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Open Thread: So You’re A Friend Officiating A Wedding…


Experienced Advice From The Non-Pros

by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

Open Thread: So Youre A Friend Officiating A Wedding... | A Practical Wedding

Q: Some dear friends have asked me to be a secular officiant at their wedding this summer. I’ve never done this before and was honored to be asked. I’ve gotten the legal stuff taken care of, and they say they’ll take the lead on writing the ceremony, but I wondered whether you all had any thoughts on the duties and responsibilities of (decidedly amateur) officiants. I’ve never even been to a wedding with a friend-officiant, though they’re getting more common these days, so I’m not exactly sure what my role is supposed to be. Have any of you done this before? If so, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? If you had a friend officiate, is there anything you wish you’d told them beforehand? Any thoughts on how a friend-officiant differs from a professional, if at all?

Cheers, Abbey

A: You’re absolutely right in that asking friends (or family) to officiate is becoming more and more common these days. We asked my maid of honor’s dad, Ray, to officiate specifically because we didn’t want to go to a complete stranger, seeing as neither of us have strong church/secular ties. So from the side of the people getting married, here are my tips. Communication is absolutely key in any friendor relationship, and don’t be fooled into thinking that the officiant isn’t a vendor. At the end of the day, they’re providing a service (and a damn important one) for you on the day of your wedding.

Soon-to-be-married people: tell your officiant what you want. Or, ask what they need from you! Our first step with Ray was a sit-down conversation where we stated our top priorities—writing most of the ceremony ourselves, for instance—and then asked and answered as many questions we could collectively think of. A good rule of thumb: if at any point you find yourself emailing information about the ceremony to your coordinator, your officiant more than likely needs that information too. As for the officiant side of things, I’m going to hand this question off to APW Contributor Elisabeth, friend-officiant for several weddings.

Elisabeth

Some couples have wanted a sounding board to bounce ideas off of as they write their ceremonies, and some friends have needed a lot of writing and outline help to put words to their vision. But regardless of how much I was involved in the creation of the ceremony, what I found critical (and difficult!) was my role as General Ceremony Tone-Setter. See, if you’re the one standing up there, guests will be looking expectantly at you and taking your cues for what the overall mood is going to be. At one of the weddings I officiated, it poured just before the outdoor ceremony was supposed to start, and we all crammed into the tent, and I could see that folks were worried, maybe thinking that the couple was feeling sad and bad. So when I welcomed everyone, I quipped that the couple looked gorgeous and they would forever look better than the skies on their wedding day, and there was enough laughter at my silly joke that everyone relaxed a bit. Even though your precise words or your outfit may not linger, how you say what you say, and how you manage the emotion and energy of the room will contribute to how they remember the ceremony.

That goes for the rehearsal, too. I found it really helpful to walk through the rehearsal with the couple beforehand, to get a sense of what they needed from me. Is there a wedding stage manager who’s going to run the rehearsal and tell you when to start speaking? Or is the couple looking to you to run the rehearsal (which is inevitably an anxious, excited event where no one is listening terribly well)? If it’s the latter, I went incredibly slowly, repeated messy parts, practiced the walk in and out at least twice, and was the most generally cheerful Julie the Cruise Ship Director version of myself.

And another thing: Write it down, write it all down! Even if you think it doesn’t matter. Assume that no one else is going to remember anything, so it’s up to you. Write down the housekeeping notes, like whether the couple wants to ask people to turn off cell phones, and where the bathrooms are. People like to know! If it’s important to the couple that attendants stand in certain places, write down how you’re going to remember that (e.g., red petticoat comes before blue petticoat). Meet the readers and make a plan for where they’re going to sit, in case you need to look meaningfully at them to remind them to hit the podium. And if the couple has an ancient coin that they want the littlest bridesmaid to toss to figure out who walks in first, write down who’s heads and tails, because neither you nor the six-year-old, and certainly not the couple, are going to remember.

Team Practical, did you have a friend or non-professional officiate your wedding? What were their responsibilities? And if you’ve officiated friends’ or families’ weddings, what responsibilities did you assume as the ceremonial ringleader?

Photo by Gabriel Harber (APW Sponsor)

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately internet-famous pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • Zoe

    My brother officiated our wedding and it was probably my favorite thing about the whole day. It made the experience much more personal and meaningful. It was successful because my husband and I wrote the bulk of the ceremony ourselves, and he sent us ahead of time what else he planned to say. This made sure everyone was on the same page and left plenty of time for discussion and tweaking well in advance.

    One piece I never thought of though was to specify how we’d like to be introduced at the end. I had just assumed he would say “Introducing for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirst and Myfirst OurLast.” During the rehearsal he said “Introducing Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst Ourlast.” Um…no. I’m keeping my first name, thanks. We cleared it up and all was well for the ceremony!

    We also had an interfaith (Jewish and Christian) ceremony that we wrote ourselves and which we LOVED and got great reviews from our families on both sides. Writing this ceremony that felt true to both of our beliefs and respectful of our families was challenging, joyful, and the best pre-marital counseling I can think of.

    • Lindsey d.

      Zoe, anything you want to share about that interfaith ceremony? We are technically having one too, but it’s leaning much more Jewish at this point simply because the symbols tend to translate better (chuppah, ketubah, smashing of glass) than Catholic weddings (the thing that makes a Catholic wedding Catholic is the Mass. Right now all we have is the vows).

