The officiant is an essential part of any wedding. They will lead the ceremony, including your vows, and set the tone for your marriage. Your officiant is also in charge of making sure you check all the boxes so that your wedding is legal. Recruiting a good one, therefore, is essential, but how do you make the best choice for you and your partner?
For help, we turned to Suanne Bonan, a wedding officiant and owner of Officiant NYC. She talked us through the different types of officiants you can choose from (religious, civil, a friend, etc) as well as how much you can expect to pay and how to find the right fit for your needs. Read on to learn more.
Meet the Expert
Suanne Bonan is a wedding officiant and owner of Officiant NYC, a group of officiants in NYC who oversee weddings of all kinds.
Types of Officiants
There are many types of officiants, offers Bonan: "An officiant can be a religious or spiritual leader, a judge, a private officiant or a friend." The type of officiant you should have at your wedding depends on what kind of ceremony you want to have. As she reminds, "There are many ways to get married."
For example, if you are having a religious ceremony the wedding officiant will most likely be a priest, rabbi, or another type of spiritual leader. If you are getting married inside a church or synagogue you might not even have a say in who marries you. "Religious ceremonies are probably the least flexible and are done in accordance with the beliefs and holy scripture of the group," says Bonan. "When a couple chooses to get married in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other, they are submitting to the customs and historical references of the affiliated group." If you plan to get married inside a courthouse you most likely also won't get a choice in your officiant; the judge on duty will lead the proceedings.
Couples having a civil or secular wedding can choose from a much larger pool of officiants. "Civil and secular weddings can be performed by anyone who has been ordained and registered with the state," shares Bonan. Some couples turn to professional officiants who have experience leading weddings. Other couples tap close friends or family members to lead their proceedings. Friends or family members know the couple extremely well so they can make the service even more personal. It can be extremely meaningful to have someone in your family lead you in your vows.
Average Cost of Officiant
Officiants in Bonan's company charge anywhere from $400 to $800 depending on factors such as how long the ceremony is, what the couple wants, and how many people are at the wedding. If a wedding is out of town the couple might have to pay travel costs as well.
Religious leaders will often perform a ceremony for free, especially if the couple is a member of the congregation, but suggest a donation to the religious institution or a charity. Friends and family members generally don't charge for their services either, although the couple might want to get them a thank you present to show gratitude.
Tips for Finding and Choosing an Officiant
Interview Your Officiant
If you are selecting a professional to do your wedding make sure you interview all candidates. Not only is it important to hear their voice, but it's also essential to make sure you feel relaxed in their presence. "The couple should relax and be themselves," explains Bonan. "We love hearing about how they met and what’s important to them as individuals and a couple. If the officiant is experienced enough, they will know what questions to ask. Couples usually reveal what’s the most important to them without prompts."
It's also important to make sure you are on the same page as your officiant about what the wedding ceremony will look like. For example, if you don't want any mentions of religion in your ceremony you might not want to hire a spiritual leader to officiate your wedding. If you want humor embedded into your ceremony, make sure you have the same sense of humor as your officiant.
Do Your Research
Bonan recommends reading an officiant's biography and asking about his or her background. In her opinion, the more experience the better. "The first wedding I ever did, I forgot to tell the guests to be seated after the bride’s processional, which in turn messes up the photographer and guest’s comfort. I learned quickly from that," she admits. "Learning from the past has helped us become the best officiants we can be."
Professional officiants should also have a website where you can read reviews. You can ask to speak to couples whose wedding the officiant performed in past or even attend an upcoming wedding to see how the officiant performs the duties on a couple's big day.
Make Sure Your Officiant Has the Right Skills
"Officiating is a mixture of public speaking and relatability," says Bonan. "A good officiant will address the couple and their guests at the correct time and not just project their words." Because an officiant oversees the ceremony and the saying of the vows, they have to be comfortable speaking in front of you and all your wedding guests. Make sure to take that into consideration if you are tapping a family member or friend to do the honor; they may know you well and have great stories to share during the ceremony but not be able to deliver them in a compelling and moving manner.
You also want to make sure your officiant is organized. They will have to register with the state before the ceremony and some have to mail in signed paperwork after the big day to make the marriage legal.