By Bethel Nathan, Ceremonies By Bethel

As periodically I hear from planners that their couples are debating between asking a friend or family member to officiate their weddings vs. hiring a professional Officiant to do so, I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain the four different aspects to officiating a wedding.  Whether this makes them realize they are better off hiring a professional, or deciding they still want their friend or uncle to officiate, these are all important things for them to know.

Legal:  Honestly, this is the easiest aspect to officiating a wedding.  Some states make it tougher, but California makes it quite easy – you can either register as Deputy County Clerk for the Day, to officiate that day only, or you can get ordained online through one of about three organizations currently.  This is often the first thing I’ll hear from a couple thinking about having their friend do it – “they can get ordained online.”  Yep, they can, but there is much more to officiating your wedding, and making it a great and memorable experience for everyone, than just having the legal ability to sign your license.

Content aka Writing and Creating a Meaningful Ceremony:  Please remember that this is actually one of the key reasons many of your family members (and even some of your friends) are there – they want to see you celebrate your relationship.  Knowing how to put together a ceremony that is meaningful to you, respects your traditions and your relationship, and isn’t too short (or too long), is very important.  It is not a stand-up routine (I will hear from couples, “oh, my friend is so funny” – awesome, have them do a speech or toast at the reception, and not the ceremony, as this isn’t the place for that).  Humor is great, and completely appropriate, if your relationship is one where you laugh together often (and I hope it is).  But it isn’t the only thing, or the primary thing.  Celebrating your relationship is the key.  It also isn’t about the Officiant, but is about you – I saw an uncle once who included multiple paragraphs in the ceremony about himself and his relationship with the couple and stories he knew about them, and it was really not the place for that (again, that is perfect for a toast at the reception).  It’s also terrific when you can have lots of ideas and suggestions about content to include, in order to find what fits you and your relationship best – an experienced professional Officiant will have that all for you, so you don’t have to do the research on this yourself.

Presentation aka Delivering the Ceremony Professionally and Well:  Realize that public speaking is actually the thing most people fear the most, and is something that not everyone is great at doing.  I have actually been hired a few times by couples whose friend got cold feet at the last minute – realizing they couldn’t get up in front of 100 people and speak well.  And, yes, the friend felt badly and paid my fee!  Presenting a wedding is different than a typical public speech in that you have a mixture of audiences, each of whom needs a different focus.  The first audience is the couple.  The two of you are right there, and this is about you.  There are times during the ceremony that feel like it is just the three of us there, and that’s how it should feel.  Then there is the family (and the bridal party).  These are the folks closest to you, and you want them to feel involved or acknowledged or respected during the ceremony (all depending on your relationships with them, of course).  They are naturally going to be more “into it” than the general guest, and you want them to feel like they matter.  Lastly there are the rest of the guests, some of whom might be your boss or co-workers, some longer-term friends, some more recent friends, and some more distant family who don’t know you as well.  All of them should feel like they know you and your relationship after the ceremony, in my opinion, and should feel like they are now your cheerleaders and supporters in your relationship.  There’s a reason you chose to invite those people, so they should feel that their presence matters.  Making everyone feel included is partially through the content of the ceremony itself, and part of it is from the presentation, including eye contact and gestures and voice usage.

Wedding Details aka Being the Ceremony Director:  What about all of the logistics within that 20 minute ceremony, like what to do with the flowers, how to handle the rings, how to handle their vows (if they want to read them), how can they be heard, involving the readers or others being included, and how do they get the flowers back before the walk back down that aisle?  All of those things matter too, and often aren’t thought about ahead of time – and someone who doesn’t do weddings regularly might not think about them at all.  A great planner will be able to get the procession to function properly, the bridal party standing in the right place, and for everyone to know how to walk out afterward.  But, once they are all there, it is the Officiant’s job to direct it all.  How about will the Officiant do the considerate thing and get out of the way of the first kiss?  To be honest, I’m very aware that I am going to be so many of the ceremony pictures already – the couple really doesn’t need me in the middle of the kiss shot too!  In my mind, that should be an awesome picture of the two of them enjoying that first kiss as husband and wife, and they really don’t need my smiling face in the middle of it.  And, how about the biggest rookie mistake I heard about regularly – forgetting to tell the guests to be seated after the procession is done and you are starting the ceremony itself?

All of these four aspects come together to make the ceremony successful, meaningful, and remembered in a positive way.  Every wedding professional can tell a story of a ceremony that wasn’t done well, and, unfortunately, we know that it often becomes one of the big topics of conversation by the families and guests at the reception to follow.  Instead, I’d rather send everyone into the party with such a great sense of who the couple really is together, where they are going in their life together, and for everyone to feel the love and affection – this will permeate the rest of the event!

I hope this gives you some good ideas of how Wedding Planners can talk about it with their couples when they are debating which way to go with their weddings…