      • Esther

        I didn’t have interfaith wedding, but a song about love and God can easily be Jewish and Catholic! So are passages from song of Solomon!

      • Jessica Nelson

        Are there any Catholic clergy involved in the wedding? Or are you creating your own ceremony and incorporating some Jewish and Catholic elements?
        I think the difficulty is that Judaism is a culture/ethnicity as well as a religion, whereas Catholicism…isn’t, really. Nevertheless, some “cultural Catholic” things you could do would be:
        – A song in honor of Mary (“Ave Maria”) or something — oftentimes the couple will walk to a statue of Mary near the altar and spend a few moments in prayer there together after communion, asking for the intercession of Mary for their new family. If you’re not in a Catholic Church you probably won’t have a statue of Mary nearby but maybe you could have a similar moment.
        – You could incorporate a rosary or a medal in your bouquet.

        • Lindsey d.

          Good ideas, but I’ve never been a fan of such overt signs. No clergy — we have two internet-ordained friends/family members officiating. My father will walk me in, so that will look different than a Jewish wedding. We will use traditionally Catholic/Christian vows before writing our own ring exchange using the many waters cannot quench love, etc, which Meg Keane wrote about using in her wedding and I just loved so much.

          I do like the rosary idea though — that’s lovely.

      • Zoe

        Absolutely! One way we did this was in how we explained those symbols. They all have roots in the Torah/Talmud/Bible, but think about why you two as a couple care about those symbols and rituals. What do they mean to you? The chuppah is of course a Jewish symbol, but we both really loved the symbolism of our friends literally supporting our marriage, so that is how we talked about it in the ceremony. The smashing of the glass symbolizes about as many different things as there have been weddings, but we went with the blessing that, just as this glass can never be put back together, so too can we not be broken apart, as well as the idea that souls are broken apart and in marriage we unite the pieces, which fit well with one of our favorite songs, The Origin of Love.

        We also had my husband’s childhood pastor speak during the wedding, which was amazing. I was uneasy about including a specific prayer or Bible reading that didn’t feel authentic for me, so instead we had a long conversation with her and she gave a little sermon/talk about what marriage means from a Biblical perspective, what she hopes for us, etc. She was very supportive and so it worked out beautifully. If there is someone in your life who is a religious leader that you both trust and like, this is a great option. It allowed us to bring in what is important about my husband’s faith, but in a way that we both felt fully represented. This also helped the service not feel disjointed–as in, here is my Jewish thing and then here is your Christian thing. We talked for a long time about how we wanted to define our shared faith beliefs. What were we going to teach our kids? etc. We come from different traditions, and practice differently, but so much of what we believe is the same or similar. We tried to replicate that in our service by making sure that our use of different symbols and traditions remained coherent to our common belief.

        I had a lot of fun with this and would be more than happy to answer any questions here, or via e-mail!

  • C

    Our good friend was our officiant (he had officiated one other wedding). We told him that we would write our own vows and we all mutually agreed that he would write and say something prior to our vows. We used a shared google doc to communicate and prepare the final ceremony script. Fortunately, we all had collaborated on previous projects and communicate well together and we liked what he came up with so there weren’t really any issues. I’m sure it would have been easier for him if we knew exactly what we wanted, but we weren’t really sure until we had it.

  • Beth R

    We had a friend officiate our wedding and it went well. He interviewed both of us separately with the intent of sticking a couple sentences into the ceremony that would be a surprise for each of us. This was fun and gave him a good sense of the tone that we wanted, but in the end, we ended up just reading the “secret” parts ahead of time and making some changes to what he was going to say. He wrote a first draft of the ceremony, but it was missing some key components, so we ended up going back through and essentially rewriting the whole thing, but including a bunch of things he wrote as well.

    If you are going to be picky about wording (as it turns out, I definitely am), I would recommend providing more guidelines or just writing the key components yourself and leaving spaces for them to put their own spin on certain parts.

    We used a google doc to make/share changes and he did a final read through and recommended a few changes he wanted to make, which worked for us. For the rehearsal, we essentially just did a quick run-through where he and everyone who was reading just read the first couple lines of each section, so we could get a feel for how it would run. We didn’t want to make everyone go through the entire thing start to finish. He did a great job on the day-of, and a lot of our guests came up to us and told us so!

  • Lindsey d.

    Sending this our officiants (two of them — new headache, but we couldn’t pick!) now… We’ve selected readings and are putting together our vows (not writing them, just choosing what we love best from traditional), but we expect them to come up with the welcome/introduction. We are three weeks out, so I think we need to all sit down ASAP…

  • Laura

    Rehearsal is key! Good friends of ours had a distant relative act as officiant, and the ceremony was just…awful. I feel bad saying that, but the officiant stumbled over her readings, nervously laughed throughout, and (!!!) mixed up the names of the bride and groom (they both have “boy” names, to be fair, so she somehow got herself confused). This, in turn, made the guests confused/uncomfortable and induced a fit of nervous giggles from the bride.

    All of this could probably have been prevented by a more in-depth rehearsal. They practiced the procession/recession but none of the actual ceremony itself. Reading through a few lines and having everyone practice the important bits would definitely improve the flow. After all, staring your loved one in the eyes while having an intimate, emotional moment in front of a bunch of guests is not a typical activity for most of us. Rehearsing all of that breaks the tension and lets you experience the moment more authentically (or at least that’s what it did for me!).

    That being said, I have been to weddings where a friend officiant did an absolutely lovely job. After all, unless you have strong ties to your religious group of choice, a friend/relative officiant is going to know you much better than anyone else.

