Planning a Wedding? Don’t Forget the Officiant!

My husband and I have been pastors for over sixteen years, serving in Protestant congregations and as campus ministers at a large university. During that time we’ve presided over a lot of weddings – probably close to a hundred between the two of us. And one of the things we’ve discovered is that unless a couple is an active member of a church or already friendly with a minister or judge, one of the last things couples tend to think about as they do their wedding planning is who will do the ceremony.

Most couples work hard to find the perfect dresses for the bride and bridesmaids, and the appropriate tuxes for the groom and ushers. They ask nieces and nephews to be flower girls and ring bearers, and book space for the wedding and reception months in advance, in addition to arranging for catered food, the cake, beautiful flowers, and a professional photographer. They order the perfect invitations to be sent the appropriate weeks in advance of the big day, select rings, and book the piano player, organist, string quartet, and soloist. But one of the last things many couples plan for is who will officiate at their wedding. In fact, for many, it’s not even on the “to do” list until the last minute.

I can’t even begin to count how many times someone has called our office asking if we do weddings for non-members of our congregation. We do, under the right circumstances, and tell them so. Then they tell us that they are getting married in a week. Or two days. Or tomorrow. And they wonder if we will do their wedding. I’m not kidding. They made all of their other wedding plans well in advance, the flowers are due to arrive on time and the cake is just about to go into the oven, but they forgot to arrange for who would preside over the spiritual ceremony itself, not to mention sign the wedding license and make the whole thing legal. And unfortunately, in most cases, we can’t just drop everything and preside over their wedding on such short notice.

Now I certainly understand that not everyone is an active member of a spiritual community, so you may not have a priest or pastor or rabbi or other religious cleric standing by to do the wedding. And that’s fine – being part of a faith community isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, we each have our own spiritual path and way of journeying on it. But if you are in the process of planning a wedding, and don’t have a pastor or other cleric you know who could do the ceremony, consider adding “Find an Officiant” to the top of your wedding to do list.

The Officiant can be any ordained minister who is licensed by your state to do weddings. Or it can be a judge or justice of the peace. If you are on a cruise, the Captain of the ship can marry you! Some folks ask their friends to get ordained online, and then they have them do the ceremony – and that’s fine, just make sure your state recognizes the ordination as legal. Whatever the case, just make sure you find someone who is licensed by your state to officiate. (If you don’t have a relationship with the Officiant before the wedding, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $300 for your Officiant, depending on: how much, if any, pre-maritial counseling is involved; how much planning of the actual ceremony is involved; travel considerations; and whether or not there is a rehearsal to attend the night before the wedding. You can ask how much is charged before your first meeting together – most will let you know their fee up front.)

The bottom line is this – it’s your special day, you’ve put hours of thought and planning and work into making it special. Just remember, when you are choosing between prime rib and salmon, and deciding between live music or a DJ, and trying to figure out whether to have an open bar or cash bar, somewhere in the mix make sure you include finding someone to actually preside over the wedding. Because the simple fact is this – if you don’t have an Officiant, there can’t be a wedding!