If you've been asked to perform a wedding, first of all, know that it is a huge honor. The couple is trusting you to officiate the most momentous occasion of their lives. It's an extremely rewarding role, but also one that comes with a lot of responsibility. If you're new at this and are wondering how to officiate a wedding, we've got you covered. Read on for a complete guide to officiating, from getting ordained to writing the actual ceremony.
1. Get Ordained
If you're not already ordained, you'll need to do so. There are many online programs where you can go through a fairly simple application process. The Universal Life Church, for example, has ordained more than 20 million people (including Lady Gaga, Conan O'Brien, and Paul McCartney) of all faiths, with wedding ordination packages beginning at $29.99. You can also get ordained online through American Fellowship Church, Rose Ministries, and Universal Ministries.
2. Call the County Clerk
Look into the laws of the county where the couple will be tying the knot and familiarize yourself with any requirements you'll need to meet to perform the marriage. Do you need specific documentation to include with their marriage license? Or are they saying "I do" in one of the few parts of the country where the couple can self-solemnize their own marriage (Colorado, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and parts of Pennsylvania), allowing you to serve a symbolic role without any legal requirements?
Find out other key information, such as how long your ordination will be valid for, or if you have to have your ordination established for a certain period of time before you can perform the ceremony legally.
Figure out exactly what you need to do, any deadlines you should be aware of, the documentation you have to have, and fees that need to be paid and make sure everything is taken care of well in advance.
Getting the proper paperwork for the state your friends are getting married in is not usually a difficult process, but it's best to figure these things out far in advance so there are no surprises. The most efficient way to get answers is to call up the county clerk who can let you know exactly what you'll be required to have.
3. Create a Timeline
Now that you've figured out all of the deadlines, write them down. Mark up a calendar to outline when you need to have your documents by, when fees need to be paid, and when you need to have the couple's marriage license turned in by, etc.
It's helpful to have a binder or folder where you can keep track of all the paperwork you're acquiring, along with your notes of the ceremony that you and the couple are working on writing.
5. Discuss the Couple's Overall Vision for the Ceremony
Sit down and walk through the ceremony outline with the couple, as each will want something different. With religious ceremonies, there's a reasonably set pattern and format, but with secular weddings, the couples sometimes want to throw out the entire playbook. It's key to talk to them upfront so you can understand their vision for the ceremony.
6. Write the Ceremony
As not only the officiant but, presumably, a close friend of the couple, you're in a unique position to craft a personal and poignant wedding ceremony. Now that you've got a clear understanding of what the couple is going for, you can start writing an introduction and putting together the text that will surround the readings, exchange of vows, exchange of rings, and the pronouncement of marriage.
As you write the ceremony, infuse it with sweet stories about the couple and heartfelt sentiments. Jokes can be great, too, but don't take it too far. "Everybody likes to have a laugh, but remember, this is a wedding. Less is more," says Sandy Malone, owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events. "Save your best jokes for the wedding toasts. You don't want to do anything that takes away from the overall importance of the actual wedding occasion."
Meet the Expert
Sandy Malone is owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a wedding planning service that aims to make the planning process enjoyable rather than something to dread.
7. Finalize the Ceremony with the Couple
Even if you write the ceremony, it's up to the couple to finalize the plan. Though some couples want to be somewhat surprised during the ceremony, it's always a good idea to have them take a look at your introduction (since it sets the tone) and any statements you might make about the meaning of marriage and their relationship. If they don't care about being surprised, have them read the whole thing. Be receptive and accommodate any changes they request (after all, it is their ceremony).
8. Practice the Ceremony
Before the ceremony rehearsal arrives, take time to practice reading through your script. Make notes about where to pause for effect (or even consider re-formatting the document with line breaks to encourage yourself to slow down) and practice saying words that might get stuck on your tongue. This is a great way to get used to what you'll be saying to minimize how emotional you may be on the wedding day—you'll be more familiar with the lines, so hopefully, you won't get too choked up. Read through the script in front of a mirror to practice making eye contact with the couple and the audience. In addition, make sure the couple practices their lines and vows in advance, too.
9. Perform the Ceremony
When the big day arrives, it's action time. Make sure you have your ceremony script on hand, along with a few extra copies just in case. You'll also want to bring along copies of the couple's vows as a backup, as well as any readings that take place during the ceremony. If anyone forgets these critical documents, chances are they're going to look to you for guidance. Stay calm and confident as you guide the ceremony. You were chosen with love and care because you are special to the couple—you've got this.
10. Sign the Marriage Certificate
On the wedding day, after your duties are complete, you'll need to sign the marriage certificate. The couple, along with two witnesses, also need to sign the marriage license. You will then need to file the marriage certificate with the county clerk, recorder, or registrar (who you submit it to depends on your county). It's the final step and seals the deal in order to make it official.