A lot of trends popped up out of the TV show Friends. Like “the Rachel” haircut. But the one that is probably still the most relevant in our culture and, specifically, in the wedding industry, is the idea of having a lay friend or family member officiate at a wedding ceremony. Joey Tribbiani — marriage officiant pioneer!
This is a notion that is near and dear to my own heart because that's how I got started as a professional officiant. My best friend asked me to perform her wedding ceremony, and her big fat Jewish-Lutheran-Pagan ceremony inspired me to become a Life-Cycle Celebrant.
Having a friend-officiant can be a lot of work — in the end, it is a DIY project. But if it is something that you have your heart set on, there are ways to really make it work, and make it work well. So, as a friend-officiant turned professional, I'd like to offer some advice and suggestions for having a friend officiate at your wedding.
First and foremost, make sure it is legal. 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.
If you are doing research online regarding marriage law, only trust sources that are the legitimate website of the government in question — not a blog and not a compilation site. Some states will require your officiant to register or apply for a one-day solemnization. Some states will be fine with a simple internet ordainment. Some states will be different — for example, in New York City, all officiants must register with City Hall. However, New York State has different marriage licenses and no registration.
If you live in a place where it is difficult for your friend-officiant to make it legal, look into other options. You could get married in city hall a day or two before your legal wedding ceremony, or have a freelance officiant or justice of the peace witness your ceremony and legally marry you just before your friend-officiant's ceremony.
When in doubt, veer towards having a professional legally solemnize your marriage. You want to have an awesome ceremony, but you probably also want to be legally married at the end, too.
Additionally, be sure to apply for your marriage license, and be aware of any waiting periods or expiration dates that go along with it. Discuss with your officiant who will file the marriage license, and be sure they get all the time they need to fill it out, fully and correctly.
When choosing a friend-officiant, consider why they would be a good fit. Have they ever officiated at a wedding before? Are they a good public speaker? Ask your friend-officiant early enough that, if for some reason they turn you down, you have time to make other arrangements and find another option.
Officiating at a wedding ceremony can seem like a very daunting and nerve-wracking task, and there may be people in your life who love you, but simply may not want to stand up in front of 100 people and perform your wedding. Don't push anyone into something they don't want — it will not make for a positive experience.
Once you have a friend-officiant on board, decide who will write the ceremony and figure out a timeline. Do this early so you don't get crazy as your wedding approaches and you have no idea what is going to be said! Many couples with a friend-officiant will write most or all of their wedding ceremony, and then ask their officiant to read it, or even allow them to make small changes and edits to put it into their own voice.
If you'd like your friend-officiant to write the ceremony or a portion of the ceremony (perhaps you will put your vows and rituals together, and invite your officiant to write their own opening and closing remarks), discuss the tone and overall vibe you want for your ceremony. This can be a collaborative process, too — maybe your officiant can send you what she has, and you can add some personal elements and suggestions. By setting the boundaries of what you would like to accomplish with the ceremony, and keeping communication lines clear, you can ensure that the ceremony will come together well.
Discuss amplification with your DJ or whomever is supplying music for your ceremony. You have worked so hard on creating such an awesome wedding ceremony — you want everyone to be able to hear it. A mic does not ruin the intimate air of a wedding ceremony — instead, it draws people in more, as your friend-officiant does not need to project, and can speak in a more conversational tone, making it easier for everyone to enjoy themselves and feel a part of your wedding!
If you're having a rehearsal, sit down with your friend-officiant beforehand, and delegate. Decide who will run the rehearsal, and plan out the processional. The rehearsal is a great time for your friend-officiant to get a feel for what it is going to be like on your wedding day. Choose a friend-officiant you can trust and rely on — I can't stress that enough — it will make everything so much easier for you and so much less crazy!
Figure out what your officiant will read the script from. A very inexpensive and professional looking option is a simple black binder. Most office supply stores have some nicer leatherette options for a little bit extra. Print the script in a large type-face, with good page breaks. Ask them to practice reading from the script in the order it will be in for the ceremony, so they can handle it with ease.
Print any extra readings or your vows on card stock, and having your officiant stash them in his book, to easily pass to you or your readers during the ceremony. One less thing to worry about!
On the day of, ask your friend-officiant to arrive early. Let them know exactly where you will be, so they can go over any last minute details. Tell your wedding professionals that you are having a friend or family member officiate — they will do their best to accommodate and assist her as needed, too.
Make sure you remember to bring your marriage license, and that it gets signed and filled out by the correct people.
And then, when it is time to get married, look forward to seeing your friend-officiant smiling as he marries you. Let them know that they can have fun with it! Emotions may be riding high, so ask her to keep some tissues or a handkerchief in her pocket, just in case anyone needs it. As a professional wedding officiant, I often get a little choked up when I marry my friends or family members! Your officiant should take his time, and tune into you and your partner a little bit. This is your wedding, and if you need a moment to collect yourself, a moment to laugh, or anything like that, it is totally fine.
As a couple who are having a friend officiate, be prepared for more work than if you were having a professional officiant, and consider carefully why you want to have a friend officiate, too. As a former friend-officiant, I can tell you that it is a lot of work, but having the honor to solemnize the marriages of people that you love is pretty awesome.
Who knows — maybe your friend-officiant will become a professional officiant one day, too.
If you liked this, be sure to read Jesse's awesome post, Wedding Ceremony 101: Crafting your own wedding ceremonies from scratch