So you want to have a friend officiate…

Guest post by Jessie Blum

The one where Joey marries Monica and Chandler!
The one where Joey marries Monica and Chandler!
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

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Comments on So you want to have a friend officiate…

  1. Just wanted to add that it doesn’t matter to everyone if it’s legal. Some people can’t get married legally anyway (or don’t want to), but would still want a wedding performed, so not everyone needs to make sure it’s legal. And also, marriage is determined at the state level (boo Prop 8), but also at the federal (boo DOMA).

    • This is a great point and I wish I had mentioned it in the post! Thanks for the comment.

    • Oh, but I just wanted to clarify that though legal marriages are recognized at the federal level, that marriage laws are a state by state situtation, as I mentioned in the post. So, for example, I live in NJ where there is a three day waiting period for a license, but also perform marriage ceremonies in NY where there is a twenty-four waiting period for a license. So I would say marriage is determined at the state level and regulated at the state level, but recognized by both the state and the federal government.

      • HI Jessie,
        I have a question. My friend has legally married people in Colorado and Pennsylvania. How do we find out if she can legally solemnize the ceremony in NJ?

        • Do you know if your friend was internet ordained (Universal Life Church to be specific)? I’m asking because we are getting married in PA (Philadelphia County) and I’m under the impression that only one county in the state recognizes marriages performed by these ministers: Bucks County. We live in the area and would be able to go to Bucks County to do this but since we do not reside in Bucks County (we live in Delaware County), I’m not sure if it would work. I suppose if worse came to worse, we could do a courthouse marriage beforehand but I want my wedding to be when we actually get married. I’d appreciate any insight you may have on this. 🙂

          • If you’re in PA, I recommend finding a registrar that offers a self-uniting license. That way, you don’t legally need an officiant at all. Many registrars have them, and you can apply anywhere in the state for your license in PA.

        • What did your friend do to marry someone in Pennylvania? We are trying to have a close family friend marry us in Pa, but are running into some complicated laws regarding the legality. In some cases, marriages were even later ruled invalid! Thanks!

          • If you are concerned about legality in PA, get a self-uniting license. That way, you and your partner are the ones who technically solemnize the marriage, and anyone can officiate.

  2. I would also add, as part of the whole “make sure it is legal” section, that some states have requirements for the ceremony itself, too, not just the officiant. Check to see if there’s any official language that HAS to be included in your ceremony (this is particularly important if you’re writing the whole thing yourself). For ours, we were each required to officially state that we took the other person as husband/wife, and our officiant had to do the official “I now pronounce you husband and wife” bit.

    We had my Dad officiate our marriage, and I’m SO GLAD we did! Neither of us are religious at all, so there wasn’t necessarily an “obvious” choice as far as an officiant went… and we wanted it to be someone that we knew and with whom we had a connection.

    Fortunately, in California, the laws are super simple and straightforward, so we didn’t have much trouble making sure everything was legal. Writing the whole ceremony and having my Dad perform it made the whole event feel especially personal.

    • Uggg, they really have to do the “I now pronounce you husband and wife” bit in CA? Can you tell me what exactly the wording of the pronouncement had to be when you asked?

      Because we believe that the officiant doesn’t have the (spiritual, social) power to marry a couple (the couple themselves marries each other), we were hoping to avoid it, and do an announcement rather than pronouncement.

      I guess that’s another argument to separating out the legal and social marriage ceremonies, for us.

      • Another option is to have a private ceremony immediately after your wedding ceremony that uses the prescribed and official language with your officiant, performed as you sign the marriage license and make it legal, so your ceremony can use whatever wording you want!

        • We had always been considering doing a short legal ceremony (with all 55-ish guests) in the living room with my step-dad officiating, and then having guests move out to seats on the patio and processing in and doing a religious/social ceremony with a rabbi there. I’m just really uncomfortable with the whole pronouncement language. To the point that a small part of my brain is now thinking we should consider getting married in CO (his home state) where you can get a self-uniting marriage. Which is silly, our wedding here will be lovely, but the idea of being “pronounced” married really makes me uncomfortable right now.

          • We also live in CA and did a destination wedding in mexico. We had an online ordained friend fill out the paperwork for CA stuff with us here in LA before we left for the mexico trip (so we were legally married here before the trip since mexico regulations are difficult and expensive) and she didn’t say any of that stuff. I didn’t see that requirement on the CA marriage website, on officiant requirements, or on the marriage license paperwork… not sure when Cali was married, but we did this in August and have had no paperwork related problems. We, like you, believe the couple marries themselves and the officiant is just to help other people participate!

      • If you go through California’s official Deputy for a Day program, the officiant is legally required to say “By the power vested in me by the state of California as a deputy commissioner of civil marriages…” However, there’s no requirement about what they say after that! (So we had our officiant say “…I witness the commitment you have made to one another as husband and wife.”)

        • Hmmm, that’s helpful. I have no problem with the begining of it “By the power vested in my by the state of California as a deputy commissioner of civil marriages…” It’s literally just the word “pronounce” that makes me sick. (Literally a little queasy.) I love “…I witness the commitment you have made to one another as husband and wife.” I’ve also dreamed about using something like “I am thrilled to be the first to announce you husband and wife.”

