Whether you’re getting married in a church or a secular location, it’s important to know who your officiant is and what their duties are. On an emotional level, this person is the one leading the most important ceremony of your life. On a practical level, they are also the one making sure all the paperwork is in order!
Many officiants offer or require premarital counseling before the big day. This is one reason it’s important to make sure this person is a good fit for you as a couple. Even if they’ll only be there for the big day, you should look for someone who shares the same values as you. This ensures you won’t have any surprises during the planning or ceremony—especially when it comes to personalizing the ceremony.
Most importantly, you should feel comfortable with your officiant as they preside over this momentous event in your life. Not sure where to begin? Here’s everything you need to know about wedding officiants.
When to Start Looking for a Wedding Officiant
You should start looking for a wedding officiant early in your planning. This gives you time to find someone you’re comfortable with. You also need to make sure they’re available on your big day! Whether or not you’ll have weeks or months of premarital counseling, you should allow for time to get to know your officiant. You will likely want to meet with them several times to review the details of the ceremony.
Where to Look for a Wedding Officiant
When looking for an officiant, first determine whether you’ll be having a religious or secular ceremony. If you’re having a religious ceremony, begin by asking around in your nearby faith community, local church, or the chapel where you’re getting married. Be aware that some churches require you to be married by one of their ministers. In this case, you may be able to meet with several to choose the individual who feels like the best fit. If you’re having a non-religious ceremony, asking at the venue is a good place to start. You can also search for both religious and non-religious officiants the same way you look for other wedding vendors—by asking married friends and searching the internet. Get recommendations, see reviews, and compare styles.
Budgeting for a Wedding Officiant
How much does it cost to get someone to preside over your wedding? The price can range anywhere from $50-$500, depending on the venue and experience level of your officiant. Most will be somewhere in the $200-300 range. Civil ceremonies at the courthouse are the cheapest, whereas experienced ministers are more expensive. Some add a rehearsal fee, whereas others consider this a natural part of their service.
If your venue requires you to work with one of their officiants, the price may be included. Additionally, many pastors consider premarital counseling part of their ministry, so they don’t charge for this. Keep in mind that you will likely have to pay a separate fee for the wedding license, though, which can cost between $10-95, depending on your location.
Know What Questions to Ask Potential Wedding Officiants
Wedding officiants are an important part of the ceremony, but what sorts of questions should you ask when interviewing them? How can you determine if a specific officiant is a good fit for you? Here are some good questions to ask potential officiants.
- Are there premarital counseling requirements? Many wedding officiants want to make sure you’re really ready for marriage before they agree to perform the ceremony. This may mean one or two sessions of premarital counseling, or several months’ worth. Keeping these appointments can be a major time commitment, so make sure you know what you’re getting into.
- How much do you charge, and what is included in the cost? We mentioned budgeting for an officiant earlier. Price is naturally an important question to ask when seeking an independent officiant. Find out if their services include the rehearsal, pre-wedding meetings, and/or the cost of the wedding license fee.
- What is included in your ceremony? Some ministers or rabbis follow a traditional ceremony with strict requirements and set readings. Others are more flexible in some regards but will include a short sermon on marriage in the proceedings. Some will offer suggestions but ultimately allow you to personalize the ceremony as much as you like. Make sure you know what all is included—and what can and can’t be added or taken away—so you aren’t surprised at the rehearsal.
- Can we make changes to the script or write our own vows? Maybe you don’t want to promise to “obey” your husband. Or, maybe you want to ditch traditional vows altogether and write your own. No matter how big or small these changes, ask your potential officiant if they are flexible with the script so you know you can have the ceremony of your dreams.
- Can we see a video of a wedding you have performed? Most officiants will have access to a sample of their work—they are a professional speaker, after all. Watching a video can give you a better idea of their skill as an orator. As the officiant will do most of the talking during the ceremony, you want to be sure you like his or her speaking style!
- Do you meet the legal requirements for our city/state/county? If this person is an ordained minister, this may seem like a silly question. However, some cities require ministers to register locally before they can legally perform a ceremony. This creates added complications for an out-of-town officiant. A professional should be able to calm any doubts you may have about the legal requirements of the ceremony.
Common Courtesy When Working with a Wedding Officiant
While you will be asking potential wedding officiants many questions during the selection process, remember that they are not the same as other wedding vendors. You shouldn’t talk to a wedding officiant the same way you talk to a caterer. While they are providing you with a service, it goes beyond a mere business agreement. For many officiants, this is a sacred ceremony. Be sure to treat them and their work with the respect it deserves.
This also includes respecting their boundaries. If an officiant comes from a faith tradition with strict requirements for the ceremony proceedings and script, you should honor this commitment. If you have different values, seek a different officiant—don’t ask them to change theirs.
Make Sure You’re Comfortable with Your Wedding Officiant
This applies to being comfortable with their values as well as their general company. Your wedding officiant is a huge part of your big day. They’ll forever be a part of your wedding memories (and photos!), so you want to make sure you don’t feel (or look!) awkward around them. They’ll play a big role in making the ceremony special, personalized, and memorable, so take the time to get to know them.
Asking a Friend or Family Member: Will You Marry Us?
Perhaps the person who would be the most meaningful wedding officiant isn’t qualified. These days, it’s inexpensive and easy to get ordained online. If you have a friend or family member you’d like to perform the ceremony, talk to them about getting ordained for the occasion. Just make sure they fulfill all the legal requirements for your area! Some states or cities require officiants to register locally or simply don’t authorize weddings performed by online-certified officiants. Be sure to read up on the legal details of this option before you ask your friend or family member.
In the end, there are many things to consider when choosing a wedding officiant. This person will play a very crucial role on your wedding day. They may even play a big role in preparing you and your partner for marriage in the months leading up to your wedding! That’s why it’s important to find someone you trust to oversee your happily ever after.
(Photos by: Render Photography)