Monday, May 23, 2011

The 4 Most Critical Questions to Ask Your Potential Wedding Officiant

Every bit of communication you have with a wedding officiant will tell you about them.  Every bit!  In this most important time of your life you want someone you can trust, someone who knows how to create a joyful and sacred atmosphere for the celebration of your love, who is professional, and who pays attention to all of the details.

As a wedding minister for 17 years I’ve heard lots of horror stories from couples who have attended disastrous weddings: of officiants who didn’t return phone calls or emails until the last minute, wedding officiants who mispronounced or forgot the couple’s names so that Jason and Kirsten are mumbled out as Joshua and Kimberly, wedding ministers who interjected inappropriate prayers in a couple’s ceremony, wedding officiants who rambled aimlessly on topics having nothing to do with the couple, and well meaning friends who promised to serve as minister who canceled at the last minute.  At my wedding in 1974 the minister, wearing jeans and sandals under his short cassock, brought his 4 children in summer beach wear and sat them in the front row next to my parents.  They were all going straight to the beach after the ceremony.  We all laughed about it later but at the time we were not amused.

A good wedding minister will prioritize your needs, be consistent, prompt and professional in all communication with you, and will charge you a reasonable fee for their services.  One wedding minister in my area is known for double booking weddings and then dropping the less lucrative contract.  Hopefully wedding ministers this crass are rare, and a good interview with a wedding minister you’re considering will help you spot potential problem areas.

Here are the four most critical questions to ask every wedding minister you interview.  I have 19 questions that cover all the bases in my book, ‘The Ultimate Wedding Resource Book’ found at But by asking the four questions below you’ll avoid the most disastrous problems with your wedding officiant.

1.    What experience, training, and background do you have in officiating weddings? In this age of convenience anyone can pay five dollars on the internet and call themselves a wedding minister.  But often they don’t have the skills, commitment, or ethics of those who have earned the title.  First and foremost, find out the legal requirements for officiating weddings in your state and make sure this wedding officiant has fulfilled the requirements.  A wedding minister authorized to perform ceremonies in North Carolina may not be able to officiate weddings in Virginia, which has more stringent requirements.  Also, seminary trained ministers and those who are affiliated with a religious institution most often have a code of professional conduct to which they are bound.  This is good.  Look for wedding ministers who have experience and affiliations that you trust, and that you can verify through reviews of their services, knowledge of their ordaining organizations, or the opinions of friends and especially reputable wedding vendors.

2.    Do you have theological restrictions to the type of ceremony you officiate or the wording you will allow?  Some wedding officiants have strict guidelines about the type of ceremony they will officiate.  You want a wedding ceremony that is true to your beliefs, otherwise it ceases to be yours, you tune it out, and you can be left feeling resentful at this most special moment in your lives.  And, worst of all, your wedding ceremony won’t provide the joyful foundation for and celebration of your love.  One rabbi with whom I co-officiated told me the only couple he refused had not wanted the word God in their ceremony.  A good wedding officiant knows that the ceremony is not about them, that it is about YOU and your beliefs.  They will be honest in sharing their guidelines but may only think to do so if you ask.  And it is best to ask up front, before misunderstandings arise. 

3.    Can we see a script of the ceremony beforehand?  I always create a script with you, one that you can change as desired, and even then I seek active approve from you.  I would be wary of any wedding officiant who didn’t allow this.  You don’t want surprises at your wedding.  Knowing what will be said doesn’t diminish the power of the moment but enhances it.  When you can trust that your wedding ceremony is true to your love, you can relax, drink in, and savor each word. As a wedding minister who wants your vision for your ceremony to come alive, I put all the details of the ceremony formalities into the wedding ceremony script in addition to the text. This includes small but important details such as the name of your witnesses (in NC, VA requires no witnesses), a ‘day of’ contact cell phone number, the processional order with music cues, names that I need help pronouncing, any objects such as unity or memorial candles or wine that need to be brought to the ceremony, and any special instructions you might have (is a grandparent hard of hearing? Are divorced parents uncomfortable with each other?).  A script with all the necessary, and helpful, details can be shared with other wedding vendors so that everyone is ‘on the same page.’  With a complete script you and everyone else can relax.

4.    Do you require a contract?  A legal contract provides reassurance for both you and your wedding officiant.  It outlines the expectations of your arrangement and the consequences if either partner doesn’t fulfill the agreement.  It answers the questions:  What time will the wedding minister be there for my ceremony?  How long will the wedding minister set aside for my ceremony?  What happens if our wedding time or location changes or our wedding doesn’t start on time?  What are the consequences if either party cancels?  What fees are we bound by and when are they due?    The biggest problem I have found for couples who choose a friend or relative to officiate their ceremony is that this person is doing you a favor. They don’t take their commitment as seriously as the wedding professional does and often don’t know what they need to do beyond showing up.  And they cancel more readily.  This leaves you high and dry.  A professional wedding minister will have contingency plans that protect you in case of an emergency.  My emergency backup, which I've only needed once (Thank Heavens!), consists of a list of other wedding ministers that I trust that I can call upon. I would give them the script that you and I created, and I would pay them from  what you paid me.   My goal is that your wedding plans are impacted in the least possible way by my emergency!

A good wedding officiant will have clear, reasoned, prompt answers to these questions as well as to all of your questions.  They will have dealt with unexpected situations and from your interview you should be able to trust that you are in good hands.  If you don’t feel this assurance, then find another wedding officiant who does inspire confidence.

Your wedding minister sets the tone for your wedding ceremony.  The right wedding minister or wedding officiant will help you celebrate your love.  Throughout your planning she or he will listen to your ideas and concerns, advocate for your needs and desires, and calm crises that arise.   At your ceremony he or she will help everyone become present to the power and beauty of your love for each other, and create a clear, joyful, safe space in which you can express your marriage vows.  If the wedding minister you’re interviewing honors and celebrates your vision for your ceremony with ideas, interest, skill, and genuine enjoyment from the first moment you meet, you’ve found your wedding officiant.

For more great tips and ideas for all aspects of your wedding ceremony, see my wedding ceremony resource book at,

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