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Hiring an Officiant: the Third Most Important Person At Your Wedding

Every year, fewer & fewer Americans are choosing to get married in traditional church ceremonies that have changed very little in 200 years. The most recent studies claim that well UNDER half of American marriages occur in houses of worship and other traditional religious spaces. Why? We could debate this question for days. That subject will be for a later post. For this post, I prefer to stick to possibly THE most important considerations when deciding WHO will officiate your wedding, if it’s not going to be the priest, mullah, pastor or rabbi of a religious institution you attend (and tithe to) regularly.

First, you and your partner should discuss WHY you are choosing a particular type of wedding. Is it because you felt embarrassed asking your pastor to perform

your marriage when the last time he saw you was at your baptism? Are you not religious, so a church wedding was never a consideration?Do you want the freedom that officiants SHOULD provide? Did your church refuse to marry you because you have been divorced or had children out of wedlock? Are you in a same sex relationship and still feel judged by traditional clergy?

Some religious institutions are beginning to loosen up, when it comes to marrying couples with (so they used to say) “questionable morality”….in reality, if most religious institutions continued to reject divorced people or unwed parents, their pews would be empty and the church will be remodeled into a 3 bedroom family home (a common site in New England and much of Europe). Today, more than half of US infants entering the world are born to unwed parents. And for most of us under 50, it’s NO BIG DEAL.

Once you and your partner have hashed out your reasons for choosing a non church wedding, deciding what qualities you want your officiant to have should become more clear. I have quite a few clients who want something different than the traditional weddings most of us can recite in our sleep; instead, they want to be involved in many or most steps of creating their ceremony. They feel that simply reciting someone else’s words is like cramming all of their memories and experiences they’ve had as a couple into a locked box while being forced to accept a type of married life that OTHERS expect them to adopt.

Instead, these couples want their marriage to be a natural continuation of who they are as a couple…from the moment they first met. And they want their ceremony to reflect theit decision to join their past with their future.

For some others, the wedding is simply a formality: they want their ceremony to contain the legal aspects required….and not much else. Many of these couples won’t hesitate to tell you that they already love each other deeply and they don’t see a need to have their bond sanctioned by the government. Often, with these folks, marriage is a necessity, usually for a legal issue….for example, if each of them holds citizenship in different countries….that 5 minute ceremony and piece of paper (aka a marriage certificate may be the only things saving their families from being torn apart; followed by years of court battles.

As for my own wedding, we had just been through a horrific tragedy. As a result, our wedding almost didn’t happen. together as friends and family, we decided have our wedding as planned. We ALL needed to laugh, desperately. So we asked a good friend of ours, who has been ordained for years, to marry us. He’s from Boston, has the thick accent, a raunchy sense of humor, loves the “f” word (as many Bostonians do.) and is a head pilot for one of the major airlines.

If I wrote even SOME of what was said at our wedding ceremony on here, my page would likely be taken down. What I can tell you is this: every person there was roaring with laughter and among our friends and family, our wedding still goes down in history as epic. What did it do for me? That ceremony proved to me, beyond any doubt, that I COULD & WOULD laugh again. And no, most couples would never choose a wedding like ours; but at that time, in that place, it was EXACTLY what we needed. And it would never have happened in a church.

Back to choosing an officiant: think about the overall tone you want for your ceremony….Lighthearted? Traditional? One that allows your personalities to shine? Something family centered with kids in each arm? Funny? Romantic & sweet? During your search, continually remind yourself of this. If you decide on a more traditional tone and you meet with an officiant whose personality you both really like….but he or she can’t stop talking about how TORTUROUS traditional ceremonies are, then that person probably isn’t a good fit for you..,,no matter how charming he is. If you want your kiddos to participate in your ceremony, bring them with you to meet the officiant. If he or she is obviously distracted, frustrated, or otherwise nervous around the kids….move on. Here’s an admission of my own….when we have clients who want some humor in their ceremony, I choose a different officiant for them….one with a GREAT sense of PG-13 humor. After 25 years of working in the medical field, my colleagues think I’m hilarious. But people working in medicine often develop “gallows humor”….and I’m REALLY good at that.…if you don’t laugh, you cry, right? But I also keep it tucked away unless I am only in the company of people I know we’ll and who share my sense of humor. Alas, as an officiant, I do have many other talents to offer.

You will want to ask any officiant you consider about how they develop their ceremony scripts. Most of them ping pong between 2 or 3 scripts…each one probably used for 100 different weddings. Some officiants will show you 2 scripts (prepackaged) and tell you to choose one. For many people, this is just fine. But if you want your script to be unique…like your relationship, you won’t be happy. Officiants who routinely use the same scripts will rarely agree to stray from it or even let the couple spice it up a bit. Some will charge you a great deal extra if you insist on having them write a personalized ceremony.

Ask him or her how many ceremonies they typically do on a Saturday or Sunday. Many officiants will just stack them up, running from wedding to wedding and always in a hurry….sometimes doing 10 to 15 in a single day. I call it “assembly line weddings.” If you choose an officiant who practices this way (and a surprising number of people do), do not expect any sort of personal treatment, after the first 1 or 2 conversations and you’ve already booked him or her.

Most officiants are great, hard working people who put their clients first and prepare for the unexpected. However, our group is one of the only ones in this area that works together and always ensures that every wedding we have pledged to do will have a high quality officiant there to do the work you expect.

However, there are quite a few officiants who are “territorial” about their clients, they work alone and have NO back up plan should they get sick or have an emergency (do you want to take that chance with a super contagious COVID strain floating around? I wouldn’t). And they will dump you, unmarried, at the altar and not have a further thought about the disaster they are causing (no officiant=no wedding=no refunds).

Before you hire ANY officiant, ask what their back up plan is, in case of emergency. They should have a well thought out plan where another officiant is ready to go….just in case…and it should be in writing. Your wedding should still be more or less on time and you should NEVER be asked to pay more for the substitute. If the officiant “hims and haws“ around these questions or you get vague answers like, “That’ll never happen” or “a buddy of mine will take over”…. RUN!!!! The officiant should be able to provide you with a WRITTEN copy that can serve as a contract, should a sub be required. These are very BASIC business practices and expectations….so if the officiant acts like you are being unreasonable, WALK AWAY!

If you want to do a special ritual like have a unity candle or hand fasting, ask th officiant 1. If they do the ritual you want. 2. If it costs extra and how much (with hand fasting, and some other rituals, the couple often gets to keep the cord as a momento) and ask 3. Who provides the supplies for these rituals? The answer will likely be YOU, so be prepared to do some hunting if you want these specialties.

I make/buy/keep these supplies and my rental charge for them is usually less than what you would pay for something similar at Walmart.

Well, it’s late and I’m tired. If you have any questions about things in this blog, suggestions for future blog posts, or just a general question, please…..don’t hesitate to drop me a line, a text or give me a call.

PS And don’t wait until the last minute to start officiant shopping….your choices may become limited and more expensive. You should have your officiant secured between 1 to 5 months before your wedding.

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