by Maureen Thomson
Choosing a ceremony officiant for your big day can be a daunting task. You deserve to have your ceremony be like no other and to develop a warm and personal relationship with your officiant. Choosing someone to be the master of ceremonies at your wedding is akin to choosing someone to be your close friend – so choose wisely.
If you have plans to be married in your normal house of worship, then there’s not much to think about—your priest or rabbi (or whomever) probably has things worked out to a standard formula and you get what they give you; one from column A and two from Column B and you’re as good as done. However you may not be on a first name basis with your parish priest but still want a ceremony that is unique and which might not necessarily hew to the ‘straight and narrow’. If you are like many brides- and grooms-to-be, you are looking for creative alternatives to the traditional cookie-cutter ceremony.
The popularity of non-traditional (read: out-of-church) weddings is surging and many people have decided to jump on the bandwagon as newly minted wedding celebrants. However printing up a few cards and throwing an ad on Craig’s List does not necessarily qualify someone to officiate at one of the most important events of your life. Think about it, if your photographer does not show at the appointed time it’s unfortunate but you can restage the key parts of the ceremony at a later date. DJ not there on time or forgot a key piece of equipment? Again, unfortunate but not lethal. However, if your wedding officiant fails to arrive at the appointed date and time or is a bumbling disorganized mess you’re dead in the water.
So, assuming that you are not making a career out of locating, interviewing and selecting a first class wedding officiant , how does one know the good from the mediocre or potentially awful? In the ten years that our organization has been performing weddings, I’ve seen it all. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way.
Ask some of your recently married friends for recommendations. Or, enter the name of the state or city where you are going to be married followed by the term ‘wedding officiant’ (e.g. Colorado wedding officiant) into a search engine and you’ll get a bunch of hits.
Look for someone with an established presence, who issues contracts and has a fairly sophisticated website. These are good clues that the person or business is stable and will be around for your big day. Then follow these guidelines when you meet or chat with a prospective celebrant.
- When you meet with him or her (or chat on the phone) do they exude a calming presence? Does their energy fit in with what you are seeking for your ceremony? Do they come across as being passionate about performing weddings? Are they interested in hearing how you met and other significant details of your story? In a few minutes you’ll know whether you’re simpatico with this person and will want to have them at your ceremony.
- Will this person assist you with writing your ceremony and are they open to hearing and discussing your ideas? At the same time, are they willing to talk to you about unique ideas and which ones might be the best for your particular situation?
- Are they well organized and willing to explain all aspects of the process? When will you meet for the ceremony writing meeting and how much time will it take? Will they provide a wealth of sample ceremony components to stimulate your thinking? Can they deal with special problems such as when the bride and groom are of different faiths (and the family is vocal about it). If a rehearsal is required, who runs it and how does it work?
- Does the officiant view your wedding ceremony as the heart of your wedding day–a celebration as opposed to merely a prescribed ritual?
- Does the officiant honor all spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) and view their primary role as that of facilitator of your ceremony?
- Is he or she adventurous of spirit and willing to try unconventional things? Ask them to recount an example or two of creative touches they have incorporated into ceremonies.
- Is he or she a proficient writer and a dynamic speaker? Is their speaking voice pleasing to the ear and free from pauses, “ums” and irritating phrases such as “you know,” “like,” and “OK.”
- Is the officiant a one-man/woman show or is he or she part of a group? If they are solo, do they have a backup in case of an emergency?
- Are there multiple ceremony levels available with a variety of options or are you being squeezed into a ‘one size fits all’ proposal?
- Is there pressure to upgrade to a more expensive level of service (perhaps including things you don’t need)?
- Do they try to get you to book on the spot, telling you that they may not be available for your date unless you book immediately? Or do they give you the opportunity to go home, discuss it and get back to them?
- Is he or she willing to give you the benefit of his or her experience of what has worked and not worked in the past, and then leave the final decision up to you?
- Are they knowledgeable about their state’s marriage license procedures and do they advise you on the process of obtaining your license?
- Is he or she a professional wedding ceremony officiant, or is officiating ceremonies his or her sideline business? Are they ceremony experts or do they divert their attention to other wedding services? You don’t want your officiant also serving as your DJ or your bartender, do you?
- How long have they been in business? Do they have any on-line reviews by couples that they have already married? If not, are they willing to let you speak with some of their references? What do you get when you Google their name or business name?
- Of utmost importance! Do they employ a written contract showing specifics about the ceremony date, time and location, deposit and final payment terms and a fully operational backup plan? Are the roles and responsibilities of all the parties spelled out in clear language? Remember, if you do not have a written agreement signed by both parties and accompanied by a deposit, you don’t have a contract – or a leg to stand on should something go wrong.
Most of all, what does your gut tell you when you talk with this person? If it feels right, then you’ve probably found the best fit for you. Congratulations, you are well on your way to a memorable ceremony.
Maureen Thomson is a wedding officiant and owner of Lyssabeth’s Wedding Officiants, serving California, Colorado and Oregon.
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