Planning your wedding has undergone tremendous changes in the last 10-15 years… it’s almost impossible to start the process without noticing the HUGE shift toward “DIY” and the hands-on approach that has swept through the industry. And in many ways, this trend is a great thing… couples are better able to put their own “stamp” on things, from unusual décor, to custom drinks, food choices, and desserts, and even your own #hashtag to promote your wedding! But some things have not changed, like time-honored traditions and family expectations. And unless you’re eloping or getting married in your backyard (which are fun and legitimate choices!), family and guests arrive at a wedding with certain expectations, namely, that things will run smoothly, be professionally handled, and that they will enjoy themselves celebrating your happy day!
One of the biggest changes to weddings is the fact that you can now be married by your friend or family member who isn’t a Justice of the Peace or religiously-ordained Minister! Popularized by the Friends episode where Joey married Monica and Chandler (in 2001), the “have your friend get ordained online” trend has grown and now accounts for anywhere between 17 and 40 percent of weddings, depending on which study you look at (https://www.livescience.com/56094-friends-family-officiate-weddings.html). The Universal Life Church boasts that it has ordained over 20 million people worldwide (https://www.themonastery.org/landing/get-ordained ), including many famous people and Hollywood stars. Personally, I am a supporter of more people being ordained to perform weddings, especially given that many couples today aren’t affiliated with a church or religious organization, but still want something more personalized than a civil ceremony. But as a person who (for the record, was ordained online) has performed weddings for dozens of couples over the last three years, I have some cautionary advice for any couple that wants to ask a friend (or family member) to marry them. I would not have known any of this before I began performing weddings myself! First and foremost,
It’s not as easy as it looks.
Getting up in front of a crowd – whatever the size – and speaking for 15-20 minutes (the length of most personalized ceremonies) can be daunting… especially when the ones getting married are friends or family! I can’t tell you how often I coach nervous guests who will be doing a short reading, or wedding party members getting ready to deliver their speech at the reception. I’ve often heard them say,” I can’t enjoy the day until I get this speaking part over with, because I’m so nervous about how it will go!” Do you really want to ask a friend or family member to take on that role, putting the spotlight on them and almost surely meaning they can’t fully enjoy the day? (the same could be said of asking a friend to take pictures or play the music at your wedding… but I’ll let the photographers and DJs address those issues…) Even if they’re able to overcome nerves, I would ask if they are experienced public speakers?
Leading a ceremony is a very different thing than reading a script… a good officiant is able to connect with the audience (while helping the couple to relax through the ceremony!), change their delivery based on dynamics of the situation (e.g. smoothly recover if something goes wrong or off-plan), and ensure that the ceremony is enjoyable for everyone.
No small matter is the fact that the requirements for marriage licenses and ceremonies vary state-to-state, and even county-to-county. If your friend or family member has not performed weddings before, you run the risk of their (online) ordination not being recognized if they have not correctly researched the local requirements. You wouldn’t want to find out after the fact that your marriage is not valid! For example, I live in Upstate New York, but am aware that anyone officiating a wedding in NYC must register with the City of New York to perform a valid marriage, and I recently officiated a wedding in Massachusetts, but first had to file for permission (as an “out-of-state clergy”) from the Secretary of the Commonwealth, otherwise the wedding would not have been legal. For this reason alone, you probably want to hire someone who knows about marriage regulations – a professional officiant.
Finally, something that is not so obvious but becomes very apparent at many small or “DIY” weddings is that, unless you have hired a wedding or “day of” coordinator (which, if you’re working with a limited budget, you probably did not), your officiant is usually the one who will run the rehearsal, prepare the wedding party to enter, and make sure all the elements of the ceremony happen as they’re supposed to. Not only is your officiant the “emcee/host” of the ceremony, they are often the director, stage manager, and circus ringleader! Weddings are no small productions… and things often get pretty chaotic just before the ceremony begins, with everyone getting ready, feeling nervous, and looking for direction about when and how to start. You really want someone who’s organized, calm, and is completely comfortable with leading people through a performance – because, at its very core, that’s what a wedding ceremony is!
So, the ideal candidate to perform a wedding ceremony is an experienced public speaker or performer, who is calm, organized, and capable of leading others through a ‘choreographed’ performance, and who is familiar with local (to where you are being married) laws and regulations regarding weddings and marriage licenses.
Most couples who choose to have a friend (or family member) perform their wedding do so because they want a personal connection – they want someone who knows them personally to have the honor of legally marrying them. I understand this motivation, and it’s such a novelty that a personal connection can legally do this for you! But I would suggest that a good, experienced wedding officiant can get to know you and create a ceremony that is just as personal as your friend could, and can do it with the professionalism and experience that will ensure a smooth, legal event that everyone can really enjoy!
Couples also choose to have a friend marry them because they can save some money by doing so. As someone who got married not long ago and did it on a small budget, I totally understand this. But you need to weigh the importance of money saved against how important it is for things to run smoothly without a lot of your involvement on wedding day, and for you to not be stressed about the ceremony. If you happen to have a personal connection with someone who has all the above-mentioned skills, congratulations! Go ahead and ask them to marry you! But if you’re unsure about your friend’s skill in any of the above areas, shop around and find a professional who can get to know you personally and provide a professional level of service that you will both appreciate and be able to relax and enjoy on your big day!
Claudia Meyer is a wedding officiant in Albany, NY who has been marrying couples for over three years. Before this, she worked as a hospital chaplain for ten years. She loves working with couples from all sorts of backgrounds to create a personal ceremony that celebrates their love!