4 essential tips for choosing a wedding officiant (plus questions you need to ask!)

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Tips for choosing a wedding officiant as seen on @offbeatbride
The self-proclaimed "drag clown nun" officiant of your dreams. From Nicole and Melissa's wedding.
Photo by Nataworry Photography

The officiant/celebrant of your ceremony has a pretty hefty job when you think about it: setting the tone, saying the right things, actually marrying you… it's no small task. So we're here to help you figure what types of officiants are out there, how to snag the right person for the job, and give you a few helpful tips for choosing a wedding officiant.

Disclaimer: laws vary widely from state to state and out of the U.S., so consult your local laws for details in your specific area. We're mostly focusing on U.S.-based weddings this time around.

Tips for choosing a wedding officiant as seen on @offbeatbride
The illustrious The Reverend D

Types of officiants

Secular officiants

A Justice of the Peace
Contact your local county clerk's office to find one near you. It's even easier if you're getting married at city hall itself. Just make an appointment and be prepared for a short wait.

A friend or family member

We discussed this at length over here, but the biggest issue is making sure it's legal in your area. Call the registrar in the township where you will be getting married to see what needs to be done by your officiant to ensure that they can legally solemnize your marriage. This not only varies by state, but can also vary by municipality within the state. Just because someone is an internet ordained minister does not automatically let them perform marriage ceremonies everywhere — marriage laws are governed at the state level, not the federal level. But if you're on the up-and-up, you can get your officiant ordained at some pretty fun places, like the Church of the Latter-Day Dude.

A professional officiant
Many professional officiants will work with your secular or religious ceremony and often have an arsenal of awesome readings, ceremony structures, and are usually super flexible. Many are non-denominational meaning you can include or exclude traditions that don't fit your lifestyle or belief system. This is great if you've been married before, want their different religions incorporated into the ceremony, and/or are a same-sex couple.

We've got a whole slew of them in our Offbeat Bride vendor guide if you're looking for someone very offbeat-friendly.

Tips for choosing a wedding officiant as seen on @offbeatbride
Steven of Pop! Wed Co.

Religious officiants

Your local clergyperson
If you're already part of a ministry, it's not too hard to book your local minister/rabbi/priest/pastor/etc. for the ceremony. Just make an appointment and find out about costs and restrictions.

A new-to-you clergyperson
If you aren't already part of a local congregation, you'll have to find one that matches your beliefs, whatever they may be. Once you've made your choice, it's a matter of contacting them to see about their rules. Here are some questions you'll want to have on hand:

• Are you allowed/willing to perform the ceremony at our venue?
• How much are we allowed to customize the ceremony? Can we write any of it ourselves, including vows?
• If we are of different faiths, is that an issue?
• Do we need to join the clergy/church/synagogue/etc.?
• Are we required to attend any classes or counseling?
• If you are of two faiths, can you have a second officiant as well?

Tips for choosing a wedding officiant as seen on @offbeatbride
Reverend Shauna of Till Death Weddings And Ceremonies

Tips for choosing a wedding officiant

Meet with your officiant in person

If your officiant is not already someone you know well, take the time to meet with them in person to discuss the ceremony, get comfortable, and let them know who you are as a couple. Make sure they understand your ceremony goals and what flexibility exists to make it your own. Plus, it's so nice when the officiant can speak about you from personal experience, if possible.

Figure out the costs

Unless you've got a willing friend, you'll likely have a fee for an officiant's services. Find out what is included in the fee including any pre-wedding counseling/consultation, travel to the location, performing the ceremony, and your legal registration.

Read reviews online

If your officiant is a professional, you can usually read reviews on wedding directory sites to see if they're right for you. Read the specific reviews to see if couples are finding the same benefits for which you're looking.

Feel free to invite them to the reception

While it's not required, couples often choose to invite their officiant to the reception, often at the table with the parents. But as you know, this is your show and it's not required, especially if you don't know them personally.

Need more officiant advice?