  • Karen

    We had a good friend officiate – he had done other weddings previously (including a couple of our friends). It was AWESOME to have him there (we had an outdoor, non-church wedding and didn’t want a stranger marrying us). But I pretty single-handedly did everything for him – wrote the entire ceremony (and our vows – thanks, APW, for the help!) and structured everything. He basically just printed out the words, stuck them in a leather folder, and read from there.

    I felt strongly that it wasn’t fair to put on him the burden of writing our ceremony, since he’s a peer (as opposed to friend/family who is older/wiser/has more life advice). The other weddings that he had done also followed the same model (he read what they asked him to), so we didn’t want to stray from that. Not that he wasn’t capable of coming up with something lovely, but I felt strongly that the ceremony should be personalized to US and knew that only we (okay, I) would be able to find words to reflect what we had in mind.

    All that being said, he did a fantastic job – was poised, spoke loudly and clearly, and was just a joy to have with us for the day. He also handled the legal stuff (making sure his certification was up-to-date, handling the marriage certificate – which apparently the bride and groom don’t sign in Maryland?!?! Just the officiant!?!?!). Although I was the one at first skeptical of having him officiate, it was one of the best decisions that we made. And he was cheap – we paid him with a bottle of scotch! We only had a best man and maid of honor, so basically included him as our third member of our wedding party (so he got the scotch at the same time that we gave gifts to our MOH and best man) and he was specifically recognized at the rehearsal dinner.

    Regarding rehearsal – he did not read everything line for line in the rehearsal, but he DID practice on his own. So there was no stumbling over words since he was familiar with the text, but we didn’t through things word for word together. In general, we were so pleased with how everything went!

  • Heather

    The one thing I would have done differently is ensure that our poor officiant had a glass of water nearby! We asked a dear friend who is a talented improviser and actor to officiate, and it was his first rodeo (which we were thrilled about). He took care of getting himself ordained, and I wrote the entire ceremony myself, which was then tweaked by my wordsmith husband. We worked and worked and worked on it, so that we didn’t miss anything- and eventually, the only things that weren’t written in were introductions for the readers (our siblings), which our officiant easily threw in (“and now I’d like to welcome the brother of the bride, J, to do a reading”), our personal vows (we typed them up, printed them and the officiant inserted them into the script two days before, so only he knew what was going to be said in entirety!), and the bit that he wrote for us (a homily, for lack of a better word, though it was a totally secular ceremony), which we didn’t want to hear until the actual ceremony- we completely trust him. We even debated how we wanted to be introduced (super important) and wrote that in. We also included the order of the people walking in his script, to be sure he could call it out in the rehearsal if we missed something.

    I also would have maybe sat down with just the officiant and my now-husband so we could all hear every word said, and practice pace. But even without a private rehearsal, our guy did a wonderful, wonderful job, and having him officiate was absolutely the best decision we made. We did give him the script about a month in advance, though- to be sure he was comfortable with it.

    We picked his outfit for him- which ended up being similar to the groom and his guys, just that his suit was a different shade of gray- and got him a tie to match the bridal party, as well as matching chucks (we all – including me – wore bright yellow).

    Logistically, I think the only thing that I would do differently is the water. We had a wedding stage manager who handled wrangling people for the rehearsal, asking questions so everyone was clear, and the music/people walking cues for the rehearsal and the day of.

    Long story longer- WATER for your officiant (a great time for them to pick up the glass is if anyone else is doing a reading). Ceremonies are wordy!

    • Heather

      Also, he didn’t read everything at the ceremony- only the sections where he asked people to stand or sit, so our families could be cue-givers to the rest of the guests, and the parts where we needed to interact- repeating him and such, so we could all practice pace and saying those words out loud.

      AND, he handled the filing of our marriage license for us, so we could honeymoon without worrying. He called us a few days in to let us know that we were officially married, in the eyes of the state. It was really wonderful of him, and we hadn’t even considered dealing with it until we got back.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        At least in California, but probably in other states, the officiant is always supposed to be the one to mail in the license/paperwork. It does have the advantage of removing a worry from happy couples (and usually officiants will be more familiar with the process than the couples).

        Everyone: Have whoever is responsible for getting the paperwork back to the government make a copy before sending it in. An emailed scan is even better. In our county, we’d have to pay (and wait) for the county to provide us with a copy of our completed license. But the scan our officiant made has worked for a lot of things, like getting my husband on my insurance.

  • Esther

    Practice, practice, practice! My husband surprised me with a wedding (I thought I was just going to be signing papers due to several reasons and was a bit down about it) but before when we thought we might be able to have a ceremony I had mentioned a close friend who wanted to officiate. He was amazing the day of, and memorized nearly everything. Turns out he put his med school studying skills to use memorizing the ceremony. He was pretty nervous though (not obviously but hands were shaking), so having the written version with him was invaluable for when he needed a reminder. For many, school was long time ago, but if I had known he would be officiating, I would have sent him a present and a thank you card to thank and gently remind him to get his practice on if he hadn’t already, ala recommendation letter, about two weeks before the ceremony/rehearsal.

    • Esther

      Oh and maybe write down when to let everybody sit back down after bride enters. He needed to be reminded haha

    • Catherine McK

      A surprise wedding! This sounds like it needs to be a post.