      • In California you must in order for it to be legal is;
        1. Have the declaration of consent of the couple, witnessed by an authorized bishop, priest, officiant, celebrant, clergy. This is the “Do you, I Do, Do you I Do part.

        2. They must pronounce you with the authority vested them, and by the State as husband and wife. This is what is being witnessed by the two witnesses that must be over the age of 18 that sign the marriage license.

      • I’ve officiated many weddings in CA, and never had a legal requirement for specific words for the ceremony. Of course, as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the State cannot make specific laws regulating the practice of religion.

  3. Do you have any suggestions for what to do when a mic is not an option? Local ordinances forbid any sort of outdoor amplification at our venue.

    • Why yes. Choose an officiant with a lovely loud voice. Maybe a singer or friend who has done theater. Maybe just someone used to speaking to a group. Not the mousy mumbler. We didn’t use a mic, but our officiant has a voice that carries well and we didn’t have any problems.
      Also think about the venue’s acoustics and where you’ll put the guests. A big group in a large open windy space is harder. But small greek amphitheater for the win!

    • Also, consider not having a terribly long ceremony if you know that not too many people are going to hear it. Have everyone gather more closely, maybe do a ceremony in the round? And, of course, choosing an officiant who is able to project and speak loudly and well is a very smart thing to do, too.

    • Our ceremony was relatively short, so we decided to print the whole thing on the programs so people could follow along if they wanted.

    • We are also shooting an offbeat wedding coming up where the guests will be arranged *around* the couple so it is more participatory and not like an audience. Maybe consider this instead of rows.

      Alternatively, if you are super techie, consider having a mic that goes to eveerone with headphones or something? Maybe some of the hearing impaired technology could be useful for this?

      Or even have your ceremony wording projected so that even if people can’t hear they can read along. Just brainstorming….

  4. Woooow this could NOT have come at a better time! My fiancee and I want our good friend to officiate (As “Master Chief of Ceremony”). Great information! Thank you!

  5. We had a close friend do our ceremony and I’M SO FREAKING GLAD! We picked him because he fits nicely into the “how we met” story. It helps that he’s also charismatic and a good speaker. Our ceremony just wouldn’t have been the same with some stranger we found online that had zero connection to us. I highly recommend using someone meaningful to you!

    Luckily, in Colorado, all you really have to do is declare yourselves married and sign on the dotted line with the city clerk. Done! So, for us in that aspect, the ceremony was just for funzies.

  6. Great piece! I have one addition on the topic of the marriage license. In my area (Los Angeles), a hired officiant takes it with them after the ceremony and is responsible for getting it mailed off for you to officially record your marriage with the state. If you’re choosing to go with a friend, I recommend you speak with them (or some other close friend/family member you designate) about being the party who makes sure that – immediately after the ceremony – the marriage license is tucked away safe and gets home to you at the end of the night (so you can mail it off yourself). The last thing you want the day after your wedding is a mad scramble to figure out who has your marriage license!

  7. We’re having a friend of our officiate our handfasting. He is legally ordained and has done several handfastings. He is also the lead singer in our wedding band who we just happened to get engaged on stage with. We’ve been good friends with the band especially him and his fiance (who are getting married a month before us) for quite a while now. He is rediculously honored and there are so many things he can’t wait to incorporate into the ceremony. This is a great reminder for everyone!

  8. I want to say if you live in PENNSYLVANIA it is considered a quaker state. When you go to apply for your marriage license tell them you are doing a self uniting marriage.Then you can have the option to marry yourselves or have that friend marry you.

    • yes! this is what we did, very simple and it allowed us to literally write a ceremony from scratch and have my sister-in-law marry us 🙂

  9. I absolutely loved having my best friend perform our wedding for us. It was totally out of her comfort zone, and she could have said no if she wanted to, but she rocked it so completely that I’m glad she didn’t. The three of us worked on the wording together (which was hard cause none of us are religious and we had no idea wtf to put in a ceremony), my husband and I did our own vows, and she added in a great personal bit of her own that we didn’t know about until the actual ceremony. It was absolutely perfect.

  10. We had planned with one of our mutual friends to officiate (including reciting part of the FRIENDS ceremony in there because I’m that big of a nerd about it) and it wouldn’t have been official here in NC. At least not in my county. The wording is very, very hazy about it but from previous experiences (not mine) the law tends to lean towards nope. We were going to do the courthouse the Monday before for the legal part and do the ceremony/reception the following Sunday. Another option came through so we are not doing that now but at least I know where NC stands.

    I also have to credit OBB for giving me a rundown of how a ceremony goes because I used that as the model for crafting my own ceremony.

      • I didn’t know that was you! Thank you so much for that! I studied it quite often to figure out exactly how to write what I wanted.

    • thanks for the info. i was reading through here, and thinking “i’ll go check out the requirements in NC (wake co.) and post on here”
      I appreciate the heads up, and I was thinking going and doing a courthouse ceremony to make it official, then having my brother do the ceremony on our day.
      Thanks for sharing!

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