Fifteen Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Officiant
Your ceremony is the spiritual heart and soul of your wedding day. Yet, many people are uncertain about how to choose an officiant. You may even be a little intimidated when talking with the person who may be saying some of the most important words you will ever hear in your life. If you and your fiance are already members of an established church, synagogue or mosque, then the choice is easy. But if you are entering into an interfaith union, or neither of you has an affiliation with a local religious group, you’ll want to be looking for an officiant who can make your wedding ceremony everything you want it to be. Here are some tips on where to look and what to ask.
1.) Who is recommending this officiant? If you receive a referral from a close family member, there may be a strong expectation that you simply accept this person as the one who will tie your knot. Referrals from friends or people you find on your own usually have fewer “strings attached.” In any event, remember that this is your wedding day, and while your families are welcome to share their ideas and opinions, the final decision must rest with the two of you. Thank your family member for the recommendation, tell them your fiancé may also be getting ideas from his or her side of the family, and assure them that the two of you will choose a minister who is best for everyone concerned.
2.) Do you like the officiant’s voice? A person’s voice is not the only consideration in choosing an officiant, but it is important. Is the voice soothing or shrill? Does he or she speak slowly and clearly? Can you understand what is being said? Remember, the officiant is communicating the special words of your wedding ceremony to every single guest. If the voice is too soft, be sure that amplification is provided. The voice must be able to carry to the last row of guests, and hold their interest.
3.) How flexible is your officiant? If your Uncle Bill wants to sing a song during the lighting of the unity candle, will the officiant forbid it? Are you free to add your own vows or other special, romantic touches? Do you want a little humor in the ceremony? Even if you don’t know up front what kind of wedding ceremony you want, are you confident that your officiant will allow for changes as the wedding day approaches? Can your officiant work with you to develop a ceremony which honors the religious traditions and beliefs of both families while still speaking meaningfully to the two of you? For example, if you were raised Christian and your fiancé is Jewish, is the minister willing to read a passage from the Old Testament instead of a New Testament scripture? Will the minister allow flash photography during the wedding (usually this will help make the pictures look better)? How about a video camera on the altar (cameras on the altar area can be a distraction, and will also wreck the appearance of the wedding pictures for everyone else)?
4.) What is your officiant’s background? The government doesn’t issue licenses to ministers, so an officiant’s experience with weddings is important. How many has he or she performed? What other pastoral work is being done?
5.) What is the spiritual or religious “slant” of your officiant? Most ministers work with and subscribe to the doctrines of a particular faith. If you are not of the same faith, do not be shy about letting them know what your religious values are in the first meeting. Whether you’re a born-again Christian or haven’t thought much about religion, even if the two of you are in very different places in the spiritual journey, let the minister know. It’s helpful if the officiant has a broader “view” of religion; a minister who simply says “God is Love” will likely be much more flexible than one who says “I am a Baptist and I do only Baptist ceremonies.” Can the minister work with you to create a ceremony that is true to your beliefs, or do you feel that the officiant has an agenda to fit you into his or her particular denominational preferences? Does the minister work well with your agenda?
6.) Are you also looking for a church to attend? Some people are looking for a lifelong relationship with a minister and a church. Others just want a minister to officiate their wedding. Be clear about your preference. If you are looking for a church group and a pastor, ask if you can attend an upcoming service. If not, say so, and see if that works for the minister you are considering.
7.) What moral criteria does the officiant expect you to meet? If you and your fiancé are living together, already have children, are expecting a child, or if either of you have been through a divorce, it is important to tell the prospective officiant your situation during your first phone conversation. Some officiants will reject you immediately, and it is better to find this out soon. Others will demand that you move into separate apartments, or express other expectations. Consider these factors when deciding if this is the officiant you want. For some people, this is an opportunity to “clean house” and bring religion back into their lives–but this is for the two of you to decide.