      • Esther

        It was the greatest weekend of my life! My husband also surprised me with a weekend getaway when I thought I was just going back to his (very tiny kitchenless) bachelor apartment. I didn’t know if my wedding was “pretty enough” to submit a post (my friends took the photos)… but my school newspaper did an article if you are interested! http://dailybruin.com/2014/02/14/ucla-undergrad-and-australian-grad-student-tie-the-knot/

        • Lindsey d.

          AWWWW! That’s awesome! You should totally submit.. Actually, have your husband write a post about pulling that off. Amazing! I needed eye drops by the end of the article and video :)

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            Thank you so much! I was thinking about that as well. I will bring it up to him and hopefully he can find the time between very busy PhD schedule.

        • Catherine McK

          So cute! And posts don’t even need to have pictures/there are lots of examples of posts with no-pro photos, so no excuses there. Many congrats!

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            Thank you! The whole wedding experience was so not normal for me-immigration, sickness that affects my skin, feeling like I’ll be an ugly bride, long distance. Maybe it can help somebody. Hmmm.

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            Well your Daily Bruin article already made me cry, and also made me mad that I couldn’t see your whole dress. :) Soo….I’m with Meg. (But seriously I want to hear what you have to say about a surprise wedding. It looked…awesome.)

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            Thank you! That dress was found day before the wedding due to complications at Express. It was definitely eventful wedding, props to the husband it’s still amazing he pulled it off. I get to know what wedding planning is like for December vow reveal for his family in Australia as he says he’s done now aha

        • Hillary

          OH my god!! Your wedding is so pretty, romantic and inspiring – please share how it all came together on APW! You seem like a really wonderful couple, congrats!!

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            Thank you so much! I’ll try to piece something up. I’m blushing and smiling so big at the same time!

          • Jo

            I was going through TSW during my wedding planning too, and often was worried about how my skin/body would present itself on the big day…… it can be such a doozy, when you’re supposed to be ‘beautiful’ at your wedding. I hear you about the ‘in sickness and health’ bit too. You looked wonderful!

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            Omg what!! Are you active on the forums at all?? It was such mind fuck realizing I’m not going to be even my normal looking self let alone the most beautiful self. Thankfully my skin is doing pretty well so I don’t look terrible, I rejected a lot worse. But APW was so helpful in making me realize it was ok not to live up to the wedding industry’s idea of a bride, and in the end I think our joy is so clearly evident and in the end that’s what matters right? The two people who are already practicing our vows and are excited about our marriage.

          • Jo

            I’m not active on them.. It was weird because I found ITSAN after I had been through 1.5 years of dealing with it my own way….and suddenly it crossed my desk one day, and I was like “…….oh!” I think they are great. I also think that we differ in opinion on how helpful nutrition, alternative medicine and mindfulness is for healing, so I like that it is there as a brigade of likeminded skin warriors. It’s so rad to ‘meet’ someone who knows about TSW AND is an APW reader!!!!

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            YES! this is beyond exciting! I always thought I was alone! Yes ITSAN definitely has some issues I don’t agree with, but I’m glad that it can be a starting point for people to gather. I am so so glad to have met you! How are you doing now? Better I hope!

          • http://thebeejays.blogspot.com Joann L

            I am doing so much better! Still minor flares, here and there. I didn’t know about TSW until like, Month 24 so talk about mindfuck. I was like… this beast has a name? I commented on your post today. It was lovely. Let’s keep in touch and be skin nerds together.

        • Meg Keene

          WHAT? Where did you get the idea that your wedding had to be “pretty enough” to submit a post! HOLY JESUS WOMAN. Just tell your story. We’ll expect it by Sunday night, mmmkayyy? That’s us giving you the whole week to work on it, so you’re welcome.

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            The support is making me so happy! Ok I’ll work on something – I’ve been trying to write about it but failing. This can be the push! Thanks Meg!

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            welp I am submitting it now. the slow internet doesn’t like the zip file but it’ll happen. Thanks for pushing me to finally write about the day!

        • NicoleT

          I will add my voice to the cries of please share your wedding story! Also, fist bump for UCLA! We were/are there at about the same time, so it’s crazy to think that we could have seen each other! And please, you look so happy and so beautiful together; your wedding is *totally* pretty enough.

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            UCLA FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! Thank you so much fellow Bruin :) I was beyond happy it was an incredible day.

        • Stephanie S

          How romantic! And you are SO BEAUTIFUL!

          • http://estherminusts.wordpress.com/ Esther

            Thank you so much! It means so much

  • http://batman-news.com Lucy

    We had my father in law officiate our wedding because we wanted to be able to do part of our vows in my husband’s native tounge and there aren’t many people who speak it. Because he has very different religious beliefs than we do, we laid out exactly what we wanted him to say. We wanted the tone of the wedding to represent the marriage we wanted to have so we were very specific. We also included notes for him on how to introduce the readers etc.
    I took charge of the rehersal along with my “stage manager” as my officiant didn’t know the layout of anything well enough to manage that process. He just needed to know when was his queue to start speaking and not who stood where and all that. I think that would have overwhelmed him.
    He did an excellent job of speaking at the wedding. He had obviously tried to memorize most of his parts so that he wasn’t staring at a piece of paper the whole time.
    I agree with Elisabeth that there may be some ad-lib setting of the tone, or be prepared that you may need to speak up if the bride is late or there are techincal difficulties. So know who you are supposed to talk to if things seem to be running behind.
    We met with our officiant online a couple times. First time to set expectations, one time to go over the legal requirements and last time to rehearse. Then we did a run through in person and had the rehersal dinner. Seeing as how we didn’t have a professional we had a lot more practices than we would have otherwise.
    Lastly, one thing that a professional officiant might do is turn in the marriage license and deal with the signing of the marriage license. It is important it is filled out correctly, so deciding who is going to make sure that is done correctly needs to be spelled out ahead of time.

