. Usually, wedding officiants are chosen because they either know the bride and groom on a personal level, or they have been recommended to the couple by someone who thinks they are a good fit. Once a minister has been suggested, a written contracted should be drafted and a deposit should be made on the officiant’s services. During this exchange, the couple should express their expectations and clarify the role they want their minister to play. It is also a good time to discuss what the tone of the wedding should be, as the person performing the wedding will play a pivotal role in setting the stage for the entire ceremony.
There are several legal aspects that the wedding officiant is responsible for handling. The officiant will need to verify the legality of the marriage by examining state issued licenses and identification to be sure they he or she has all of the appropriate documentation to perform weddings. Many states require that ministers prove their ordination through a minister’s license in the form of an ordination credential, wallet card or letter of good standing. Once the ceremony is concluded, they will need to complete and file paperwork with the vital records division. Wedding officiants will need to make copies of the documents and make sure the bride and groom receive a keepsake copy.
The officiant performing the wedding can use information obtained from the bride and groom to write a personalized ceremony that makes the wedding unique and special for the couple. Knowledge of many different types of rituals is suggested for those wishing to perform weddings. If ministers have a broad understanding of many different ceremonies, they will be better able to plan one that matches the needs of the couple and their families. Some common wedding rituals include breaking the glass, lighting the unity candle, the marriage vessel and the rose, jumping of the broom, unity cup, family medallion, and Celtic and Pagan handfasting. Many couples may wish to incorporate their own wedding vows into the ceremony. Some couples may even ask the wedding officiant to write original vows for the ceremony All of these expectations should be discussed with the couple prior to the planning of the wedding to ensure that their wishes and desires are met.
Almost all wedding officiants will attend the wedding rehearsal. Their role at this time is to supervise the flow of the ceremony and offer suggestions if requested. This is a time for the officiant to practice delivery of their part of the ceremony. Most wedding officiants will find this time for ‘practice’ helpful for making adjustments to their own contribution to the ceremony. This is a time that the bride and groom can voice any concerns or suggestions they may have about the personalized touches the officiant has created for the couple.
Day Of the Ceremony
Wedding officiants should arrive ahead of schedule at the location of the ceremony to ensure that the couple are prepared and that the family doesn’t have any last minute questions. The theme and level of formality of the ceremony will guide the officiant in the attire they choose for the big event. Now is the time to double check the itinerary with the couple and put any finishing details on the ceremony.
Once the ceremony gets started, all eyes will be on the couple and the officiant. Ministers should speak clearly and be well prepared with what they will say. One way for officiants to make sure that they are fully prepared is to print out an itinerary and keep it with them for reference. The final, and possibly the most important job of the wedding officiant, is to announce to guests the legal joining of the couple and send them on the start of their new life together.
Top 14 Questions For The Officiant
Can you give us the ceremony we want?
What’s your experience?
Are you flexible to travel to our venue?
What is your contingency plan if you have an emergency and can’t make it?
How much are we allowed to customize the ceremony? Can we write our own vows?
Will you marry us even if we are not current members of your church/synagogue/etc? How do we become members?
What are your credentials?
How often will we meet?
If we are of different faiths, or one of us is not religious, is that a problem?
One of us is divorced, does your religion allow you to marry us?
Are we required to attend any classes or counseling before the wedding?
Will our non-religious friends be allowed to participate in the ceremony, including giving readings, singing, or (if appropriate) taking communion?
How will you be dressed for the ceremony?
Will you be joining us at the reception?
How To Find The Right Person To Marry You
Finding the perfect wedding officiant is an important decision. It is your special day so you want to find someone who is willing to perform the kind of ceremony you are envisioning.
Finding a Secular Officiant for Your Wedding
A Justice of the Peace
Contact the county clerk’s office where you will get your marriage license. They should have a list of local Justices of the Peace who are willing to perform wedding ceremonies. You can, of course, look in the phone book, but it’s better to get the referral from someone who knows for sure that they are legally certified. Start by calling the ones close to you to get a sense of their personality, then ask if you can meet with them to get a better sense of the kinds of weddings they perform.
At City Hall
Here, finding the person to marry you is typically easy. You’ll need to make an appointment and be willing to be married in a speedy fashion – no long drawn-out sermons here! Call your local city hall and they’ll tell you everything you need to know.
A Friend or Relative
This is fast becoming a popular option, as couples look for a more personal element in their ceremony. In some states such as California, a friend can get a one day designation of Deputy Commissioner of Marriages to perform weddings for $51. Make sure that the person you are choosing understands the seriousness of the task you are giving them.
Finding a Religious Officiant for Your Wedding
If you already have a family clergyperson, or you’re getting married in a house of worship, your choice is relatively straightforward. I suggest still meeting with that person to discuss the questions below and making sure you’re comfortable with them.
Otherwise, you’ll need to decide first what denomination best fits with your beliefs. Once you’ve done that, contact your local house of worship to ask if their religious rules allow them to marry people in secular settings. You might attend some worship services to get a sense of different officiants’ styles, then meet with them to make sure that they are available on your date, and amenable to the type of wedding you envision. Like any important job, don’t just give it to the first interviewee! Talk to a couple different people and choose the one that you are the most comfortable with.