How to Choose a Wedding Officiant
Couples and their families look to officiants for guidance on much more than just ceremony content. During the planning and execution of a wedding, we're often required to play multiple roles, including etiquette consultant, time-management expert, family therapist and circus ringleader.
Producing a wedding isn't much different than producing a movie or a stage play. There's a cast and a crew, a budget, a timeline and a script. There are props, costumes and a set. And don't forget the stars of the show -- often with superstar-sized egos -- and their devoted fans.
In this article, you'll learn about choosing an officiant, including:
. The officiant's role in working with the couple and their families.
. Techniques for helping events flow smoothly on the day of the wedding.
. Resources and ideas for ceremonies, rituals, symbols and presentations.
. Anecdotes and horror stories
. Setting boundaries with difficult family members
. Criteria for inclusion of religious symbols, rituals, etc.
Let's start with the initial consultation. What can a couple expect when meeting the officiant for the first time?
In my initial consultations with couples, I spend most of the time listening. I want to learn about their ideas for the ceremony, their family structure, and their spiritual outlook. I also listen for clues about their relationship so I can help them to choose exactly the right words and the most meaningful ceremony elements.
During the consultation I show them my sample ceremonies and an array of alternatives, and we review them line-by-line. I also advise them about planning and logistics, and explain the process of filing the paperwork and obtaining the certified copy (including issues that may come up with name changes, immigration, health insurance policies, etc).
If you are a younger couple, your officiant can help you stand up for your own ideas when your family is trying to take control
The easiest couples to work with are the older ones who have some experience with marriage and with life in general. The most difficult are the young couples whose parents are spending a bundle on this bash and insist on having complete control. One couple -- I'll call them Bill and Lila -- lived in England, but planned their wedding at an Oregon venue because Lila's parents lived here. Lila's parents were paying for everything, including flying the couple and several of their friends over from England. We worked together by email and came up with a beautiful ceremony that expressed the couple's non-religious views. They arrived in Oregon one week before the wedding, and three days before, Lila called me with some bad news... the bride’s mother had insisted at the last minute that the couple get married by the pastor of her church, and threatened to pull the plug on the whole thing if they didn’t comply.
Heartbreaking! Lila and Bill were in their early 30s, and old enough to make their own decisions. But because mom was footing the bill, they gave up their autonomy. I tell couples when this happens that if they don’t take this powerful opportunity to establish independence from their parents, they’ve missed the chance of a lifetime. If a wedding can't serve to launch a couple into adulthood, then what can? If a couple caves in to the kinds of demands that Lila's mother made, it will be harder to stand up and be heard when future issues come up, such moving to a new city, buying a house or having children.
And speaking of religion, I am an interfaith minister (with a doctorate in ministry) and am happy to include elements from any religion or culture you choose. but I draw the line at religious dogma. If you want to invoke a god, spirit or energy, my only requirement is that it truly comes from your heart and not from habit, obligation or fear.
What should your officiant look like?
When I meet with a couple one of the things I ask is about the dress code. Is the wedding formal or informal? Is there a color scheme for the bridal party?
I also try to determine how conservative or liberal the couple might be, and what they’d like ME to wear (should I cover my tattoo?). I can wear anything from a simple black pants suit or long black dress to a tropical sarong and bare feet, depending on the setting and the mood. I let the couple dress me, because it can make a big difference in photos and for the overall look of the ceremony. I’ve done some ceremonies that include Celtic handfastings or Native American rituals invoking the four directions, and in some cases the couple loved the idea of my wearing my Kiowa acorn dance shawl. I also did a wedding once for a couple from India. Their families came all the way from India for the ceremony. It happens that I have an outfit a friend brought me from India, a traditional women’s outfit called a Salwar Kameez. I wore it to this wedding and the family felt very honored.
In summary, even though it may seem that the wedding gown, the party, the catering, the venue and the honeymoon demand top priority for your attention, it is the officiant that puts real meaning into the ceremony. Choose an officiant whose personality you genuinely like... someone you can laugh with and feel comfortable with, and who resonates with your personal, social and spiritual values. This is why the initial consultation is so important!