Your ceremony is the spiritual heart and soul of your wedding day. Yet, many people are uncertain about how to choose an officiate. 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 fiancé 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 officiate who can serve you well on your special day. Here are some tips on where to look and what to ask.
1.) Who is recommending this officiate? 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 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 officiate’s voice? A person’s voice is not the only consideration in choosing an officiate, 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 officiate 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 officiate? If your Uncle Bill wants to sing a song during the lighting of the unity candle, will the officiate 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 officiate will allow for changes as the wedding day approaches? Can your officiate 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 minister’s background? The government doesn’t issue licenses to ministers, so a minister’s experience with weddings is important. How many has he or she performed? What other pastoral work is being done? We know of a local association of ministers that finds their officiators by advertising on Craigs List and ordaining them on the spot. Also, while a bit of humor can add a nice touch to a ceremony, be sure your minister is not too irreverent. Some officiants act more like comedians than ministers!
5.) What is the spiritual or religious “slant” of your officiate? 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. Can the minister work with you to create a ceremony that is true to your beliefs, or do you feel that the officiate 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 officiate 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 officiate your situation during your first phone conversation. Some officiates 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 officiate 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 officiates 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 $150 and ask if that will be acceptable. Remember, the officiate 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 ministers say no meeting is necessary, or they charge extra for a meeting. Some are even unwilling to meet with you in person if you are just “shopping around.” That is not the kind of one-on-one attention you deserve! Others want you to go through extensive premarital counseling. Some will offer one or two preparatory meetings and a rehearsal. Will the officiate be available to talk by phone and email as questions arise? Can you trust this person with family secrets if you just need someone to talk to about personal matters?
11.) Will the officiate run the rehearsal? An experienced officiate 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 officiate 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 officiate to my rehearsal dinner or reception? If the officiate 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 officiates politely decline the invitation, so if you want them to attend, it may be best to ask casually first.
13.) How will the officiate be dressed? This may seem like a petty question, so don’t ask it right up front! But some officiates 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 officiate 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 officiates 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 officiate is offering, or more flexible: whatever you want, let the officiate 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 officiate’s favor? Find a minister who is eager to serve you, and your wedding day will be a beautiful one for everyone.
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By Rev Chris Mohr, Foothills Chapel
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