As the guiding force behind your wedding ceremony, an officiant’s role is absolutely crucial. This person will lead the most symbolically meaningful part of the most important day of your life. They will be responsible for the pace of the ceremony, the timing and flow of rituals like the exchange of vows and rings, and for accommodating special requests for personalization. The personality and energy the officiant brings to your ceremony will impact how you feel in the moment and how you remember the ceremony.
Below we’re going to cover everything you need to know about finding a wedding officiant. Roll up those sleeves and prepare to take notes, make phone calls, and bring even more magic to your big day!
Who Can Officiate Weddings?
The officiant you choose will depend on whether you intend to have a religious or a civil wedding.
Religious weddings, for example, can be officiated by a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, vicar, bishop, minister, pandit, or another member of the clergy, depending on your religion.
Civil (or non-religious) weddings can be officiated by a member of congress (in case you happen to have one in your family), a federal or state judge, a civil celebrant, a mayor, or a justice of the peace.
In addition, any member of the public may seek ordination. This can be done through a formal process, either online or in person (more on that later), or through temporarily being ‘deputized’ by a county clerk or judge. Being deputized means being given the power to officiate a particular wedding. To officiate again in the future, one must be deputized again.
What, Exactly, Does an Officiant Do?
Before the wedding: You’ll meet your officiant either in person or via video chat in order for them to get to know you and start putting together a personalized ceremony just for the two of you. If your wedding is being officiated by someone you already know (such as a local religious leader), this part will be even easier.
Interview family and friends
Beyond just chatting with the two of you, an officiant will often interview some of your close friends and family members and even research your interests. They do this in order to gain a deeper understanding of the things that are important to each of you and slot them seamlessly into the ceremony where relevant.
Draft the ceremony speech
After the officiant has compiled enough information and context and feels confident about their knowledge of the two of you and your relationship, they will begin writing a draft of the ceremony. They’ll then share the draft with you, and you’ll collaborate together to revise and edit it if necessary.
Help you write your vows
Once the script is finalized, the officiant can also help you write your vows, select meaningful passages to be read during the ceremony, and help with prep and brainstorming for any other personalized and creative elements that you want to include in the ceremony.
Coordinate with the wedding planner
Your officiant may also be responsible for coordinating with your wedding planner and other vendors who are providing services at the ceremony, such as your photographer and musician.
Run wedding rehearsal
Finally, some officiants also run wedding rehearsals. Having an officiant lead your rehearsal is a big plus because the rehearsal is crucial for ensuring that everything runs smoothly on your big day and that everyone involved in the ceremony knows what to do. An officiant’s years of industry experience positions them to take on this role with confidence and expertise.
Counsel and advise on marriage topics
Aside from all this, many officiants also counsel and advise the couple on topics related to marriage, not just to the ceremony itself. This is especially likely if you select a member of the clergy as your officiant, particularly if it’s someone with whom you already have close ties (such as your pastor or rabbi).
During the wedding: Your officiant will arrive early, coordinate with vendors regarding any last-minute details or changes, and be available for crowd management tasks like showing guests to their seats, reminding everyone to silence their phones, and making announcements.
Once the ceremony gets going, your officiant will do all that stuff you see on tv and in friends’ weddings: make a speech about you and your relationship, guide you through the process of exchanging vows and rings, and pronounce you officially married. This is the part where whatever unique details you’ve planned with them in advance will come in. They’ll also sign your marriage license and collect signatures from you and your witnesses.
After the wedding: Once everything has wrapped up, the officiant still has one more job: they’re responsible for submitting your marriage license to the relevant governing body so that your marriage is recognized by the state. A few weeks after that, you will receive or be able to apply for your marriage certificate.
The job of an officiant is multifaceted and extremely important, which is why it’s equally important to thoughtfully select one you really trust.