8.) What about premarital counseling? Some couples want counseling, and others do not feel it is necessary. Some ministers offer excellent counseling programs, but others may pressure you into “counseling” programs that ask you to sign a tithing agreement or a commitment to join a particular church and attend faithfully every week. Some couples use their upcoming wedding as an opportunity to deepen their spiritual commitments, but do not feel that you are obligated to do so if this is not the true calling of your own hearts. In addition, counseling programs are only as good as your willingness to deeply participate. Some people definitely benefit from them, but many do not, especially if you are simply fulfilling an obligation by attending the sessions.
9.) What donation is appropriate? Some officiants are afraid to bring this up, so you can help them by asking directly. If they’re too shy to give you a clear answer, offer $275 and ask if that will be acceptable. Remember, the officiant will be spending several hours helping you prepare for your big day, so don’t just slip $20 into a thank you card.
10.) How many meetings will you have? Some officiants say no meeting is necessary, that he or she will just show up for the wedding and you can run your own rehearsal. Others want you to go through extensive premarital counseling. Some will offer one or two preparatory meetings and a rehearsal. Some are even unwilling to meet with you in person if you are just “shopping around.” What do you want? Can the officiant meet your wishes? Will the officiant be available to talk by phone as questions arise? Can you trust this person with family secrets if you just need someone to talk to about personal matters? If possible, find an officiant who is as helpful as you want him or her to be but not overbearing.
11.) Will the officiant run the rehearsal? An experienced officiant at your wedding rehearsal can be very helpful, but he or she may not be available at the scheduled time. If the minister is unable or unwilling to attend the rehearsal, will other arrangements be made for someone to put your wedding party through its paces? Don’t believe a minister who says you can easily run a rehearsal yourself without some advance practical help! If the minister is running the rehearsal, will the facility also have an assistant there to help? If so, the best way to run a rehearsal is to have the wedding coordinator help walk you all up to the front, then have the officiant rehearse the ceremony itself, and finally have the coordinator direct the recessional march at the end. Ask the minister if it is all right for the two of you to face one another during the ceremony; the pictures will look much better!
12.) Should I invite the officiant to my rehearsal dinner or reception? If the officiant has a long-term pastoral relationship with you or the family, be all means issue an invitation. Otherwise, the decision is entirely yours to make. Many officiants politely decline the invitation, so if you want them to attend, it may be best to ask casually first.
13.) How will the officiant be dressed? This may seem like a petty question, so don’t ask it right up front! But some officiants will wear a suit and tie (gray or black suits are best, because they blend in with any color scheme). Others wear robes. Ask to see the robe, or at least a picture, to see if it looks good for your wedding day. If it is the wrong color for your wedding, or if it has prominent religious symbols which might offend some family members, ask the officiant if he or she would consider wearing a plain suit instead. Some ministers are also willing to wear special items for weddings, such as cowboy boots and bolo ties.
14.) How elaborate will the ceremony preparations be? Many officiants have only one ceremony they offer. Be sure you get to read their ceremony and make sure it harmonizes with what you want said at your wedding. Ask if they also have an extemporaneous sermon they will add, or if what you see is what you’ll get. Others have a few simple choices (with the option of you adding some of your own ideas) so you can create the ceremony that most speaks to you. Still others want to sit down and design an elaborate, customized wedding just for you. Always ask how long they think the ceremony itself will take; this is critically important information for your facility, photographer, caterer, etc. You may prefer something more simple than what the officiant is offering, or more flexible: whatever you want, let the officiant know up front.
15.) Do you feel taken care of? Many people feel that they have to meet a minister’s standards, and in some religious traditions this is entirely valid. But remember, the original meaning of the word “minister” is “servant.” Is this minister serving your needs on your big day? Are you comfortable in the minister’s presence, or do you always feel like you are hiding things so as not arouse his or her disapproval? Do you feel that you are jumping through hoops to win your prospective officiant’s favor? Find a minister who is eager to serve you, and your wedding day will be a beautiful one for everyone.
Please call Rev. Chris or Karen Mohr at 303-986-2022 to schedule a free wedding meeting!