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Performing a wedding ceremony is a big honor with significant responsibilities. While online ordination is on the rise, knowing where to start can be tricky. Luckily, many non-denominational churches and nonprofit organizations offer free ordination and all of the materials you might need to run a rehearsal, deliver a polished ceremony, and follow through with the legalities.
“We hope that most folks take their role as an officiant seriously and we are here to support them with free ordination and a variety of supplemental resources," says Natasha Anakotta of American Marriage Ministries. “If you need a step-by-step guidebook on officiating, cut-and-paste wedding vows, or info on worldwide wedding customs and traditions, we have it."
Meet the Expert
Natasha Anakotta is the Outreach and Operations Manager of American Marriage Ministries (AMM), a non-denominational church. AMM promotes marriage equality and celebrates individuality by offering free and legal online ordination to perform a marriage in the United States to ensure that every couple has access to a wedding officiant who shares their worldviews, beliefs, and values.
Read on for everything you need to know about getting ordained, plus professional wedding officiant tips and etiquette to remember.
Steps to Getting Ordained
The timeline and procedure will vary depending on the organization. Your ordination could take one day to register online, or it could be longer if your ordination service requires training or coursework before they’ll ordain you. Look for a reputable one that offers basic, fast, and free ordination online but has additional offerings and support staff to answer your questions.
Step 1: Always start with research.
You can’t perform a legal marriage unless you are authorized by the state to do so. Every state has different descriptions, classifications, and laws that regulate who can perform a wedding ceremony. Becoming ordained with a legitimate organization, recognized in all fifty states, is the best way to meet those regulations. Here are essential questions to consider:
- Is the church/organization founded upon principles with which you agree?
- Is the organization transparent about how they operate?
- Is the organization recognized in the state where you’re performing marriage?
Step 2: Submit your application.
Once you have decided where you would like to get ordained online, you will likely apply by filling out a form. Here is a link to a sample application. Following your acceptance, a printable credential or Minister ID number will be sent to you. And just like that, you are now ordained.
Step 3: Register with the state if required.
Check the state and county statutes where the ceremony is taking place to see if you have to register as the officiant before the ceremony. In most states, you can perform marriage as soon as you are ordained. Still, some will require ministers to register with a government office before the ceremony, which means you may have to send away for specific documentation and credentials. Find a current directory of all the states and their minister registration policies here.
Tips and Etiquette for First-Time Officiants
Ask the couple what to wear.
Each wedding is different in terms of style and level of formality. If they say, "wear what you want,” think about your attire in the context of your role as the wedding ceremony officiant, not as a wedding guest. Avoid wearing prints and opt for neutral colors. To minimize distractions, make sure your hair won't blow into your eyes and avoid flashy jewelry or a smartwatch.
Take the time to prepare.
Read up on ceremony protocol, the standard order of service, vows, musical cues, how to move around in the ceremony space, and how to fill out and file a marriage license. If you need help, go back to the ordination organization for assistance. Meet with the couple to find out what they envision for the ceremony. Prepare the script, practice your presentation, and create an order of procession for the rehearsal.
If you’re uncomfortable running the rehearsal, ask the planner or on-site coordinator who will also be at the ceremony to run it.
Be on your A-game.
Make several copies of the ceremony script to bring with you. Don’t forget to bring the marriage license as well! Arrive at least an hour early to check-in with the couple, go over music cues, make sure the wedding space has everything you need (small table, bible, candles, lighters, etc.), do a soundcheck, and make sure the rings are ready.
Just before the processional begins, tell everyone to take their seats and to silence their phones. When you ask guests to rise for the bride, don’t forget to instruct them to be seated afterward. During the ceremony, don’t read from a tablet or phone. Use a printed booklet or binder and look up at the couple (and the guests!) as much as possible. When it’s time for the couple to kiss, step back and out of the way.
Remember your after-ceremony tasks.
Sign and complete the marriage license with the couple and witness(es), if required, immediately following the ceremony. File the completed marriage license according to the instructions provided. If it’s the couple’s responsibility, make sure they follow through and file on time.