5 tips for choosing the right officiant

Let me start by saying that this is not intended to be a sales pitch for you to hire me, specifically. (Although that would be nice…just sayin’.) I know how difficult it is to choose an officiant who’s a good match, and want to share what could be helpful in your search.

Also, I understand that each couple’s needs and wants for their wedding is different, and I’m absolutely not passing judgment on individual choices. Many couples choose to be married in a house of worship because that’s important to them and their families.

Some couples would rather go to a justice of the peace or town clerk to make their marriage legal.

These choices definitely serve the needs of a lot of people, and I respect these decisions.

This post, however, is meant for couples who are planning to have their ceremony at a location other than a house of worship, and want a ceremony that involves more than a 10-minute visit to town hall.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the officiant is the person in charge of speaking to you and your guests, moving the ceremony along, and, you know, actually marrying you.

They are, in all honesty, the most important vendor you’ll hire. If you think about it, without them, there is no wedding.

Choosing the right officiant is crucial to set the tone you want for your wedding day. But if you do a Google or WeddingWire search for an officiant in your area, you’ll be inundated with pages and pages of results.

So…how do you know who to choose?

1. Ask for recommendations from your photographer, DJ/musicians, or your venue contact person. These are people who have actually seen officiants in action and know who’s good at what they do. This first-hand knowledge will be helpful in deciding who to interview.

2. Meet with at least two or three officiants. Get a feel for who they are, what they’re about, and the services they’ll provide. Some things you should ask about (and listen for) as you interview each officiant include: How many times will you meet? How much input will you have in the ceremony content? Are they comfortable accommodating any special requests you want included in the ceremony? Do they respect your personal views of religion or spirituality? Do they give you the impression that they know what’s best for your ceremony? How long have they been officiating weddings? How many couples have they married? Do they respect your personal circumstances, such as already having children, having been previously divorced, or living together?

Your instincts will not steer you wrong. You’ll know when you find the right one. If you meet an officiant that makes you feel uneasy, or your gut is telling you that it’s just not a good fit, thank them for their time and move on.

3. Remember the old saying that “you get what you pay for.” Having been the mother-of-the-bride (and a recent bride myself), I know first-hand how much it costs to put a wedding together. In your search for an officiant, you’re going to see a broad price range, and (as is our nature) we tend to focus first on the least expensive options. Please learn from my own mistake of hiring someone who charged very little to officiate my daughter’s wedding. He forgot to tell everyone to sit so we had to stand through the 45-minute ceremony. He quoted the Bible on several occasions even though the bride and groom specifically told him to keep religion out of it. And afterwards, I had to remind him to have witnesses sign the license.

To be fair, if I had asked anyone at that wedding about the ceremony, they would have thought it was very nice…but it WASN’T what the bride and groom wanted. In short, you definitely DON’T want to cheap-out on the officiant. If you have to, cut your budget somewhere else so you can afford the officiant who will give you exactly everything you want…and nothing of what you don’t.

That said, what exactly ARE you paying for? Just like when you chose your venue, photographer, DJ, and florist, you want someone with experience. Professionalism. Confidence. Time spent communicating with you. The ability to think quickly on their feet. How well they roll with last-minute issues or changes in plans. Having familiarity with the venue and having worked with the other vendors. How organized they present themselves to be. How well they listen to you. Willingness to put your needs and wants first.

4. Think very carefully before having a family member or friend get ordained online so they can officiate for you. You need to check your state’s regulations about who is qualified to legally perform wedding ceremonies. Many states (including New York, where I live), have very strict and specific requirements for eligibility. When interviewing potential officiants, ask what their qualifications are, and whether the state you’re getting married in recognizes them as qualified because they are licensed, certified and/or ordained by a recognized religious organization.

The worst thing that can happen is to think you’re legally married because your uncle or best friend spent 5 minutes getting “ordained” online, only to learn later that your marriage is not legal. You could potentially find yourselves saddled with a boat-load of legal troubles.

Even if you live in a state where online ordinations are acceptable, do you really want someone who’s never performed a wedding before, or who might develop terrible stage-fright when it’s time for the ceremony to begin, or who might decide take advantage of having a captive audience and turn your ceremony into a comedy show…complete with a list of embarrassing stories about you while your family, friends and co-workers hear about some of your not-so-proud moments?

5. Ask for references from previous couples they’ve married and contact them. Ask about their experience (good and not-so-good) and whether they’d hire that officiant again. Another good resource is to search on WeddingWire.com or TheKnot.com and if your officiant is listed there, read their reviews.

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To summarize:

1. Ask for recommendations.

2. Meet with a variety of officiants.

3. You get what you pay for.

4. Consider hiring a qualified, professional officiant with experience.

5. Ask for references.

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