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Selecting the Right Officiant

By Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway

To create the right kind of wedding you have also to select the right officiant--or officiants.

You want the person who facilitates and guides this important milestone in your life to be someone you both feel comfortable with and confident about, someone who makes no judgments about your union and whose only concern is providing you a ceremonial experience that is all you want it to be.

It would be wonderful to work with a wedding officiant who is caring and who knows you, or, is willing to get to know you.

Perhaps you have in mind a family minister, rabbi or clergy member from your own faith. There are many kinds of clergy and officiants available to serve modern couples, including Unitarian and Humanist ministers, open-minded rabbis and former Catholic priests. Or perhaps you were hoping to have your best friend ordained, like Joey, who presided over Monica and Chandler’s weddings, on Friends? (Just make sure that kind of ordination is legal in your state.) For a civil ceremony, you might prefer a retired judge.

There is also a new genre of officiants and interfaith ministers who are trained by interfaith seminaries to create personalized ceremony for couples of all backgrounds. Many are hip, open minded, and willing to create the ceremony you truly want. They are often willing to co-officiate with other clergy, and even friends or relatives.

The right officiant is a must. This is the person who will help you create the foundation for your married life with a ceremony that celebrates your hopes and dreams and blesses your union in a personal way. Sometimes this means asking your childhood clergy to fly in for your wedding, or it could mean seeking a less traditional officiant.

Seek someone who makes you feel so at ease on so many levels that you can relax on your wedding day, knowing you will be taken care of—and that there will be no surprises or unwanted preaching. One bride had a clergyperson who unexpectedly launched into a tirade of religious political commentary about Palestinians and Israelis in between her vows. “I found him offensive,” she says, “and could barely focus on the ceremony. It was so distracting.”

You do not have to settle for a ceremony that is completely controlled by someone else. Even if you two decide to go the traditional route, ask to make adjustments to any language you cannot live with. (One bride couldn’t bear the idea of being pronounced “man and wife” and asked her clergyperson to make sure he said “husband and wife”; another asked her minister to replace the phrase “till death do you part” because “it was too negative sounding.”) Even in traditional settings, look for the most open-minded clergypeople and, at the very least, insist on knowing exactly what will be said in the ceremony and what you will be asked to do. Also make sure you see the ceremony before the big day.

Thoughts to Ponder: Considering Who Will Officiate

Give some thought to who should have the honor of presiding over your wedding. Ask yourselves these questions:

Do you want one officiant or would you rather have two, with one from each faith or representing each family?

Do either of you have family clergypeople you’d like to include? Will that person co-officiate an interfaith union?

Do you prefer a male or a female officiant?

Do you want someone who has a prepared script, or are you interested in co-creating or at least having input into your ceremony?

Although you can do much of the work for preparing for a wedding by phone, skype and e-mail, try to set up a meeting with potential officiants and ask some key questions. The initial consultation should be free. Find out what this person is truly able to offer you—a canned ceremony or a personalized approach.