Planning a non-traditional wedding? Here are five steps to decide on an officiant.
When you aren’t religious, deciding who is going to officiate your wedding is problematic. (Seriously, why the hell hasn’t someone written a good how-to guide on this yet?!)
My husband and I threw around a lot of ideas. The initial struggle was that the people who first came to mind were the same people we wanted to be part of our wedding party. And having them officiate instead seemed somehow unfair and didn’t fit with our vision. So we kept looking and thinking…
There is quite a bit of pressure that goes along with officiating, (duh) so there are certain people who are automatically excluded, i.e. anyone who doesn’t like speaking in front of people.
You also want it to be someone who you know, but typically not a family member because you want them to be able to experience the wedding as part of the audience and not be stressing about walking you through your vows.
That usually narrows it down to a friend (but not a best friend), who doesn’t mind speaking in public, and who shares a similar belief system/world-view as you. And that last part is important… we weren’t having a clergy member officiate for a reason; having a non-clergy whose idea of marriage didn’t line up with ours would have been kinda pointless.
So, we looked at friends who were an important part of our lives and “got” us on a personal level, AND had a similar view on what marriage was. For us, that winning person was our former Gender Studies Professor. We both had her for at least one gender studies class when we were undergraduates, and she had became a good friend of ours after we graduated. She understood our qualms with traditional marriage vows and expectations AND was comfortable and entertaining when speaking in front of large groups.
A Modern Marriage
So, after much deliberating, it was over. We picked our choice, made our ask, and she said YES!
Of course it wasn’t really over, because we still had a million things to plan. But having made this decision, we felt confident that this wedding was truly going to represent us as a couple. Not what was expected of us by society or what our family represented, but the unique partnership that was our relationship.
And although we were fearful of the reaction from more old-fashioned family members, we were overwhelmed with the love and support that we received. We heard over and over again how authentic the ceremony felt, how intimate, how us.
This is the struggle of the modern marriage. There are a wealth of people not getting married in churches or by religious officiants, either due to a not being affiliated with a religious institution or because of a difference in religious backgrounds between the partners getting married. But we are still so close to that traditional wedding that the thought of creating our own tradition, one that truly speaks to and represents us, can feel overwhelming and exhausting.
My husband and I have been asked by so many of our friends what our process was with our wedding (heck, maybe we will write our own how-to wedding guide), that we’ve talked a lot about what went well and what would have made the process easier.
Here are 5 tips we came up with for those struggling to find the right person to officiate their marriage.
- First thing is first. Check your state’s legal requirements for officiating a wedding. There is no point in finding the perfect person if that person can’t perform the marriage.
- If anyone who receives an online ordination is able to marry you, then start with each partner creating a list of people that have been influential in their life. This can include friends, family members, teachers, mentors, artists, colleagues, etc.
- Compare your lists and see if there is any overlap. If there is, those people should be the first ones you consider. If not, you will each need to make the case for why you feel the people listed would be a good fit.
- When you have it narrowed down to a handful of people you both feel comfortable with, ask yourself these questions:
- Are they comfortable speaking in front of crowds?
- Do they share and understand your belief system, especially your personal definition of marriage.
- Is this a person you will be happy remembering for years to come? (Remember, they will be in countless photos of your most intimate wedding moments. You don’t want to look at those photos in 10 years and have a bad taste in your mouth because of something they’ve done or said.) In other words, do they have good moral character?
- Are they someone you can rely on? Because being left at the alter without an officiant means no wedding!
- Don’t get your hopes up. You should have at least one or two backups in case your first pick says no. Because the reality is, standing in front of a crowd and leading two people in one of the most important moments of their life is an honor, but one that not everyone wants to be responsible for.
Notice that no where in my list did I mention asking other people their opinion on the matter. This is not because I’m heartless or don’t love my friends and family, but because this really should be about the two of you. If there are people who don’t like your style or are offended that you didn’t do your day their way, that’s OKAY!
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Photo: Getty Images