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  1. A few questions that might be specific to people who are Jewish or planning a Jewish wedding:

    – Are you willing to perform interfaith marriages? (If you or your spouse is not Jewish. Expect that most non-Reform rabbis will not be comfortable with this.)
    – Are you willing to conduct a ceremony in a non-kosher venue? (Many Orthodox rabbis will not be, even if both partners are Jewish.)
    – What requirements are needed for the people who sign the ketubah? (This can vary greatly. Our officiant wanted male non-family members who kept Shomer Shabbat, which was pretty much no one we knew. We wound up having our rabbi and our cantor sign the ketubah.)
    – What time is sundown on the day we are planning to get married? What time will we need to have the ceremony so that the Jewish date and the secular date "match"? (Usually at least an hour before sundown.)
    – How "Jewish" will you be with the sermon? (Varies wildly. Some officiants try to tie in weekly torah portions.)
    – Are there any extra Jewish elements you intend to include in the ceremony? (Our cantor sang the Israeli national anthem, which was kind of a surprise to both my husband and I.)
    – Will we / the husband need an aufruf? If so, when and where would it be?
    – Are there any Jewish holidays that would conflict with our proposed wedding date? (Rabbis know about a lot of black-out dates that you might not consider, like Tisha Ba'av, certain parts of the Omer, and other fast days that are not usually observed except by the very religious.)

    2 agree
  2. When we got engaged it was a no brainer to ask our good friend and my husband's former roommate to officiate. Only problem was that online ordinations are no longer recognized where we live so we knew we'd have to find a "legal" officiant in addition to our friend. Thankfully, a guy I graduated college with is an ordained minister and I knew him fairly well just from seeing him around campus. He was wonderful. He was on board with us writing the ceremony and totally got that he was just there to say the pronouncement and that our friend would do the rest. He got 100% behind our Halloween theme and dressed as a monk, then partied with us all night long at the reception. He was one of the last to leave!
    We knew the tone we wanted for our ceremony and were dead set on our friend doing it. So to couples who want a friend or relative to marry you, but it's not legal, I would say do what we did. Find a separate officiant to take care of the legal bits but have your top choice perform the majority of the ceremony. Or, another option we considered, get legally married at the courthouse a couple days before the public wedding so that way you can just have your friend / relative do the whole thing.

    2 agree
  3. This is a good starter on officiants, but some of it is not 100% accurate. I am an officiant in Savannah, GA and one thing I have learned is that the officiant laws by state vary very widely as you point out. For example, the constitution of the State of Georgia does not allow anyone to officiate a marriage who is not a judge or clergy. There is no clerk or notary title. Most judges do not actually marry people because their courthouse is too busy so most people here absolutely have to find a someone with a clergy title to marry them. My phone rings every morning as people show up to the various courthouses in the area expecting to get married there and find out that there is no one there who can do that for them. It is a quirk in the law that I don't think anyone will ever fix.

    1 agrees
  4. I found this interesting loophole researching Illinois law- only one of the people getting married has to be under the assumption that the person performing the wedding is able to legally perform it. If one person thinks it's a legal ceremony, it's a legal ceremony. Illinois is a little annoying for atheists because you can only be married by a judge, clergy, or country clerk in counties of more then 1 million (I think) people. I also read that the legality of a marriage ceremony is almost never contested- only in very rare cases of divorce where one is trying to get out of alimony/splitting of assets and when a persons children try to contest to keep assets from the persons spouse after death. The whole lawful ceremony thing is super interesting to me as a whole. Thankfully we know someone ordained with the church of friends, so we are going to use him just because we know him.

  5. Re: the above Secular Officiants Category: Obviously, if you want a secular officiant it's likely you want an entirely non-religious purely civil ceremony. I want to add that there are professional officiants (3rd category) who officiate purely non-religious/civil ceremonies often if not weekly. I know this because as a full-time wedding minister myself I’ve officiated “secular” ceremonies weekly for over 20 years (and families and guests were not able to tell I was a minister unless the couple told them; this is because of my civil 'delivery' and because my attire for all my ceremonies is a black judges-like robe -not religious in the least).

    This is not just about me: it's nationwide in the U.S. because I'm known in the community and have dozens of officiant friends in the U.S. who do purely civil ceremonies like me.

    But, not every officiant is willing to have no religious words, no prayer. This is where the prospective officiant interview (via telephone or in-person) is helpful as you would ask them detailed questions to find this out.

    In closing: just like the saying "you can’t judge a book by its cover", you can’t judge an officiant by their title (some officiants like JPs and judges will enjoy adding religious elements too). Continued good everything for you both. Rev. Paul Michael

  6. I liked your tip to choose a secular officiant for your wedding. More specifically you said that a secular officiant is a justice of the peace. I think it's a good idea to choose a ceremony officiant that has a style of speaking that you like and matches the tone of your wedding.

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