When the officiant is an after-thought

If you have a minister, priest, rabbi or other clergyperson is who a part of your life, and they are willing and able to officiate your wedding at your venue, then read no further.

But for many couples today, finding the right person to perform their marriage ceremony is a daunting task and entering the great unknown. Today’s column may sound like a bit of an advertisement for me, and I always try to avoid that, but there’s something I need to share with you. I’ve been considering writing this for years, and finally decided that even if it is tooting my own horn, it’s something couples getting married should think about.

For couples who want a friend to perform their ceremony – there are two very big considerations. First of all, is this legal in your state? It is confusing to navigate the state’s regulations to ensure that your marriage will be legal, and many couples choose not to risk something so important. The laws vary widely from state to state regarding who can officiate. And, secondly, you must consider if the person you want to do this has the time, knowledge and skills to do it, and do it well.

There may be clergy or lay-leader in your family who does have experience – but will it feel too slanted towards one side if that person officiates? I’ve known couples who had one of their fathers officiate, but to me, that feels unbalanced. It can work, though.

Does a friend, who has never officiated a wedding before, understand if there is a need for a PA system, a rehearsal, or know how to fill out the license? Can they guide you in the creation of the ceremony, or your vows? Can they suggest special rituals, readings or other elements that add to a ceremony? Do they understand the bigger picture – the meaning of your commitment? It’s wonderful that they know you and love you, but is that enough?

What about interfaith couples? Some couples choose a spiritual leader from each faith conduct the service together – but be careful -  sometimes they compete rather than cooperate.

What about going to city hall or having a justice of the peace? Again, this really depends on where you live. It can be a great option, or no option at all. I know many judges who just don’t want to do this, it doesn’t feel like a fit for them, and they prefer to refer couples elsewhere. Some, however, do love it. In Pennsylvania mayors are legal to officiate – and I know some who do a great job. There is no ‘city hall’ where I live, but for city-folk, it’s a very viable option. But if you want something with a little more content, you won’t get that at city hall.

Here’s what bugs me the most: the money issue! When you look at examples of budgets for weddings on-line I often find the amount suggested for officiants to be much too low, that is, for a well-qualified, good one. I believe this is a hold-over from the days when one’s minister would come to perform the wedding and stay for the meal.  He probably had nothing better to do, and besides, it is part of his obligation as your clergy. Remember that clergy have salaries, and your membership in their church or other house of worship goes towards the performance of duties such as weddings, funerals and other rites of passage.

Officiating a carefully crafted ceremony

It is not uncommon to see a budget suggestion of more money for, say, flowers or décor, or limousines, than officiants. You can have a wedding without the former but not the latter.

An independent officiant, such as myself and other celebrants, dedicate ourselves to this task. We are professionals. We don’t have salaries or tithings to sustain us in this work.

If your ceremony is important to you, and in my way of thinking, nothing is more central to the wedding than the wedding ceremony… you know, the part where you are actually getting married, then don’t balk at a high celebrant fee that is still probably one of the smallest parts of your budget.

When your officiant is an after-thought you are short changing yourself. The opportunity to have a real, meaningful and unique ceremony creates one of life’s best moments. Isn’t that what you want for your wedding?

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  • Blog Author

    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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