  • Blind Irish Pirate

    I’ve done 2 for two very close friends… and maybe that’s all I’ll ever do. But for me, I took notes from my pastor friend, who always set the tone with words that depicted the couple as individuals and as a united front in ways that were succinct and recognizable for the guests. She also would take lead at the rehearsal, based on the communication that she had with the couple before hand about their wishes and the flow they wanted for the ceremony.

    To help me get an idea of what these guys meant to one another, I always asked for a mini-biography ahead of time. In their own words, they could always set the tone that they wanted. Themes and dreams and ideas would stick out from their writing, and it helped make it easier to write a little “sermonette,” if you will. And I think that, whether couples write their own ceremony or not, the overall flow of a wedding kind of goes in the general direction, so I stuck to what I had seen done before, plus what APW had out there. Then I met with the couples, they added to, changed and made the ceremony their own. Then I ran the rehearsal by starting at the middle, just before the vows. All of the wedding party, parents, etc., would be standing where they were supposed to be. The couple would practice repeating after me (and I would practice leading!) and then we’d recess, then process, then repeat one last time.

    Who said write it all down? WRITE IT DOWN.

  • Meg O’Donnell

    We had a dear friend officiate our wedding. She’d never officiated before. We’d been to one other ceremony officiated by a friend. Thank god for all the amazing examples on APW! We wanted Rachel to be our officiant because we love her and she us. We also wanted her to set the tone – exactly as Elisabeth said in the post. Rachel has an easy-going, loving, laid back personality which we knew would be a perfect fit for our laidback and heartfelt ceremony.

    We wrote the majority of the ceremony ourselves and did so on Google docs so we could share the process together and share it with Rachel. Once we were pretty sure of what we wanted, we had her over for dinner one night and read through things. There were some options we were still weighing and she gave us her amazing feedback and helped us make final decisions. We had the structure all worked out, as well as the blessings and readings, but we left her to add whatever her heart felt was right. We didn’t have her read it to us ahead of time, we just left it up to her. (Her part was amazing, she quoted Bob Dylan and brought us both to laughter and tears!)

    She spent a lot of time with the script ahead of time and did a lot of practicing on her own. Our rehearsal was very minimal – pretty much a review of who walks where, who is going to say what when and ok, is it time to go to the restaurant and drink now? Great, thanks. Had Rachel not practiced on her own so thoroughly, we would have done more of a traditional rehearsal.

    On our wedding day Rachel was a beam of love and light. Her dress was accidently the same color as the groomsmen’s bow ties and coordinated gorgeously with the bridesmaid’s dresses. I can’t count the number of guests who asked us and her if she is a professional wedding officiant. Upon hearing it was her first, many people suggested she go pro!

    • Hannah

      Yes to the use of Google docs and dinners as means of hashing out the ceremony. My friends and I (and my partner) grilled many veggies and drank many glasses of wine in the service of their ceremony. The writing process turned into a huge bonding exercise for all of us, and by the time of their wedding, I could not wait to get up there and share my excitement about their relationship with 100 people!

  • Ali

    We asked a coworker/friend of mine to officiate which he’d never done before (though he’s an actor on the side so he was cool with public speaking, being in the spotlight, reading lines, etc). And then because I wanted to control everything I wrote the whole ceremony because, you know, too many variables! He did an great job and handled some unexpected issues with grace. In retrospect it was those unexpected, off-the-cuff remarks where he really shined because, they were his own words. And those are the moments I remember most. If I could do it over (no thank you, though) I would give him certain things to say that were really important and then let him incorporate that into his own thing. PS- he’s done a few more weddings now, including a mutual friend’s wedding (she “booked” him right after our wedding)!

  • Meg O’Donnell

    Also, a few tips for friend officiants:

    -Put the script in page protectors in a small binder. This makes turning pages much easier than paper alone.
    -OR read from an Ipad! Scrolling for the win.

    -The officiant might need to tell people to take their seats after the bride’s entrance and before the ceremony starts – include this, as well as cell phone/photography requests/etc – in the script! (I was in a wedding where the first time officiant stuck so closely to the script that the crowd spent half the ceremony standing. I was a bridesmaid and a reader, so before my reading I said, “why doesn’t everybody take a seat?”)

    -Get a microphone and a microphone stand. The crowd wants to hear the ceremony.

    -Have the officiant introduce themselves. It’s nice to know who’s leading the ceremony and how they are connected to the bride(s) and/or groom(s).

    -For the officiant: Be yourself! The engaged couple picked you for a reason!

