While the flowers, food, and of course, your dress can seem like the most important aspect of the planning process, don’t forget that the main event is actually your ceremony. You know, the part where you get married. If you don’t already have a family minister or rabbi in mind, finding an officiant can be trickier than it sounds:
Take, our senior editor Eileen’s story, for example. Eileen is getting married in August, and after booking her dream location, she had one minor task to complete: finding an officiant to marry them on-site. After finding few officiant resources online, Eileen met with an (advertised) officiant who was condescending and negative, and handed her a sheet with what the ceremony would be like, no customization and no questions asked. The next one she met with wanted to know all about her love story–how she and her fiance met, what their goals were for marriage, and even had them fill out an extensive questionnaire before letting them choose the readings for each part of the ceremony. Needless to say, all officiants aren’t created equal, and our 10 tips for choosing one will certainly help you find the perfect person to pronounce you husband and wife (because he/she is out there):
1. Decide what type of ceremony you want.
If you’re a regular church goer (or even if you’re a semi-regular church goer), this can make your wedding officiant search a lot easier. Pastors, preachers, and priests will (usually) happily officiate your wedding as long as you make a donation to the church (on top of any fees for use of chapel or church space, and any musicians like organ players or singers). The general concensus is that you should tip at least $100, and a $500 donation is of course, more than acceptable. If you’re more of a non-traditional or non-religious couple, or say you and your fiance are of different faiths, you may want to look into hiring an officiant who has experience with inter-faith weddings, so the ceremony is tailored to your needs.
2. Work out your budget.
You may not have even considered penciling in a budget for the person that will marry you, but a typical officiant can cost anywhere between $250 to $1400, depending on where you’re located. Before you start researching, decide on a budget with your fiance and parents.
3. Ask around.
Think about weddings you attended in your area–if you liked the structure of the ceremony or felt particularly moved by words of a Reverend, consider asking your newly-married friends for the contact information of their officiant. Often word-of-mouth can also get you a great deal (aka family discount).
4. Do your homework.
Sites like wedding-officiants.org work with a database of officiants who are highly qualified and who have to pay a fee to join, which means they’re committed. You might also want to consider reading your favorite local bridal magazines and trolling the ads for people in your area. If you live in a metropolitan area, like New York or L.A., national magazines may have write-ups with well-known officiants who, while may be more high-end, can also allow you to customize your ceremony and will tailor it to you and your fiance specifically.
5. Check the reviews.
Before you waste your precious time meeting with possible officiants, check them out online. Type their name into Google, Yelp or WeddingWire plus “Reviews” to see what others have said about them. If they have negative reviews, you should look elsewhere. The last thing you need is for them to be a no-show.
6. Don’t commit to a contract without meeting first.
It helps to screen a few different candidates for your wedding, and it’s important to go with your gut instinct. Eileen met with a priest who was an hour late to her appointment. Think she hired him? No way! If he could barely remember to show up to an appointment, she couldn’t trust him with her wedding day. A wedding officiant will only have brief time to make an impression at your ceremony – if they don’t make a good impression when you meet them in person, move on.
7. Find out: can they legally marry you?
This is kind of a big one! Usually, state laws allow any recognized member of the clergy, judges, court clerks, and justices of the peace have authority to perform a marriage – but in some states, clergy members must have the right certification to do so. It’s important to check your state marriage laws and make sure your officiant counts. (It’s also worth noting that some states will NOT allow someone who has become an ordained minister online to marry you!)
8. Ask about the extent of their services.
Will they file your marriage certificate for you? If this doesn’t happen, you’re NOT legally married. Professional wedding officiants usually do this for you – but be certain to double check! If the responsibility falls on you, make certain this gets done! Will they conduct a rehearsal dinner? It may seem like a no-brainer, but trust us, we’ve met people who just don’t want to be bothered traveling for a 5-minute rehearsal. If that’s important for you, make sure you get it in writing beforehand.
9. Figure out travel plans.
Whether you’re bringing your favorite reverend along, or hiring a professional wedding officiant, it’s expected that you pay for their travel expenses like gas, airfare, and room and board, if necessary.
10. Get it in writing.
If you want to customize readings and rituals, make sure you get that in the contract that you sign so there are no problems down the line. Find out how much they expect to be paid as a deposit, too, while you’re at it, and add that to the contract, including the start time (make sure they’re at your venue at least an hour early)!
Have you already found your perfect wedding officiant? Tell us all of your hilarious wedding officiant-related anecdotes in the comments!
Just getting into the swing of things? Shop our guides to simple wedding dresses, inexpensive wedding shoes, and unique wedding invitations!