wedding officiant tips

What makes a good wedding officiant?

As more and more couples elect to have a secular wedding, choosing a friend or family member to officiate the ceremony continues to be a popular option. It’s one way to add a personal touch to your vow exchange and saves you from having to search for a professional officiant that feels right to you and your future spouse. The biggest downside is that, unless the person you ask is a popular choice in your circle, they are likely to be inexperienced in presiding over a wedding ceremony.

You might not care about your wedding ceremony all that much. You might just want someone to sign your marriage license, say some words and pronounce you married so you can have a great party. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t have to be that deep. But, you only get married once so you might want to take some time to think about it. A great wedding ceremony can kick off a great reception, and a great wedding officiant can help make that happen.

Your wedding officiant presides over your wedding ceremony 

They have everyone’s attention for those few minutes (you hope), and a great wedding officiant can control the situation no matter what. They will communicate with you ahead of time to make sure they are aware of your wants, needs and expectations and be able to adjust accordingly, at the moment, if they need to.

Most things that go wrong during a wedding ceremony are not within the control of the wedding officiant. They can’t control what other people do. What they can do is control the reaction. If there is nothing else you can do but laugh at the situation, they laugh. If people are visibly moved during a moment of silence, they adjust to that out of respect. If you flub your vows, they might flub right back to make you feel better. 

A great wedding officiant knows how to work the situation to a positive outcome

A great wedding officiant will make sure you feel comfortable and confident on your wedding day, and the moment you say “I do.”How you feel on your wedding day is so important. 

​If you forget everything else that happens during your wedding ceremony, you will remember how you feel. Your guests will remember how they felt during your wedding ceremony. As a wedding officiant, I want your wedding ceremony to be lighthearted. I want you to be in the moment when you exchange vows. I want your guests to be engaged during your wedding ceremony. I always greet you directly at the beginning of the ceremony and say “welcome to your wedding.” I take a moment and a deep breath so the three of us can centre. Or, if you are completely engaged with each other, I acknowledge and celebrate that intimacy. Before you exchange vows, I make a moment of it, and I want to stop and acknowledge what you are about to do. It’s the whole point of the day. I always want to gauge the reaction of your guests and speak directly to them and make them feel like they are a part of your moment. I want it to be magical.

A Great Wedding Officiant will respect who you are and adjust themselves and their services to meet your needs

The “perfect wedding” is all over social media. Amazing pictures of couples dressed in expensive outfits with their hair and makeup professionally done. You aren’t a person in a picture on social media. You are you. Maybe you bought your dress off the rack, and you have an alcoholic mother, absent father and siblings with special needs. You have transgender bridesmaids, and your foster parents are walking you down the aisle and giving you away. That’s real life. Gay marriage has been legal for years now, and I still get calls asking if I perform LGBTQ weddings. A great wedding officiant will take it all in stride like it’s the most normal thing in the world. It is normal for you.

A great wedding officiant will work with you to create and perform the perfect ceremony for you

Sometimes, couples don’t know that they have options when it comes to their wedding ceremony. I’m a professional wedding officiant, and the primary goal of my business is to marry any couple any way they want to get married. Sometimes couples seek me out because they know what they want, and I can provide them with the services they need. Others just find me approachable, and I help walk them through the process of figuring out what they want and need. 

Why Hire a Professional Officiant?

If you’re anything like most couples planning a wedding, deciding whether to hire a professional wedding officiant is only one of the many decisions you’ll need to make. Depending on the type of wedding you’re planning, you may be considering hiring an officiant or asking a friend or family member to perform your ceremony instead. For many couples, it can seem like there isn’t much of a difference between using an amateur or hiring a professional. Still, there are quite a few major advantages to hiring an experienced professional to perform your wedding ceremony.

Most often, the only barrier is that one needs to become an ordained minister, which is a simple process and can be done online through a variety of websites. Except for a handful of states with more stringent requirements, this means that practically anyone can perform a wedding ceremony – but should they?

Professional Advantages

There are a number of advantages to hiring a professional officiant. They bring the necessary knowledge, experience, and skill to help you create a top-quality ceremony and deliver it with poise and grace. Ask any wedding planner, photographer, or videographer whether they prefer to work with an amateur or a professional officiant, and they will tell you the same thing: definitely hire a professional. Here’s why:

Experience

The number one reason to hire a professional officiant is experience. The more experience someone has at performing wedding ceremonies, the better equipped they are to deliver high-quality performance amid an unpredictable, unscripted environment. Performing a wedding ceremony isn’t as simple as just reading a piece of paper, and many amateurs get thrown off by the near-constant distraction of mumbling guests, crying children, flying bugs, moving vendors, and the like. A professional officiant has a level of comfort that comes only from experience and can maintain a state of calm and focus despite changing or unforeseen circumstances. This leads to a better experience for you, your families, and your guests – you can relax and enjoy your ceremony, knowing you’re in the capable hands of someone who knows exactly what to do.

Knowledge

Since a professional officiant has the benefit of experience, they can also offer knowledge and guidance that you simply can’t get from an inexperienced amateur. A professional officiant can advise you on the proper length for your ceremony, any potential logistical challenges you might face at your venue, different options for wedding traditions to incorporate into the ceremony based on your unique circumstances, and the answers to many questions an amateur wouldn’t even know to ask. Aside from being a life-changing display of your love and commitment to one another, your wedding ceremony is also your guests’ first impression of your wedding and sets the tone for the rest of the day. If you wouldn’t trust your friend to photograph your wedding or DJ your reception, then why would you put something as important as your wedding ceremony in the hands of an amateur?

