By Guest Contributor: Brooke Faulkner
In this era of internet-certified officiants, it’s especially important to have an open and honest conversation with our wedding officiants about what we want from them, what their responsibilities are, and why we asked them to perform the ceremony in the first place.
Last week I went to a dear friend’s wedding and her father performed the ceremony. Poor guy spent the first three minutes talking about how he didn’t know what he was supposed to do or say, and in his rambling unintentionally insulted the couple’s planning skills.
Yeah, just a tad awkward.
To that end, I will discuss the roles of an officiant and how to have a productive conversation with them about your wishes for the ceremony.
What is an Officiant?
Photography by Julie Williams
First things first. Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page: An officiant is the person who performs the wedding ceremony.
They say things like, “do you take this man” and “by the authority vested in me.” I am sure you know the usual wedding ceremony spiel.
An officiant of a civil ceremony can be a member of a religious organization, but does not have to be. He or she is simply the person legally recognized by the state to lead and validate a wedding ceremony. Their legal responsibilities are quite straightforward: get ordained, get the bride and groom to exchange I do’s, and file the marriage license.
In the space between those tasks though, there’s a lot of room for interpretation.
Choosing a Wedding Officiant
Sometimes we get lost in the party planning aspect of a wedding. There’s so much to cover – from choosing a venue to renting the right furniture – of course the logistics take a lot of attention. But no one in the “wedding business” wants planning to get in the way of a bride and groom enjoying their big day.
In the midst of wedding planning, it’s important to remember that no matter how much fun the party is going to be, the ceremony is the reason it’s all happening.
In this era of online ordination programs, wedding ceremonies are more customizable than ever, and that of course means communicating with the officiant is more important than ever.
Gone are the days of a wedding officiant being from the clergy and the clergy alone (with all the requisite training).
Couples now have more options. If the church is not an integral part of their lives, they can opt instead to choose an honored friend, family member, or community figure to officiate their ceremony.
Remember that there are no official etiquette classes in online ordination programs. We’re doing our officiant a disservice if we don’t clearly communicate our needs and desires.
As with all things wedding related, it’s putting in the work ahead of time that will make the big day run smoothly.
Timing & Preparation
Photography by Mariel and Joey Lifestyle Photography
I like to think of the wedding party in these terms: they are the most important floral arrangement of the ceremony. They bring beauty, symbolism, and love to the room just by being there. Just as we take painstaking care when choosing actual flower arrangements, it’s important to be inspired and thoughtful about our choice of officiant.
It’s a big deal to be asked to perform someone’s wedding. You want to be sure that the person you ask has the emotional and physical energy to be present and available for your big day and all the events leading up to it. Think twice before asking a friend who’s notoriously swamped with work. It would be hurtful for everyone involved to have to renege on your choice.
Timing is another valuable tool that will help your officiant give you the wedding ceremony you desire, which means you should try to give them:
- Plenty of time to learn the intricacies of what you like and dislike about ceremonies;
- Time to hear your stories; and
- Time to meet your families if they haven’t already
If you’re reading this article you probably didn’t rush the marriage, so why rush the officiant.
Be Clear About What You Want
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for an officiant is the good old phrase “we just want to be surprised.” Couples often think that right up until their officiant says something they don’t like or disagree with.
Surprise is great, but it’s best to empower your officiant by at least agreeing upon an outline and nailing down a few specifics. The ceremony is no place to start a philosophical argument.
So save yourself the strife and just have the conversations early-on. Be prepared to discuss everything from wordage to rehearsals.
My Top 10 Wedding Officiant Questions:
- Are there any religious or cultural rituals you’d like to include in the ceremony?
- How do you feel about the word ‘God’?
- Do you want any songs or readings in the ceremony?
- What did you like about the last wedding you attended?
- What did you dislike?
- Do you want the officiant to refer to a script or improvise?
- Will you write your own vows?
- How long do you want the ceremony?
- Do you want to have a rehearsal before the wedding?
- Do you want a more formal or humorous ceremony?
Let Them Ask You Questions
An important part of officiating a wedding is celebrating the couple. Chances are, the officiant knows one person in the couple best. So give your officiant the opportunity to get to know you both equally. After all, this is the person who will symbolically unite the two of you from individuals into coupledom – it’s nice to be on equal footing from the start.
One officiant recommends collecting stories from the couple – talking to them about how they met, what they like about each other, and funny memories. He also suggests talking to the friends and family of the couple to get a sense of where they each came from.
In order for this to work of course, you the couple have to be open and supportive of the officiant’s research. Openness goes a long way.
The wedding ceremony is a special time in the life of a couple. Naturally, many find the experience to be nerve-racking. My final piece of advice is to sit back, relax, and let your officiant run the show.
Remember that you chose them for a reason. You’ve given them all the information to celebrate your marriage – and whatever they say or do, it will be a wonderful event that you will remember forever!
About the Author: Brooke Faulkner is a writer and lover of all things autumn. She lives in Portland, Oregon.