10 Things Your Officiant Wished You Knew

I thought I would give you some insight from some of the many officiants and ministers that I have worked with. 

Traditionally all weddings were held in churches.  Now, more and more weddings are moving to gardens, restaurants, pavilions, even a nice little place in the woods. In many cases, it’s the money or the ambiance driving the decision. It’s your wedding; have it at whatever location you want. But, some honored traditions that used to happen in churches were there for the sake of sanity and clarity. Some were there to make sure that the law was served. As weddings leave churches and officiants have less of a say in how they are conducted, leaving the church location takes with it some procedures that are needed for a smooth, harmonious and legally binding unions. Your officiant is not opposed if you want to take your wedding outside of the church. But, your officiant wishes that you knew some things about weddings if he or she is going to be asked to participate in order to bring your special day off legally and with gusto.

(1) Have a rehearsal. So many today think that a wedding can come off without any rehearsal much like a birthday party. Alas, that is not true. Use the real people that are going to be in the wedding. No stand ins! This is so that everyone knows where to stand. Use the real distance they are going to march if you are going to have a processional. Musicians or those playing canned music will learn how long to play. Bridesmaids learn to take bouquets and hold them, and Best Men know when to hand rings to grooms from ring bearers or their pockets. Think about everyone involved in the wedding party.  Safety should be the main concern. More footage makes it to America’s Home Videos of brides falling down because they weren’t used to waking or climbing steps in a wedding dress and train.

Note: Expect it to take 45 minutes to an hour.  If you can't use the actual space for the ceremony, then meet at a park or other location. 

(2) Tell the officiant if you wish to read or recite any section of the wedding ceremony yourself. Poems and statements of undying love are wonderful but don’t surprise the officiant. Don’t leave him or her in the dark about parts of the service that you have designed and wish to participate in or have parents participate in. 

Note: Make sure that the officiant or coordinator tells the videographer so that they can zoom in and get it all on film for posterity. And be sure and have a microphone if you want your audience to hear your thoughts.

(3) Tell you officiant if you wish to light candles, recite the Lord’s prayer, take communion, etc. Just don’t surprise him or her with a, “we added a little something we want to put in.” Let him or her know what it is, where you want to put it, who is participating in it, so that he or she can estimate the amount of time it will take and whether there will need to be any music played underneath of the activity.

(4) Listen carefully during the rehearsal when the officiant says, “turn to your partner and take your partner’s right hand.” Yes those instructions really work. You are the one that will look silly if you can’t figure out which is your right hand. You can practice by remembering which is right and which is left. He or she will tell you that again during the ceremony. The officiant is setting you up for beautiful pictures of you looking at her and you looking at him. It doesn't seem that important now but twenty years down the road there will be this lovely moment caught forever on film.

(5) Tell your officiant what to wear. The etiquette books tell your officiant to wear the attire of the groom (if they are male) but most people would rather have an officiant in suitable attire. Most officiants have robes, collars, stoles and other appropriate religious garb for these occasions or they have a nice suit in gray or black. They would be most happy not to be in a tuxedo, and it will look much more like a wedding, if the officiant is appropriately dressed. Can you imagine a female officiant in the attire of the bride? Some traditions should be broken. 

(6) Tell your officiant if this is a double or single ring ceremony. Since it is a simple matter of repeating a section of the wedding vows for a double ring ceremony, let the officiant know if there is one or two rings. When you are planning your ceremony with your officiant, make sure they know all this important information. 

(7) Tell your officiant the name you would like used in your vows. If you have an aversion to your middle name or if you have more names than you want repeated, tell the officiant. There is no law that says that more than your first name, or your second if that’s what to be known by, need be repeated while reading the vows. Unfortunately, you cannot use a nickname during a wedding ceremony. The person doing the pledging must be the person whose name appears on the wedding license. No nicknames or other moniker.

(8) Tell your officiant if you want something omitted from the ceremony. Some couples do not want the phrase, “if any can show just cause why these two may be lawfully joined let them now speak or forever hold their peace” There is nothing that says that the phrase must be spoken. Much of the phrases used in weddings are holdovers from the late 1800’s and as such are filled with a sort of stilted speech reminiscent of the era. Any omissions can be talked over with the officiant. Any responsible officiant knows what must be said for a binding union. In fact, most ceremonies take out most of the old speech like, “I plight thee my troth.” Some folks like a portion of that left in because it has been used so much it sounds like a marriage to them. It’s up to you. You can write your own vows if you wish. As long as the audience is able to hear that you have pledged your lives to one another to one another, it might be a good idea.

(9) Make sure you tell your officiant if you wish to be presented to the audience. It is customary for officiants to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Married name.” If you do not want to be presented to the audience that way, tell your officiant who will omit that closing from the service. Or you may wish to only use your first names if the bride is maintaining their own maiden name. In some cases, both take the last name of the other so that they are for example the “Smith-Jones.” Whatever a couple decides on needs to be communicated to the officiant who can present the couple to the audience as they wish to be presented.

(10) Be careful if you are asking a trusted friend to perform the ceremony because he got a license to marry from online (or the back of a magazine.) Your officiant is licensed with his or her church that has filed with the state to perform marriages within your state. When he or she says, “I pronounce you husband and wife,” it carries the authority of the state with it. Your friend’s mail order licensing agency may have filed in your state or they may not. The state gives you the right to be married by anyone you want; they assume you will choose someone whose organization has taken the time to file with the state you are in. If you really want a friend to marry you, call the state or county clerk and find out what is legal  Or you may find a local officiant who will standby and repeat the words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” which in many states are the only binding words an officiant needs to say to marry a couple under law. If that is true in your state, the friend could do the whole ceremony and the officiant could bind you by law. Also, many states are now mandating premarital counseling. Again this can only be performed by someone licensed with your state.

You want your day to be beautiful and perfect.  A little communication and planning beforehand can help to make that possible. Your officiant is as important to talk to as your wedding planner. 

Need a list of licensed officiants who offer wedding services? Contact me for more info