Choosing Your Wedding Officiant

While the reception is perhaps the most entertaining section of the wedding day, the ceremony is the most important.  Therefore it should be intimately reflective of the values and character of the union you are establishing through the exchange of your vows.  It’s for this reason that choosing your Officiant may be one of the most important vendors you hire to be present on your wedding day.  If you don’t already have someone who can officiate your wedding, here are some things to consider when you are choosing one:

DECIDE WHAT TYPE OF WEDDING CEREMONY YOU WANT TO HAVE.

There are 3 basic wedding ceremonies: Religious, Secular or Interfaith. Choose which of the following statements closest describes the type of faith-based wedding ceremony you should explore:

  1. My fiancé and I share a common religious background and plan to manage our household and raise out children in accordance with this particular faith.
  2. My fiancé and I are not particularly religious and we’d much rather incorporate a lot of personal elements into our wedding ceremony.
  3. My fiancé and I practice different religious backgrounds and plan to incorporate elements of both into our wedding ceremony.

If you chose statement 1, consider a religious ceremony and choose the priest, rabbi or minister from your place of worship. If you don’t regularly attend religious services, search for churches or synagogues in your area. Each will have a clergy person who performs wedding ceremonies.

If you chose statement 2, consider a secular ceremony and ask your county clerk for a list of state credentialed Justices of the Peace to contact, starting with those that live closest to the location of your ceremony.

If you chose statement 3, consider an interfaith ceremony. You might be able to find a nondenominational minister who can incorporate elements of both religions into the ceremony, or you might want to start searching for two officiants!


DECIDE THE TYPE OF VENUE THAT IS APPROPRIATE FOR YOUR CEREMONY.

Once you’ve decided on the type of ceremony you want to have you’ll need to consider your venue.  A Religious or Interfaith wedding ceremony will most traditionally take place Temple, Church or similar building of worship and you may be able to choose a minister from among its staff of clergy.  If your secular wedding ceremony leads you to an outdoor or nontraditional venue, be sure your Officiant is comfortable with conducting the ceremony outside of a formal place of worship.

RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS.

If you are unable to select an Officiant from the roster of clergymen provided by your religious or interfaith venue, you’ll want to keep a few additional things in mind as you continue your search.  First, each state has their own marriage laws so not all Officiants are created equal. Just because someone can perform a ceremony in Washington doesn’t always mean they can perform one in Arkansas so make sure that the ordination your officiant has is legal in the state you are getting married in.  The rules for NJ, PA, CT, NY, and DE are as follows:

  • Connecticut: Any ordained or licensed clergymen, and justices of the peace.
  • Delaware: Any ordained minister, and clerks of the peace. If you have your marriage ceremony at the office of the Clerk of the Peace, there is a $20 fee for the civil marriage ceremony.
  • New Jersey: Any ordained or licensed clergymen, and justices of the peace.
  • New York: According to Section 11 of the Domestic Relations Law, an officiant must be an authorized, officially ordained member of the clergy or a public official in the State of New York such as a mayor, city clerk, deputy city clerk, appointed marriage officer, justice, or judge. In New York City, an officiant must be registered with the City of New York. Ship captains cannot perform marriage ceremonies in New York State.
  • Pennsylvania: Couples can obtain a self-uniting license. Any ordained minister, priest or rabbi of any regularly established church or congregation, Judges, Justices of Peace, and County Clerks or their appointed Deputies may perform wedding ceremonies. Mayors of cities and boroughs are also authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.

You may also consider asking a close friend or family member to Officiate your wedding ceremony but before you go this route, make sure you check the list of check the list of state marriage laws. A few states—such as California, Massachusetts, and Alaska will grant one-day Deputy Commissioner of Marriage status.

Online directories such as PartyPop.com’s Directory of Officiants , Onewed’s Vendor Search Tool and The Knot’s  Local Wedding Resources are great starting points for couples who have no idea where to begin looking for a ceremony Officiant.  Twitter is also an excellent resource and we highly recommend following our mobile wedding officant friends over at WedonWheels.

…Did you know that I am an ordained nondenominational officiant and can legally sign a marriage license.  It’s not one of the main services offered by SocialBFly but it is  the ultimate tool in my wedding emergency kit!

You may also consider asking a close friend or family member to Officiate your wedding ceremony but before you go this route, make sure you check the list of state marriage laws. A few states – such as California, Massachusetts and Alaska – will grant regular individuals one-day Deputy Commissioner of Marriage status.

INTERVIEW YOUR POSSIBILITIES. 

Get to know the officiants that you are considering so that you can make an informed decision. Conduct interviews to find the wedding Officiant who can best represent your beliefs.   During the interview, you’ll want to ask the following questions:

  • How long has s/he been performing weddings?
  • Why does s/he perform weddings?
  • What speeches or sermons does s/he plan to recite during the wedding ceremony?
  • Learn officiants’ permissions, restrictions or requirements to see if they match your ideals:
  • Will s/he require you and your fiancé to attend premarital counseling and/or regular services in order to officiate a wedding?
  • Will s/he allow you to write and recite your own wedding vows?
  • Are you permitted to incorporate songs or independent readings into the order of the ceremony?
  • Can you attend another service that the officiant s/he is conducting or see video clips of them speaking?
  • What is the fee and are there additional charges, such as travel and rehearsal attendance?
  • Is s/he available for your wedding date and time?

SEAL THE DEAL.

Once you’ve interviewed and selected the Officiant you think best fits your wedding , schedule a meeting to write down the detailed vendor agreement.  You’ll want to make sure it includes a clear breakdown of prices, cancellation policies, expected arrival times on the day of your wedding and a realistic backup plan should anything prevent them from physically carrying out the agreement.

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