What Every Bride Ought to Know About Having a Friend Officiate the Ceremony
Many of my clients ask me if I think it would be a good idea to have their brother/ dad/ best friend officiate the ceremony. Having a loved one perform the nuptials may make the ceremony feel much more personal and intimate, but can also be a bit awkward. Like anything, being a professional officiant is a skill. They have mastered the art of public speaking.
They don’t get choked up or cry during the emotional parts. They can equally interject seriousness, feeling, love and laughter. They know how to pace themselves and how to work with musicians, DJs, wedding planners and the elements (wind, blazing sun, etc.). They don’t fidget or overuse certain words. And, they make sure the ceremony is about the couple and not themselves.
So, with all that said, is it a good idea to hire a loved one? Yes, you will save money, yes, it will likely be more personal but ultimately, my answer is it greatly depends on the person you choose. Here are my top tips to having a friend officiate your ceremony:
Before selecting a loved one to officiate the wedding, be sure it’s the right person for the job. The candidate should be extremely comfortable with the idea and accept with zero hesitations. I’ve had so many experiences with extremely nervous officiants who are doing it for the first time and it can be tough to manage them while you are trying to support the couple right before the ceremony.
Helpful Characteristics of a Potential Officiant:
- Extremely confident with public speaking
- Comfortable directing others (telling people what to do!)
- Open personality and okay with doing it how you want it
- Available to practice with the couple
- Ultra responsible!
If the person you have in mind has all these characteristics, they could be a great fit for your special day.
Be sure the officiant knows exactly what they need to do to become legally ordained to perform a wedding ceremony. The requirements vary from state to state. Here are a few resources to help with the process: American Marriage Ministries, Universal Life Church Monastery. Cost varies per website and some are completely free. In addition to becoming ordained, the couple will also need to obtain a marriage license before the ceremony.
It is important to time the ceremony, including the time for readings, songs, or symbolic actions such as a unity candle, wine ceremony, breaking a glass, etc. I’ve found that ceremonies performed by friends tend to be very short. All the wedding vendors appreciate knowing how long the ceremony will last so they can plan appropriately. When the ceremony is over, guests will likely be heading to the cocktail hour which means the caterer needs to be ready. It sucks when the catering team is scrambling after a ceremony that was supposed to last 45 minutes, only lasts 15.
Practice, practice, practice!
Unless the candidate is a professional public speaker, they will need lots of practice. They should practice alone and with the couple (even if it is via phone or video chat). The couple should know exactly what will be said during the ceremony to ensure there is nothing in there that doesn’t suit them (for example including religious passages for a couple who aren’t religious, or including vows they are not comfortable with). It’s also a good idea for your officiant to take a quick video of themselves doing the ceremony and watch it to catch any annoying habits (for example doing strange things with hands, mouth or using a ton of “ums” or “likes”) before the big day. Practicing holding anything they will need for the day (a microphone if it is not clipped on, notes or folder, etc.) is also a good idea. Many inexperienced officiants prefer having a podium for their notes.
Never Skip the Ceremony Rehearsal
Regardless of how confident you are or your officiant is about the wedding, make sure you do ceremony rehearsal 1-2 days before the big day. As a wedding planner, I can’t tell you the number of times the ceremony processional order, walking direction, or timing changes after doing a rehearsal. In fact, virtually every couple makes at least one small change because of the rehearsal. It’s always different imaging the location and being there. When practicing, do a full run-through of the procession (the seating and walking to the altar) so the officiant, wedding party and family knows exactly what to do on the big day. Also, if your ceremony is outdoors, it’s best to do the rehearsal at the same time as the actual ceremony so you can see where the sun’s position is. This way you can make adjustments if the sun is glaring into the bride or groom’s eyes.
Always Do a Sound Check
The officiant should arrive at least 1 hour before the ceremony and preform a microphone sound check. During this time the officiant can review the ceremony one last time with any readers, musicians, DJs or other performers to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Empower Your Officiant to Make Game-Time Decisions
One of the biggest differences I see when a friend is officiating a wedding versus a professional officiant, is the lack of command over the ceremony. Because a friend is likely a bit nervous and mainly focused on his/her own performance, they may not notice things like the wedding party standing in the wrong spot or when the bride and groom are positioned too far from each other. The bride and groom will wait for direction during the ceremony and it’s important that the officiant feel comfortable asking people to move, turn around, etc. and does so in a way that feels like it is all part of the ceremony. For example, if the bride and groom are too far apart, the officiant could ask the couple to take each other’s hands or to turn around to look at all their guests. I attended a wedding where the couple stood so far apart it felt painfully awkward. The officiant never asked them to move during the entire ceremony till the end when they had to walk towards each other for the kiss. This would never have happened with a professional officiant.
File It Yourself
A professional officiant or minister will typically file the necessary paperwork for you after the ceremony is over. This is how the marriage actually becomes legal. However, if a loved one is performing the ceremony, it is best to take on this duty yourself to ensure it is done correctly.
As you can see there is more to being an officiant than you may have initially thought. Choose the right person and your ceremony will have that special personal touch that you are likely hoping for.
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Photos for this article generously supplied by Mike Arick Wedding Photography