    • ART

      Great list. I’m putting on my Captain Obvious hat to add: make sure someone coordinates hooking that microphone up to the sound system with whoever is running the sound system. As the fiancee of a sound guy, I have heard enough stories (and seen some examples myself) of folks not thinking about this, and you will want whoever is supplying the cable between the mic and the speaker (and any components in between) to know what you need! Or perhaps like us, you will be using wireless mics – in that case, think of my fiance’s question to me the other week: is there room under your dress for a battery pack? :)

    • KW

      My officiant was a friend/former boss. He is a former minister so had experience anyway but he long ago left the church and while he truly is very spiritual, he is not doctrinal in his approach to faith. He only does weddings for close friends now. We picked the readings (we had a totally secular wedding) but he had his own say on things for us that were a surprise. He put it all in a binder with page protectors, and then gave it to us at the end as a keepsake. Since we didn’t have video, it is a nice reminder (when I can bring myself to read it, it is very emotional to me. :))

  • Erin

    One important detail that you don’t want to forget: when are you going to ask the guests to sit down? (Assuming that they will be sitting for the ceremony). My husband officiated my sister’s wedding, and she wrote the ceremony herself but didn’t include a “you may be seated” line. My husband and I both proof-read the ceremony, and he read it aloud to me several times in advance, and neither of us noticed the missing line. It wasn’t until partway through the (fortunately short) ceremony that I realized that everyone was still standing. There was nothing to be done about it at that point. Fortunately no one really noticed, or at least no one complained, but had it been a longer ceremony or a hotter day, it could have been a problem!

    • Meg Keene

      And, just a note, the “you may be seated” line usually comes once both members of the couple are safely at the (non) altar.

      Can I just take a minute to say that the part where people stand for the bride (or stand for both brides) is my FAVORITE PART OF THE WEDDING? I literally teared up writing that. The first shabbat service we went to after our wedding, when everyone stood for the “bride of shabbat” to enter the room (which you do every friday night), I started crying, because *I’d been a bride.* When I stand at your wedding, I start crying. MAKE NOTE.

      • Kelsey

        So agreed.

      • http://colormegreenanew.blogspot.com/ Julia (Color Me Green)

        that’s interesting, since i don’t really get the point of standing for the bride’s entrance. it reminds of me of having to stand and sit for no reason in church.

        • Meg Keene

          Oh, you don’t stand and sit for no reason in church. It all has lots of liturgical meaning, not to mention stage-craft. You want to get people’s energy up to participate in singing a Hymn? Stand. Some prayers in Judaism (many prayers) can only be said while standing. In fact, the Amidah is one of the central prayers in Judaism, and it’s translation is, “The Standing Prayer.”

          Why do you stand for a bride? I’d love to research that, since I suspect there is a wealth of both historical and liturgical significance across various faiths and cultures, but on a basic level, it’s supposed to be a sign of deep respect.

          • ediblesprysky

            I had just assumed that it had to do with the old chivalric custom of standing when a lady enters the room! I would love to know if it goes deeper than that.

      • Kara Davies

        Pretty much every wedding I’ve been to in the States, you *do not stand* until the *mother of the bride* stands! (That’s if the bride’s mother has been escorted in and is already seated.) At pretty much every wedding I’ve been to here in Oz, the minister says “will you please be upstanding?” when it’s time for the bride to enter. It’s pretty obvious you’re supposed to stand. If you’ve been to a couple weddings, you kinda know the deal. Grandparents/special people/parents/groom & men (if not at front already), then flower girl/ring bearer, bridesmaids, bride. Once bride is at front, you sit.

        How else do you do it?

    • StevenPortland

      This same thing happened to us! My husband was officiating for a good friend’s wedding and forgot those magic words of “please be seated” and so everyone kept standing.

  • Victwa

    To be honest, I don’t remember much about our ceremony, except that my normally somewhat-taciturn husband (at least when it comes to expressing all his love verbally) made me CRY AND CRY at the altar. It was short and lovely and I couldn’t have been happier that we had our good friend officiate, because she knew us both. However, having said that, I would say there are a couple of reasons she was great: 1) She’s used to “holding space” (we can say that in Northern California) and was comfortable setting a relaxed yet serious (because, you know, this is kind of an important moment) and loving moment. 2) She really knew us both and used some of what she knew of us as people already in the ceremony. 3) She talked to us about what we wanted ahead of time and even though I had no idea what she was going to say, she was concerned enough about it that I knew it would fit us.

    The one thing she did that I would not have known to ask for but which I am SO GLAD SHE DID was to request that she spend some time with the two of us that morning– it was about 20-30 minutes, not more. It was SO IMPORTANT. I was in the middle of being annoyed at my teenaged stepdaughter and feeling stressed about EVERYTHING and kind of freaking out about everything being ready at 5:00. She sat us both down in my parents’ garden (fortunate that there was this really lovely outside space, although we could have gone for a walk) and asked us to really think about how we wanted to be together that day, and to remember what was most important to us that day. Annoyances about tasks and various attitudes really went almost completely away the minute she said that, and of course, I started crying. (Not completely, because we were doing so much ourselves, I was definitely worried everything would be done in time, but almost completely.) It really helped me stop and focus on what was important and what I wanted to remember about the day, which was not the tasks that needed to be completed. So if you are officiating, I would really suggest that. It was such an unexpected moment of grace.

  • alexandra

    Both weddings I’ve been to with friend officiants were pretty dreadful. No gravitas. Lots of giggling. Stumbling over words, nobody knowing what they were supposed to do next…two messy, awkward ceremonies. Personally, I like a wedding ceremony that respects the dignity of the occasion. My brother is an atheist and had no interest in having a pastor officiate his wedding. He and his wife hired an officiant for quite a bit of money. She never mentioned God, but the ceremony at least had some heft, structure, and…well..a “ceremonial” feel to it.

    If the ceremony is at all important to you, I wouldn’t have a friend or relative officiate unless public speaking is something they do professionally. Teachers can be good for this. Honestly, I don’t see why a stranger officiate is that bad of an idea. You’re not marrying the officiant. You just need someone who knows what they’re doing.

