Are you totally sure you want your friend to officiate your wedding?
It happened again. I got a frantic email recently from a friend who was asked by his friend to officiate their wedding ceremony. He was freaking out and didn’t know what to do. He didn’t really want to “work” the wedding, but he didn’t want to be rude to his friends and say “no”. He asked me for advice. I told him what I’ve told many people who have asked me that question. “Don’t do it.”
Should Your Friend Officiate Your Wedding?
Why shouldn’t you have your friend officiate your wedding? Well, there are countless reasons. After many years as a professional wedding officiant I’ve officiated thousands of wedding ceremonies. I am well prepared for the little things that can go wrong because I’ve seen many possible disasters. I can improvise in a way that enables me to sweep away the glitches without any of the guests realizing that anything went wrong.
Over the years I have made a few mistakes, but after so many wedding ceremonies I am not phased by any last minute or unexpected additions. I’m confident I can seamlessly integrate any unexpected addition to the ceremony. I can smoothen any mistake by one of the wedding party or other wedding vendor. Your wedding guests will not even know that anything “went wrong”. The wedding couple will be able to enjoy their wedding day without any unnecessary stress. I am also an impartial wedding professional that can accept any unexpected addition without the need to judge it.
A Memorable Wedding?
I remember one family wedding I attended as a guest. I was relieved to not be asked to officiate so that I could actually enjoy the wedding as a guest instead of performing the wedding ceremony. The couple thought it would be a great idea to have the groom’s dad officiate the wedding ceremony, much to my chagrin. I felt so sorry for the man, initially, as his nervous stuttering and stumbling increased. His dry mouth was ever apparent by the dry spit he had on his lips. He was awkward, naturally. He had neither officiated a wedding before nor had done anything similar before.
Of course, he was nervous. It was obvious to everyone. Eventually he did something that is very common mistake by novice officiants. He made the wedding ceremony about himself. He talked way too much about himself. He spoke for so long that his performance was uniformly considered tacky instead of gracious or noble. After a while, the guests were exchanging glances and rolling their eyes. While the ceremony can be described as “memorable” it was for all of the wrong reasons.
Many couples think it’s a great idea to have their friend or family member officiate their wedding ceremony. They have no basis to understand that an inexperienced individual is almost certainly not prepared to officiate a wedding in a professional way. But it saves money, right? When you consider that your wedding officiant is one of the least expensive elements of your wedding, money should not be a guiding force in choosing your officiant. Making that mistake could actually end up costing you even more for reasons below.
Be Kind to Your Friend
Think about your friend and give him the night off. Do you want everyone at the reception to go up to your friend and talk about the ceremony, whether they are complementary or consoling? It sort of steals your thunder, consequently I do not think your friend wants that either.
Here are the top 7 reasons that I can think of NOT to let your friend perform the wedding ceremony:
- Your friend should be a guest and witness to your special occasion, not be a bureaucratically necessary part of it. You place your friend or family member under a lot of pressure when you ask them to officiate your wedding. And besides, that’s what bridesmaids and groomsmen are all about.
- Your friend will then share in the glory or, possibly the embarrassment, of your wedding day. In either case, it really should be just your day. Are you a couple or a trinity?
- Even though you think your friend is witty and has a great presence, he or she probably will have immense stage fright. Or even worse, he or she may treat your wedding ceremony like their “performance”. They may steal the show.
And I Bet You Didn’t Know:
- There are many details to the wedding ceremony. An experienced wedding officiant will be able to address quite simply with just a few questions. But your friend will almost certainly not know to ask about those details. Your wedding procession, your ceremony and your wedding recessional will be far clumsier than they need to be. I ask many questions beforehand, and I know what to ask. Most brides and grooms I talk to never thought of those questions. Judith Johnson of Huffington Post said it best, on this page,
“Why put someone you love in the position of being responsible for something they know nothing about?”
- Wedding ceremonies are more complicated than they look. Your officiant is the master of ceremonies and they run the ceremony. They should, because they have experience. After thousands of wedding ceremonies, I have a calm nature and know how to address each situation and often, wing it if necessary without panicking in public.
- What are you saying to your other guests that this friend is more special than they? Was the groom who asked his dad to officiate sending a mixed signal to his mother, the ex-wife of his dad? Whoa! It was the gossip of the reception.
And Here’s the Big One:
- Will your friend screw up the preparation of your marriage certificate and the filing of your marriage license certificate in a timely manner with the County Clerk after your wedding day? If they do mess it up, it will cost you a fee. In most California County’s you will have to pay an additional $30 for a “duplicate marriage license” that will forever say “duplicate” at the top of the page. You must have either the County Clerk Recorder or the authorized notary public who issued your marriage license sign the duplicate license and you will have to have your “officiant” friend sign and complete the marriage certificate again. That is all a time consuming and unromantic hassle and embarrassing for your friend. Your “official” wedding date will stay the same but it may take extra months for you to receive your certified copy “proof” of marriage that you will need to show proof of your marriage to any third parties.
