What to know about asking a friend to officiate
No matter the size of the wedding, there are a few keys players that are must-haves for the ceremony to be legal: you and your partner, perhaps a witness or two and, of course, the officiant.
Traditionally, the ceremony would be conducted by a religious leader, like a pastor or rabbi, or civil official, like a judge or clerks. However, in recent years, couples have increasingly turned to friends and family to fulfill this role.
“As mainstream religion decreases in popularity, and people are defining their spirituality on their own terms, couples are finding that they prefer to choose their own officiants to speak on their behalf and help tell their special love story,” says Natasha Anakotta, outreach and operations manager at American Marriage Ministries. “I think they feel their wedding ceremony holds a lot more meaning when it’s conducted by a loved one who shares their worldviews and values.”
Another advantage of having someone you know officiate your wedding: it’s more likely to be personalized to your unique relationship rather than a one-size-fits-all ceremony.
“This person already knows you, which can help make the ceremony creation and delivery a little more fluid and natural,” explains Anakotta. It may also “help ease some nerves and make you feel more comfortable during your ceremony.”
Of course, there are drawbacks to asking a non-professional to officiate. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, so you want someone who can get it right the first time.
“A ceremony is a unique form of public presenting,” explain JP Reynolds, M.Div., a Los Angeles-based officiant. “The common complaint among event planners is that the guest officiant is clueless as to what they should be doing, and the ceremony ends up being, at best, an odd mishmash Love alone will not give you a beautiful, moving ceremony!”
So, if you’re thinking of asking a loved one to perform your wedding ceremony, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Give them the chance to say no
While it’s an honor to be asked to officiate, it’s also a tremendous responsibility – and not everyone feels comfortable taking on that kind of duty.
“Most people readily say, ‘Yes!’ and then begin to wonder – ‘What did I get myself into?!’” says Reynolds. “Make it safe for the person you’re inviting to decline your invitation.”
If your first choice does decline, be gracious and invite them to be a part of the wedding in another way. Also, be sure to ask with plenty of notice, so you still have time to move on with another officiant.
2. Be honest about your expectations
The last thing you should do when discussing the ceremony with your officiant is say, “I don’t care what you do.” That’s a recipe for disappointment for everyone involved.
“It’s best to have an open and honest conversation about your shared concerns, hopes, and overall ceremony vision so that everyone is on the same page. It’s a collaboration, after all,” advises Daniela VillaRamos, a wedding officiant at Once Upon A Vow in New York City.
If you’re not sure where to start, do some research into typical ceremony scripts to figure out what you like and don’t like. Ask yourself: Do you want to write your own vows? What do you want the tone to be? Do you want your officiant to do a specific reading or tell a personal story?
3. Choose someone you trust
Since the officiant is such an important part of the ceremony, you should choose someone that will take it seriously. It should be someone you can trust to be punctual, prepare ahead of time, dress appropriately and not overindulge before the ceremony, says VillaRamos.
4. Help them prepare
Even if your friend is an experienced public speaker, don’t hesitate to provide resources to ensure they’re fully up for the task. That could mean buying them a book, hiring a coach or getting training from a professional institution – whatever they need to feel comfortable, says Reynolds.
And don’t forget to practice all together before the actual rehearsal, so there’s time to rework the script before the big day.
5. Make sure they meet legal requirements
Arguably the most important tip: make sure your officiant meets the legal requirements for your area. Otherwise, you might get through your wedding only to find out your marriage isn’t legally recognized.
“Requirements to be a legally recognized officiant vary from state to state, so a couple needs to check with their county clerk’s office or registrar’s office as to what is required of their officiant,” says Reynolds. “This is the couple’s responsibility to learn the legal protocol and then it is the officiant’s responsibility to get appropriately deputized or ‘ordained.’”