Reliability

Any professional officiant will tell you that one of the biggest benefits of hiring a professional, and one of the biggest drawbacks to using an amateur, is reliability. Professional officiants get calls all the time from couples who either hired a low-grade officiant from Craigslist who flaked on them at the last minute, or from couples who had planned on using a friend that now has cold feet and doesn’t feel comfortable doing their ceremony. These unfortunate circumstances are extremely common and can be very stressful for a couple – especially when they happen only weeks or even days before their wedding. Professional officiants understand the commitment they make to every couple that hires them and take that commitment seriously as a matter of professional integrity.

Teamwork

Unless you’re planning a very small wedding, the chances are that you’re hiring other professional wedding vendors for your wedding. Professional wedding planners, caterers, photographers, videographers, DJs, and ceremony musicians all work together as a team with your officiant to ensure that everything happens according to plan. When one of the vendors you select isn’t an experienced professional, the remaining members of your vendor team are automatically tasked with “babysitting” an amateur instead of being able to concentrate on their jobs. This is because all of the different vendors at a wedding have overlapping or related responsibilities, each depending on the others’ competence to make sure things run smoothly. Pulling off a complicated event like a wedding requires a team effort from all of your vendors, and a professional officiant is an essential part of that team.

Control

Aside from experience, for most couples, the most important reason to hire a professional officiant is control. This is one of the major advantages that professional officiants offer over church-based clergy as well – the ability to create a ceremony that’s completely customized for every couple without being bound by dogma or tradition. When couples decide to use a friend or family member to perform their ceremony, they give up a lot of control because of the inherent awkwardness of having a personal relationship with someone who is performing a professional service at their wedding.

You never have to worry about offending a professional officiant if you aren’t thrilled with their suggestions for your ceremony, or dislike something they’ve written and want to change it. It’s a much different story, however, to let down a family member who has written a terrible script for your ceremony or has their heart set on incorporating something you really disagree with. Ultimately, this is your wedding ceremony, and a professional officiant is going to understand and respect that and work with you to ensure you get exactly what you want.

Legal Considerations

As mentioned earlier, some states are more stringent than others when determining who may, or may not, perform a legal marriage. It’s extremely important to familiarize yourself with the marriage laws in the area you plan to wed in order to avoid running afoul of local laws. Hiring a professional officiant is another way to ensure that your marriage won’t face any legal issues – a professional officiant will be familiar with any city, county, or state laws and will ensure they comply.

Traits you need in your wedding officiant

Honours And Respects Your Beliefs And Wishes

Engaged couples bring family traditions, cultural expectations, and individual preferences to wedding planning. The best officiants will accommodate special or sensitive requests. Couples should also look for someone who honours and respects where the couple stands on spiritual matters. “A lot of couples are somewhere in between,” Collins says. “They don’t want the church services. They want God invited to the ceremony, but they don’t want a lot of prayers.”

Makes You Feel Calm And Safe

On the wedding day, everyone is excited, and anxiety can run high. The officiant should have a calming effect. And the better he or she knows the couple, the more support the officiant can offer. Pamela Hailey, a nondenominational officiant since 2015 who often works with same-sex weddings, invites prospective couples to her home for a meal so they can get to know one another.

Provides Guidance

While there’s a certain flow to a wedding ceremony, there are ways to customize it to express a couple’s personality and style. Collins asks couples to complete an eight-page booklet that walks them through the typical elements in a ceremony but gives options to rearrange and customize with poems, prayers, or new traditions. Juliana, for instance, wanted to incorporate both sets of parents—each married more than 30 years—in the wedding ceremony.

Offers optional Services

Most officiants charge between $100 and $500, whether as a fee or as a suggested donation. But many also offer additional services, such as premarital coaching and rehearsal coordination. Rev. Collins uses an assessment with couples to discuss topics such as communications skills, conflict resolution skills and financial management.

Plan for punctuality

Your officiant should also be punctual, making plans to be at your rehearsal dinner the day before so he or she can get familiar with the layout and provide important guidance to the wedding party so that everyone feels prepared and less nervous for the real thing. On the day of the wedding, your officiant should plan to arrive with sufficient time to get set up (at least 30 minutes before the start of the ceremony, especially if there is any sound equipment like a microphone). A responsible officiant will even have a plan in place if he/she is unable to attend at the last minute.

Filing the proper paperwork

Another nice thing about hiring an experienced officiant is that they know how to take care of the paperwork. The officiant is responsible for getting the marriage license from the couple prior to the ceremony, having it in his/her possession during the ceremony and having two witnesses at the ceremony sign the license. He or she is responsible for completing his/her part of the license and returning it to the issuing Register of Deeds office within ten days.

Deciding to hire a professional officiant is a choice that will make your wedding planning easier and less stressful, and ensure that you have a high-quality wedding ceremony. While it may seem like an insignificant decision when compared with so many other choices you’ll need to make, keep in mind that your wedding ceremony is the entire reason you’re planning a wedding in the first place. With so many benefits to hiring a professional instead of using an amateur, it’s not a choice you’ll be likely to regret.

A wedding officiant’s role in your wedding is often short and sweet, lasting only the time of your ceremony. Still, when you think about it, they are the most important person there – without them, you don’t have a marriage at all!

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