Saturday, June 29, 2019

Professional Officiant vs. Your Facebook Friend "Who Got Ordained"

There's a variety of opinions regarding having a friend officiate at your wedding. As a professional wedding officiant, of course I want to maximize my own business, so my opinion that it's generally not a good idea is a bit self-serving, but nonetheless, it's generally a bad idea!

Each state, and sometimes cities or counties within a state, has their own rules and requirements for who can solemnize a marriage, i.e. officiate at a wedding ceremony. Most jurisdictions, however, delegate only to judges and ordained clergy the privilege of being wedding officiants. Most of those make no determination regarding whether an ordination is valid. Any organization can declare itself a church within the meaning of the law and set its own guidelines for ordination. This has resulted in a proliferation of clergy who received their ordination online, and the subsequent belief that all of those so ordained would make good wedding officiants. (In the interest of full disclosure, my ordination was received online thirteen years ago).

Does having an online ordination, or for that matter a traditional ordination from an established church, qualify you to be a wedding officiant? Legally, yes, in the same way that the fact that I own a camera technically qualifies me to be a wedding photographer, or that the harmonica in my sock drawer qualifies me to be a musician. I know how to take pictures, and I'm not half bad at it, but photographing a wedding requires experience and skill that being in possession of a decent camera doesn't bestow. Officiating at a wedding also requires experience and skill that simply having been ordained doesn't bestow.

Most people start out with, at best, a vague idea of what they want their wedding ceremony to be like. A lot of thought, a lot of detail, a lot of planning has gone into the reception, the wedding dress and tuxes, the food, the music, the rings, the wedding party, the limo...but seldom the ceremony itself. If I had a nickel for every time a couple told me that they want a "short & simple" ceremony...well, I'd have a lot of nickels! But "short and; simple" covers a lot of ground. A professional officiant can translate your vague idea into specifics and craft a beautiful & meaningful ceremony. If cousin Frank, who has an online ordination but no experience, is going to be your officiant, what is your ceremony going to look like?

One benefit of having an experienced officiant is that in those years of experience, he or she has seen what works well and what doesn't. Look at the idea of "short"; what does that mean? Participate in over 600 weddings and you get a good feel for the right time frame. Go too long and the guests start losing interest and getting fidgety; on the other hand, too short of a ceremony can leave guests feeling "cheated", although they're probably too polite to say anything!

A recurring theme in 12 years of officiating weddings is the desperate phone call two weeks before the wedding day, frantic that the friend or relative who was going to officiate has bowed out. We get a few of those every year. Your college buddy, or your cousin may not have thought it through before agreeing to officiate. What seemed like a lark, a cool thing to do, has now become a stress-inducing commitment.

I've seen two Facebook posts in the past week looking for recommendations for an officiant. Although in both cases people for whom we have officiated their weddings recommended us, the comments were full of "I'm ordained" or "my brother can do it" by people with no experience. If the ceremony itself isn't important to you, or if your wedding will be a quick exchange of vows with just a handful of family & friends, then it probably doesn't matter. But if you've invited guests and booked a venue, you probably want to avoid three-minutes of quick "I-Do's".

A somewhat taboo topic is money. There are situations where the bride and groom really don't have any money to spend on a wedding, and a friend who will officiate, or simply make it legal, for free, is the only option. But the reality is that many people have spent thousands of dollars on the various aspects of the wedding day, yet balk at spending a couple of hundred dollars on a professional officiant. What? $200 for 15 minutes work? But is it just 15 minutes work? What work and preparation go into putting together a wedding ceremony and what value does having a professional officiant add?

The value of experience cannot be overstated. The more than 600 weddings that Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants has done, or even 25 weddings, give an officiant a perspective on what kinds of things work well and what detracts from the ceremony. An experienced officiant knows how to conduct a service that flows well and balances the possibly different religious perspectives that are present in some families. The professional officiant knows how to write a ceremony that fits in with your vision of your wedding day. The rehearsal is also an important part of the service that a professional officiant offers. Someone has to be ready to take charge, make sure everyone knows their places, and even offer instruction on seemingly simple things like how a groomsmen and bridesmaid should walk arm-in-arm. On the day of the ceremony a professional will touch base with your photographer, your deejay and the venue coordinator to make sure everyone is on the same page, including a sound check for the microphones. He'll get all the parents and wedding party together and lined up so that we can start on time.  Your professional officiant will verify that the best man has the rings and that the sand for the Unity Sand is where it needs to be. And then once the ceremony starts, present a ceremony that balances dignity and good humor, keeping the bride and groom central while acknowledging the family and friends in attendance.

The bottom line in all of this is that your wedding ceremony should be what you want it to be. If what's important to you is to have a friend or family member officiate, then that's what you should do. If you just need to make it legal and don't really want a ceremony other than an exchange of vows, then you don't really need a professional. But if you want a meaningful ceremony, even if it is short, take the time to at least interview a professional officiant, it will be worth the time.

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