    I suppose it can get expensive for folks who don’t want a religious officiant (if you belong to a church your pastor will usually do it for free or a small honorarium)–my brother’s private officiant was pretty pricey. If you can’t afford somebody professional…just make sure you get someone who has a sense of occasion, and that you practice the ceremony a couple of times.

    Oof, those two friend officiant weddings…really terrible ceremonies.

    • Maryanne

      Officiants are actually one of the more affordable wedding vendors. An honorarium for a non-member is around $400-500 for a wedding, or about $25 – $50/hour for their work. Also, there are faiths that include a wide range of beliefs, including atheists and mixed religious heritages. It’s worth checking up on.

    • scw

      this can go both ways! the most touching ceremony I’ve attended as a guest had a friend officiant. it was so personal and perfect for the couple that my fiancé and I are asking that same friend! it is just a matter of picking the right person, like you said (you suggest teacher, and this officiant was once a high school teacher). there are a lot of wedding roles that can be about honoring someone despite their faults (bridesmaids you know will be flaky but you love too much to care), but I think for officiant it’s important to pick someone who is a good fit.

  • Hannah

    I’ve had the pleasure of officiating for three couples (two pairs of very close friends; plus friends-of-a-friend whom I met when I showed up at their apartment for a living-room elopement). Seeing two people you love go from not-married to married, and knowing you had a part in that transformation, is just about the best feeling in the world. I cannot recommend the experience enough to anyone who feels up to it!

    If you are writing a ceremony from scratch, start as early as possible. Get an idea of what the couple is looking for, then do your research. I sent my friends a few sample ceremonies that were similar in length and tone to what they’d described. They marked the samples up with comments, then sent them back to me. (For example, they might like the wording of the vows in one ceremony, but feel the overall structure was too formal.) This helped me triangulate toward the right ceremony for this specific wedding.

    It helps to remind yourself now and then that you have the advantage of actually knowing the couple in question. So, though you may find some really lovely phrasing in other people’s ceremonies, take some time to reflect on what you admire about your friends’ relationship. How do they inspire you? What about their dynamic convinces you that they are going to be great life partners to each other? Unless the couple is very shy, I recommend including their love story in the ceremony. It’s likely that some guests at the wedding will know one member of the couple, but not yet have met their partner. And even local friends might not know the couple’s history. Ideally, everyone will come away from the wedding feeling informed about and invested in this new marriage.

    Also, know that (aside from religious and legal requirements, if applicable) there are no actual rules for wedding ceremonies. Websites like APW offer plenty of healthy reminders of this! You can put things in any order, drop anything, include anything – as long as you and the couple are in agreement. In the most recent wedding I officiated, my friends didn’t like the idea of selecting one or two poems/readings out of the many that they enjoy; so instead, they surveyed older couples whom they consider role models for advice. They picked their two funniest friends to compile this wisdom and read it to the crowd. It was a great moment, and totally specific to this unique gathering of people.

    And speaking of legal requirements, make sure to call your county clerk (or whichever office handles marriage records) and get familiar with the letter of the law. (This assumes your couple is looking to make the marriage legal.) In particular, check that your credentials (e.g. online ordination) are sufficient, and ask if there is any specific wording that the state requires. Ask your couple to bring their blank certificate to the rehearsal, then take it home and fill out whatever you can ahead of time. After the ceremony, everyone will be in a hurry to start eating and drinking; better to do most of paperwork when you’re not in a rush. Oh, and if possible, bring a decent pen with you to the wedding – doesn’t need to be a fountain pen, necessarily, but ideally something better than Biro for the fancy, to-be-framed ceremonial certificate. Send the forms in promptly, and call the county clerk after a week to make sure everything’s been filed. (In my state, clerks only confirm marriages have been recorded if you call to inquire.)

    Ask the couple ahead of time who will be the “decider” at the rehearsal. The first rehearsal I led involved a large number of well-meaning but opinionated relatives who couldn’t agree on a rain plan, processional order, etc. Finally, the couple called a time-out, left the room to calm down, then came back to say that from then on, the three people in charge were them and me. They were not mean about it, but they made their point, and the rest of the rehearsal went smoothly. That said, it’s possible your couple will want the rehearsal to be a democratic, collaborative process, with room to discuss fresh ideas (in which case I recommend blocking out a few hours for the rehearsal).

    Finally (and this may seem like overkill, but trust me on this), bring a portable printer or know where the nearest one is. Call the venue manager to ask for access to one, if need be. Changes to the ceremony may happen the morning-of, and readers may forget to bring a copy of their reading. At one wedding I did, the photographer was feeling ill beforehand and needed to print out a prescription from his out-of-state doctor so he could have it filled and get in shape for the wedding. Luckily, I had my printer set up in my room upstairs! Keep all your materials on a thumb drive, or bring your laptop along.

    Most important, have fun! You may not be *getting* married, but you *are* marrying two pretty great people. Breathe, smile, give hugs, and laugh. Enjoy the experience, and soak up the happiness that comes with being a pseudo-godparent to your friends’ kickass marriage!

  • G

    We’ve been on both sides of the friend-o-fficiant. Here are our two sides:

    Our dear friend from college married us, which was a no brainer- she is a professional actress and writer who happens to know us both better than anyone. This was probably the least stressful part of our wedding. We did a lot of the ceremony writing, chose readings and our vows, but left everything else in her hands.

