The essentials of choosing an officiant and other tidbits

If you are getting married in a house of worship, you probably don’t need to read this. But, what the heck, read it anyway. Today I want to talk about choosing an officiant for your wedding. 

Just for complete clarity – an officiant presides over (officiates) a ceremony. They can be religious or not. ‘Celebrant’ is just another term for that. After all, a priest ‘celebrates’ mass. I prefer ‘Celebrant’ because I am a graduate of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute as well as a Humanist Celebrant through the Humanist Society…. and I just like the way it sounds. The use of the word ‘celebrant’ was popularized in Australia before landing here in the States. But more importantly, a celebrant should be ethically trained to create and carry out a completely personalized ceremony.

A wedding is a huge milestone in life and deserves to be properly honored. A professional officiant, whether religious or secular (or somewhere in between) should have the knowledge to make sure the ceremony appropriately reflects the importance of the moment. This doesn’t mean it has to be long, but a ceremony should recognize and honor your journey. 

To discover the right person, you will need to interview them, just as  I hope they are interviewing you. You will want to know if their values and world view aligns closely enough with yours, and if they are listening to you.

The heart and soul of any wedding is the ceremony.
Photo Lisa Rhinehart, Rhinehart Photography

What is their training and experience? What do they bring to the table? What do you want or need to have included? Many couples don’t really know where to begin. After all, most have not been married before, or  even if they were, they may not have had any input into their previous ceremony. They may not realize that in today’s world, you can, indeed, have it your way.

Unity rituals are worth discussing. They’re not for everyone, but many couples will come to the meeting with an idea in mind, such as candle lighting. See what the officiant has to say about this. If your ceremony is outdoors, and the officiant doesn’t at least address the difficulty with candles outdoors, you may have an inexperienced officiant. Candles outside don’t work very well. That’s why they invented the Sand Ceremony.

There are countless rituals reflecting culture, religion, traditions or interests – but a ritual really should speak to you.  It should truly resonate. If an officiant is telling you to do this or that and it just doesn’t feel right for you – trust yourself and speak up. Then see how they handle that! Remember, the entire ceremony is ritualistic – you don’t need to add more ritual actions if they are not a good fit.

When speaking with a potential officiant you should honestly include your backgrounds, both religious and cultural, if they are important, because these are things that can be included or excluded in the ceremony. I have come across ministers who say they can do an interfaith wedding, but in the end, they lean heavily on their own denomination to the detriment of the other. Inter-faith couples – be very careful here. 

Secular couples often have a hard time expressing themselves. There is still a lot of prejudice against non-religious people. Many people identify as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious.’ Let the officiant know just what that means to you, then determine if they actually understand. 

If you are getting married at a wedding venue, they will most likely have a list of vendors for you, including officiants. Check out  more than one – so you have some base line. The internet is how many couples find me and is great for finding everything you need for your wedding.

With all this in mind, please don’t ask a friend or family member to officiate if they have no background to inform them or are not experienced in writing and presenting. One of the many problems I’ve heard of when the ‘friend’ officiates is treating it like a joke. They get nervous and mess up and may not even be legal to sign your marriage license. I won’t dwell too much on the negatives of this, although, as a professional celebrant, it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Not because they are taking ‘work’ from me, but because couples are not getting the ceremony they deserve!

I couldn’t resist putting a photo of me as well.
Photo by Bri Johnson

One frequent question I get is how long will the ceremony be? When I hear they want something ‘short and sweet’ it is usually because they have never seen and probably can’t imagine a great ceremony. I don’t always know exactly how long each ceremony will be, because it depends on what we’ve decided to include, but I do think you always want that ‘Goldilocks’ length – no too short, not too long, just right – which is about a ½ hour. When you’re in church or synagogue there is also a worship service as part of the ceremony, and that adds a lot of time, but if you are getting married outside the house of worship, you might still have prayer, but it’s not the same thing.  

The fee for an officiant varies widely, especially depending on location. But if you are thinking it should be cheap, think again. You may be paying more for flowers than the person who marries you. Does that make sense? You’re not paying for the ½ hour of the ceremony – but the training, experience, and time put into creating that ceremony before presenting it. If the words that are said are important to you, and you want to take the time to properly acknowledge your guests and your own journey, hire someone who has a deep understanding of the meaning of this milestone.

find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois HeckmanImage

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