Every detail matters when you’re planning your dream wedding. The person who performs the ceremony plays one of the most critical parts in your big day. If you haven’t yet chosen the individual who will help you officially tie the knot, we’ve got you covered. Read on for insights from experienced officiants who can help you with your selection process.
Let’s start with the basics. Common types of wedding officiants include:
· non-religious (justice of the peace)
· civil (judges, mayors)
· professional officiants
· family or friends
We spoke with three: Rabbi Barry Altmark, an ordained rabbi; Jenny Muir, a professional officiant; and Kristine Faupel, a marketer who performed her godson’s wedding ceremony.
What to Consider when Choosing an Officiant
Here are the factors you should think about and questions to ask during your officiant search.
- Check legal qualifications. Ensure that any officiant you consider is legally authorized to perform weddings in the location of your ceremony, or can attain that authorization before the big day. Also consider if you plan to handle the marriage license process yourselves or if you need the officiant to guide you through it.
- Are they available on your date? Even if you fall in LOVE with an officiant, if they can’t be with you on your date, it’s a non-starter.
- Are they experienced? Read reviews or seek recommendations about professional officiants from friends, family, or other vendors. However, if you are considering having a friend or family member officiate, make sure they have the skills to perform this role and ability to prepare well in advance (remember, it needs to be legal when all is said and done! See point #1 above.)
- Do you want a religious or non-religious ceremony? If you plan on a religious ceremony, there are some additional questions to explore. Is it important that your officiant is familiar with your faith traditions? If you and your partner are of different faiths, will you want a representative for each? Or will you want one individual to cover both?
- Do you have a specific vision for your ceremony? Some officiants are open to couple input while others may not be as flexible.
- Do you have a budget for the ceremony? Keep in mind that professional clergy and officiants expect to be paid for their preparation and ceremony role.
- Chemistry is important! Make sure you can meet to see which prospective officiants you like, respect, and “click” with as a couple.
- What is their process? If you don’t already know them, what is the plan for getting familiar with each other? How do you work out the ceremony details? How will the officiant personalize the ceremony to express your love story? How is the rehearsal handled?
Jenny Muir, of Ceremonies by Jenny, explained that changes in society over the past few years mean “Couples have more choice than ever before in the type of ceremony available to them.” Here are the ceremony types she discusses with couples if they’re not sure yet of what they want.
- Elopement. Couples who want a truly intimate ceremony can elope and remove the stresses that can often arise when planning a large wedding. Elopement typically includes just the couple and officiant, and sometimes a few guests. Ceremonies can happen pretty much anywhere, like on a mountaintop, by a waterfall, in a favorite restaurant…
- Micro-ceremony. These are similar to an elopement but typically include a small number of guests and a few more traditional wedding elements, like a celebratory toast, wedding cake, and formal photography.
- Traditional religious ceremony. These take place in a house of worship with a member of the clergy as the officiant. The content of the ceremony is determined by the liturgy of the specific religion. Personalization is often limited.
- Non-traditional religious ceremony. Some couples may include traditional religious elements in their ceremony but choose not to have it take place in a place of worship. This type of ceremony allows couples the flexibility to include as much or as little religious wording as they like, while also making room for non-religious elements.
- Custom/bespoke ceremony. This type of ceremony can be completely original, or it can marry classic wedding elements with more modern touches. Bespoke ceremonies often include a unity ceremony such as a handfasting, broom jumping, candle lighting, or any ritual that symbolizes their unity. A bespoke ceremony also allows flexibility for family members and friends to be involved in creative ways. This can be especially helpful if the couple has children or are a blended family. The officiant can incorporate meaningful ways for the children to be involved in their parents’ ceremony.
No matter the type of ceremony a couple chooses, Muir emphasized that “An experienced officiant should be able to offer all manner of creative ways to make a ceremony unique.”
Crafting Your Ceremony
Rabbi Altmark always includes the couple in the construction of their ceremony. “I customize it to them and their faith. I am especially fond of my couples writing their own vows. Watching their faces and the faces of their loved ones as they are recited is nothing short of spectacular," he said.
He meets with his couples at least twice. “First, we talk about their vision, their requirements, and most importantly, them as a couple. Then, during each meeting, we get to know each other better and focus on the ceremony as a unique expression of their love," Rabbi Altmark said. “I’m a big fan of meeting over coffee. It lightens the mood and tends to foster more creativity," he added.
For Ceremonies by Jenny, creating the wedding ceremony starts with a couples meeting, virtually or in person. At that time, they’ll talk through the type of ceremony they would like, the elements of a wedding ceremony – both the legally required and optional ones – and any cultural or religious considerations and friends or family they’d like to include. Muir also explores how much a couple would like to ‘speak’ in their ceremony. “This might sound odd, but the idea of speaking emotional words in front of other people can be quite stressful for many people! If this is the case, I’ll make suggestions to make that aspect of the ceremony easier,” she said. Muir then crafts the ceremony based on the couples’ vision, asking for input along the way.
For marketing professional Kristine Faupel, who had not performed a wedding before, the ceremony prep also involved getting legally certified to officiate the wedding. She explained, “I reviewed the various companies that offer ordination, which is just a matter of registering for the state in which the wedding will be performed and providing a valid payment method! The difference is in the resources. American Marriage Ministries was the best choice for me because it offered webinars, email updates and guided tutorials on creating and performing the ceremony.” She also ordered additional materials including a minister license and a wedding certificate for the couple.
She reviewed the legalities and content options to be used for the ceremony with her couple. They chose to write their own vows and left the content up to her with the guidance that they wanted it “sweet and funny.” Faupel noted that the difficult part was trying to merge 29 years of knowing her godson with just a handful of meetings that included his fiancée. Because she lived in a different state from the couple, she set up a series of Zoom meetings so that they could work together to craft their “Couple’s Story” and their ceremony.
Just for fun and inspiration, we asked our experts about the most unique wedding-related requests they’ve gotten.
“A couple once asked me if their much-loved pet tortoise could be the ring bearer! I had to very gently suggest that perhaps, in the interests of time, it wouldn’t be a good idea to have it ‘walk’ down the aisle,” said Muir. “They went with my suggestion of having the tortoise carried down the aisle on a pillow with the rings!”
Rabbi Altmark described the most unique ceremony he officiated. “We were at The Memphis Zoo. Doesn’t sound too different. Now, add doing the ceremony in the sea lion habitat with the sea lions and a walrus expressing their support. The wedding then moved into the Star Wars fandom with Imperial Stormtroopers escorting us to the reception. The wedding cake was the Millennium Falcon!”
Kristine Faupel’s invitation to perform a wedding ceremony was uniquely memorable. Her godson and his now wife surprised her at Christmas with a minister’s robe as a gift. As she puzzled over the unusual present, they handed her a bottle of her favorite wine with a custom label that read: “We Can’t Say I Do Without You” and formally asked her to be their wedding officiant.
The Perfect Fit
Choosing the perfect wedding officiant is a deeply personal decision. Do your research, share your vision, be clear about expectations, and, most importantly, ensure you like and respect the person who will guide you through this milestone moment.
The goal is to create a ceremony that authentically reflects your love story, your personalities, and your vision for the big day.
For more wedding planning tips and ideas visit https://www.atlantaweddingconnection.com/tips-ideas.
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