    The most important advice I can give when choosing a friend-o-fficiant…It is important to keep in mind while choosing someone that it is basically a public speaking role.

    My husband officiated the wedding of our friends. They basically gave him free reign- by this I mean they were uncommunicative until 4 days before the wedding- so he wrote their entire ceremony with no input from them. This was not great for any parties involved, but it worked out in the end.

    The most important advice I can give if you are officiating a wedding…Make it entirely transparent who is in charge of the legal aspect of the wedding. At our wedding, we took care of everything (researching the legal requirements, applying for a marriage license, filling it out, mailing it in). At the wedding my husband officiated, he assumed the couple would take care of this as well (because you need the two people marrying at the county clerk’s office to get a license), so he never even brought it up. Long story short, the couple is not legally married and were unaware of this until we delicately brought it up the next time we saw them months later.

  • Annie

    I officiated for two of my friends. It was an incredibly powerful experience to help them write their marriage ceremony. My friends’ willingness to invite me into their process was one of the most unexpectedly formative periods of my life and deeply shaped my belief in marriage as an institution.

    One of the couple’s family members became ordained online to make it official. We were co-leaders of the ceremony, with the family member doing the legal bits and paperwork and me doing the more “tone-setting” bits. (I’m from a religious tradition that takes ordination very seriously, so I was clear with them before I agreed to do it that I wouldn’t become ordained outside of my tradition’s process. They were okay with this, so that’s how we ended up with two ceremony leaders.)

    We wrote the ceremony together over a period of about 15 months. I started with a shell of a ceremony, and we edited back and forth through google docs and skype dates until they felt good about it.

    The couple doesn’t practice a religion, but religious traditions were important to both of their families. We worked hard to create a ceremony that would be recognizable as “holy” to both evangelical Christians (one family), secular Jews (another family), and grounded-in-the-sense-of-awe-in-the-universe (the couple).

    Some lessons learned: +1 on the printer suggestion! I didn’t have one and needed to print my reflection before the ceremony started. A series of delays that morning meant my trip to Kinko’s didn’t happen. I ended up resting my cell phone inside my binder and reading off my phone. Not my best moment, but people apparently thought I was pausing due to emotion and not due to iphone scrolling, so I guess it turned out fine.

    Know your audience/be upfront about expectations (general life suggestion, yes?). I wouldn’t have been comfortable if they had written the whole thing and I just showed up and read the script. I think that’s a large part of why they asked me. We both knew going into the process that it would be a collaborative effort.

    Also, I was deliriously happy and emotionally exhausted after the ceremony. I was, as someone said above, “holding space” for the couple and I take that very seriously. I’m glad I didn’t have any other significant duties that evening, because I needed to slip away from the party for a bit. That’s not a bad thing, but something to keep in mind as you budget your energy expenditure for the weekend.

  • Sarah

    I was the officiant for my friends’ wedding. They actually didn’t really have any idea what they wanted, they just picked two readings and asked me to take care of the rest. They also wanted a relatively informal, not-too-serious and completely atheist ceremony – there are actually relatively few samples of those online. I was overwhelmed! I did find help – both here on APW and in a book (“Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day” by Judith Johnson). The couple also happily edited my first draft and took out anything I wrote that they didn’t like.

    I’d absolutely recommend you practice reading the whole ceremony at least a few times. If you don’t do much public speaking, maybe practice it in front of an audience too so you can get comfortable with any reactions they might have (you know, surprise laugh lines). I was in charge of the rehearsal as well and picked up a lot from sitting in on a rehearsal for a different wedding a few weeks before, so if that’s possible, you should try and do that!

    The only thing that I haven’t seen mentioned here is attire – it’s worth checking with your friends to see if they have an idea of what they’d like you to wear. I was going to go with understated black, but it turned out the wedding was full of bright colors and the bride requested I avoid black/grey/brown.

  • Jen

    we went the friend officiant route and were really happy we did. Some things we found helpful: 1- we made it easy for our friend to get ordained online and paid for everything up front for him. 2- we wanted to write our ceremony so went back and forth on drafts with our words and his edits to help put things in his own voice and clarify “stage directions” (inclu. order of entry and exit, cues for music, taking the bride’s bouquet and handing the rings). 3- we wrote a super detailed script of who would be where, when and what props (rings, glass to smash, mics) needed to be where so there was no question on that. 4- we went back and forth on the ceremony text and outline 3-4 times before finalizing and then after that, rehearsed it aloud together so we knew it sounded natural and had the tone we wanted. 5-we asked our friend to run our wedding rehearsal the day before- given his own recent wedding experience and to help take some stress off of us. we discussed with him in advance how that would work. 6- on the day of, we asked him to arrive pretty early to make sure he could meet with our DJ and do a sound check for our outdoor ceremony and so he could get comfortable in the space he’d be speaking. he printed out the ceremony double spaced, large font and used a binder for easy reading. he had a lavalier mic on and my husband and i weren’t mic-ed. I was worried about our guests being able to hear us say our vows but we were close enough to our friend and spoke up enough that it picked up our voices, but it’s worth considering how that portion may work for your ceremony.

    Overall, it was a great experience to feel like my husband and I prepared the ceremony ourselves and it reflected exactly what we wanted, but it was also incredibly helpful to work with our friend on this process so he could chime in about traditions he’d seen at other weddings we may like to consider or the “traditional” order of entry of family or wedding party we may like to consider, etc.