An Example of Friends Who Officiate Who Don’t Know What They’re Doing:
Recently the LA County Clerk’s Office contacted me because I had issued a marriage license to a couple. Their friend was supposed to marry them. When they applied for a copy of the marriage license the County had no record of it. The County called me to find out why. I had noted in my notary journal that their friend was going to officiate the wedding. Well, it turns out that their friend probably did not turn the marriage license in at all. Their friend did not understand the importance of a timely filing of the wedding license. That’s a BIG OOPS.
The Results of a Friend Officiating a Wedding:
I get lots of calls from brides and grooms who regret their decision that a non-professional officiate performed their wedding. Sometimes couples call me to come to the rescue to issue a marriage license and officiate a private ceremony. Why? Because the couple’s non-pro officiant did not know to instruct them of that need. Many couples, who did not have a marriage license on the date of their “friends and family” ceremony, ask me to put the date of the big wedding ceremony on the marriage license. But I can’t since that is against the law.
Is it really a fun idea that your friend officiate your wedding? Think it all the way through. I think you will realize that your wedding ceremony is something that you should leave to a professional wedding officiant. I would be happy to help you and make this day about the two of you…and not the three of us.
Here is a copy of the Huffington Post article I mentioned above:
Why NOT to Have a Friend or Family Member Officiate at Your Wedding
By Judith Johnson
There is a popular trend these days to have a friend or family member go online to receive an ordination certificate in a matter of minutes so they can “legally” officiate at your wedding. While on the surface this might sound like a fun idea, a look below the surface reveals some really good reasons why this is NOT a good idea. As an interfaith minister who has been officiating at weddings for over twenty years now and as author of the bestselling book on wedding ceremony design, here are my top three really good reasons why you should hire a seasoned professional to officiate at your ceremony.
Some states do not recognize some online ordination credentials. The last thing you want to find out after your wedding is that you are not legally married. So, tread with caution. It is the state where your ceremony takes place, not the state where you live that has jurisdiction. Just as state laws about who can get married are changing, so are the laws regarding who can officiate at weddings. Not all online ordinations are equally acceptable, so be very specific in researching what sites are and are not acceptable in your state. Keep yourself informed about any changes that occur in these laws during the course of your wedding preparations.
There are a thousand little details that add up to a great ceremony. Which ones are you willing to have overlooked? Why put someone you love in the position of being responsible for something they know nothing about? Why not let your friend or family member enjoy being a guest at your wedding instead of bearing the burden of doing something so important that they know nothing about? Unless your friend or family member happens to already be a member of the clergy, why put this responsibility on them? Most couples and the friends and/or family member they choose to officiate are clueless about what goes into designing a ceremony, running a wedding rehearsal, or officiating at the ceremony. Think about it – would you hire a band for your reception that had never played together before? Would you want your wedding to be their first gig?
There are better, safer options. A seasoned officiant knows the in’s and out’s of advising you on the logistics of your rehearsal and ceremony as well as the design of the text and the ritual itself. They can be a wealth of information and ideas to help you create the ceremony that is perfect for you. They know what works, and what doesn’t.
If you are worried about not belonging to a religious community, not wanting a stranger to officiate at your ceremony, or wanting to have control over what is said at your ceremony – no problem. There are three fabulous resources for finding the right officiant.
The first is to ask your wedding vendors. Typically, your first wedding decision is going to be your wedding date and location. Ask the wedding coordinator at your venue to share their impressions of the officiants on their preferred vendor list and to recommend the ones they think are a good match for you. Call these recommended officiants and/or make appointments to meet. Trust your instincts about who you are comfortable with, how resourceful and flexible they seem to be, and how they react to your story and wishes for your ceremony.
The second resource is to ask around among your friends. Ask your married friends who they had officiate at their ceremony? Were they pleased or not? Why? Ask friends and family if they attended any weddings where the officiant did a really good job.
Third, use regional wedding websites and major wedding websites that have regional vendor listings. Read the listings and reviews on officiants there. One of the most popular sites is https://www.weddingwire.com.
Your wedding ceremony is what your wedding day is all about. Give it the respect and attention it deserves as an expression of what crossing this threshold together really means to you. The person who officiates at your ceremony will have a lot of influence on what will hopefully become a beautiful memory for you. So, be thoughtful and careful in selecting the officiant who is right for you. Be as honest as possible about who you are and who you aren’t. If someone rejects you because they don’t share your beliefs, be glad you didn’t hire them! Just keep looking for the right match. Find someone who is happy for you, is on your wavelength, and gives you confidence that they will help you create a wedding ceremony that exceeds your biggest dreams. You deserve that!
Chris Robinson is an LA marriage ceremony officiant. He has been performing weddings and issuing wedding licenses for over 20 years. If you wish to get married in LA County or Orange County give the best minister for weddings in California a phone call at (310) 882-5039 or (562) 547-3255 or fill out the contact form.