Where to Search for an Officiant
Now that you know what a wedding officiant does, how do you go about actually finding one? Look no further; we’ve gathered a handful of ways to find the perfect wedding officiant for your wedding day below:
Wedding Wire: Wedding Wire has an excellent and comprehensive database of wedding officiants. Their platform lists the prices for most of the officiants and allows you to filter by city, budget, religion(s) the officiants cater to, and more. Each listing also includes a write-up about the strengths and specialties of that particular officiant.
The Knot: The Knot offers a similar database which also allows you to search by city. While they don’t list prices on their platform, they feature customer reviews so that you can browse with confidence. They have also conferred a prestigious ‘Best of Weddings’ award to some officiants, which is shown in the preview for those officiants’ profiles. Both of these factors allow customers to rest assured of the quality of a particular officiant.
Your House of Worship: Even if the resident pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, or other religious leader is not available to ordain your wedding, chances are they’ll be able to recommend other officiants who will be. If you’re someone who attends religious services regularly, this route is a surefire way to find someone who aligns with your values and beliefs.
Word of Mouth: Some of your family and friends living locally or nearby, wherever you plan to get married, are probably also married! Who officiated their weddings? What are their thoughts on the officiant? Do any of them give rave reviews of the sensitivity, organization, and intentionality of their officiant? If so, look up those officiants and arrange to meet with a few of them.
Ask Your Vendors: Chances are your wedding caterer, planner, venue, florist, photographer, beautician, or another wedding industry professional with whom you’re collaborating will have an officiant or two to recommend. These are professionals who have worked with scores of players in the industry, so their recommendations are worth considering.
Have a Friend Do It: Got a close friend or family member who’s particularly articulate and good at public speaking? Have them ordain your wedding! They can seek temporary ordination through deputization (explained above), or they can become permanently ordained by contacting the local county clerk’s office and following their process (may vary by state or town). Alternatively, one can also seek ordination online at the Universal Life Church website or another similar non-denominational online ordination service. However, some states do not recognize online ordination, so check the legality of doing so where you live or plan to get married.
How to Choose a Wedding Officiant
The officiant will play such a major role in not only organizing and crafting the ceremony but also the vibe at the altar on your wedding day. Be deliberate about who you choose and how quickly you choose. Here are the essential guidelines to keep in mind as you embark upon the search for your officiant.
Meet with a few different contenders: Just like shopping for new shoes, sometimes you have to try on a few pairs before realizing that the first pair was perfect. It works the same way with wedding officiants. Shopping around is recommended and will help you recognize who’s a fit and who’s not.
Take these factors into account: When you meet with potential officiants, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind:
First, pay attention to the vibe you get from the person. Do you feel comfortable with them? Would you be comfortable discussing somewhat vulnerable details of your relationship with them? Are they easy to talk with? Do they bring creativity and experience to the table?
Next, consider the price of their services. Is it within your wedding budget? If there’s a potential officiant who you really like but who charges more than you can afford, investigate whether you can cut costs in other areas that aren’t as important to you. If budget is indeed a major concern, bear in mind that having a friend or family member seek ordination and officiate your wedding is by far the most budget-friendly option.
It’s also important to look at feedback from past clients. If you heard about this officiant through word of mouth, what did the grapevine have to say, and what do their online reviews say? One bad review amongst a sea of rave reviews need not be cause for concern, but if there are multiple reviews that mention the same shortcoming, that should give you pause.
Finally, don’t forget to ask about their availability. That doesn’t mean just their availability on your wedding day; it also means their availability leading up to the wedding. Since the officiant will play such a pivotal role in designing the ceremony, it’s important that they’re not, for example, starting a stressful new project at work during the same time period in which they need to be planning their speech.
As you can see, the process of finding the perfect officiant is no piece of wedding cake–but it is worth it. In 50 years’ time, many memories can fade. You might not remember the type of flower arrangement you selected or the decorations you used, but you will certainly remember what your ceremony felt like. Choose mindfully.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]