Steps for Finding the Perfect Officiant for Your Wedding

Photo courtesy of Sarah Mann

An officiant is one of the many vendors that you’re going to need on your wedding day. While you do need someone there to legally bring you together, an officiant can also fill a more religious or spiritual role too.

There are several different types of officiants for you to choose from. In Ontario you can be married by a judge, justice of the peace, municipal clerk, or a registered religious official – like me. All provide the basic legal service of getting married, but there are some very important differences you might want to consider like how personal you want your ceremony to be, and where you money will go.

An officiant like me will have a bit more of a relationship with you to get to know you a bit, and create a customized ceremony that reflects, and feels authentic to who you both are. I ask questions about who you are as a couple and individuals and use that information to choose readings and add different elements to your ceremony. A city hall wedding won’t be personalized and might not even have any words on love or marriage and what they mean.

As officiants are running their own small businesses, the money they get paid goes into the local community as we pay our bills like groceries, lessons for our children, dinners out, and all the day to day things we all have to pay for. Going to city hall means your money goes into the town’s coffers and might some day be used to buy 1 square inch of pavement. If spending your money consciously is important to you, this is something you might want to consider before deciding where and how and by whom you want to get married.

Start your search

After you’ve agreed on the type of officiant (spiritual, religious, or secular) you want to marry you, it’s time to begin the search for the right person. A good place to start is to ask family and friends for referrals or recommendations. Ask your married friends who they hired and what their experience was. If everyone in a family has hired the same officiant over and over…you know they are really good!

Ask your venue who they recommend. Event managers work with hundreds of officiants every year, and they will know who plays well with others, who is professional, who runs their business like a business and will take your ceremony seriously, and they also know first hand who looks and smells good.

Facebook wedding groups are also a great resource. Visit your local group (or group local to your wedding) and ask who people recommend and why. You will get a lot of recommendations you can check out so give yourself time to go through each one to find your match.

Google your wedding location and officiant together (ie Port Hope Officiant). This will give you a list of officiants who serve your chosen wedding area – and yes the higher on the list they are the more active they likely are out there in the wedding world. Just be conscious of the organic listings vs the paid listings. A great officiant won’t need to pay Google to rank them higher as they will be getting so many referrals they can’t keep up with all of them – and there does come a point every year when I am turning away more weddings than I’m booking simply because so many of my slots have been filled.

Do your research

Once you have a list of officiants that come highly recommended, make sure you visit their websites and social media to learn about them, their work, and get a feel for who they are before you reach out to them. Please don’t expect officiants to have long conversations with you about all of that when everything you need to know is already out there for you to consume at your own pace. If an officiant doesn’t have a website with lots of info, and social media showing themselves with lots of couples (we call that social proof), that should be a big red flag for you.

I’m not saying don’t ask questions, but please make sure you have checked officiants out before diving right in.

Set up a meeting…or don’t

If you’re choosing an officiant that is a part of your church or religious/spiritual community, they will very likely insist on at least one meeting with you. I know there are officiants out there who refuse to marry a couple until they have met with them for 2 hours to decide if they think the couple should get married. I don’t believe in doing that.

It isn’t up to me to decide if you should get married. My only job is to help facilitate you getting married in a way that feels good to you. Many of my couples have been together for decades, many own homes together, many have children together – who would I be to tell you I don’t believe you should be married as well?

I don’t require meetings or phone calls and in fact I have set up my booking system to be super easy, and done in your own time, online, without having to align 3 schedules and have the pressure of selling yourself to me. By they time they reach out to me, 90% of my couples already know they want to hire me and their only question is “Are you available on XYZ date?”

When I first started my wedding business I did agree to 3 meetings with potential clients. One couple cancelled in the afternoon of the meeting after I had arranged my whole day around meeting with them, another couple cancelled when I was already on my way to meet with them, and the last couple cancelled when I was already sitting in the café they requested I drive to to meet with them. That was the final straw for me and I decided right then an there, meetings would not be part of how I lead myself, and my couples through their ceremony process. Hundreds of bookings later, I know I made the right choice – my ideal clients are happy to avoid meetings too and just want to get down to business.

If you insist on meeting with officiants before deciding which one you might hire, ask yourself what the goal of the meeting will be. Know what questions you want to ask and be prepared to lead that meeting. Don’t expect your officiant candidates to lead the meeting – they have no idea what you want to know or why. A couple of times a year I will get requests for meeting and I explain we don’t need meetings because everything is done online, easy peasy, from the couch and in your jammies if you like. I often then get a response something like “But we need to meet you to know if you will be a good fit”.

I always ask “What does a good fit look like to you?” and not one single couple has been able to tell me. If you want someone who is a good fit (and let’s be honest, your officiant is with you for 1 hour tops, not the rest of your life), think about what that means to you before suggesting someone needs to meet that standard or requirement.

Discuss what will be said during your ceremony

If you want elements in your ceremony that you might think are out of the ordinary, ask your potential officiant if they are cool with adding them in. To date, there is not one single request that I haven’t been able to accommodate in one form or another, but it’s always good to ask so you know what an officiant’s limits are before moving forward.

You don’t want to be surprised by anything said during your ceremony so make sure you know whether or not you will get the see the ceremony and have some editorial control before you book an officiant. Ask them what the process is for writing your ceremony and how much say you get. If you want your loved ones included, make sure the officiant will allow that. If you want a particular ceremony like a handfasting (please research which kind of handfasting you would like!), or candle ceremony, or cultural element, find out before you hire someone if they are willing to work with you to make that happen.

When you hire me, the first document I send you in the intake form and that’s where I gather alllll of the information I need to write the perfect ceremony for you. I ask you if you would like prayers or a moment of silence, and there is a spot for you to tell me what you envision and would like included. I take all of that information and put it all in my ceremony template in a way that makes sense – and then it is sent to you for edits or approval. We do this until you are 100% happy with your ceremony.

Have a backup

Life happens. Nothing is 100% guaranteed and your officiant could get sick on the morning on your wedding, or get a flat tire or break down on the way there. It’s always a good idea to have someone who can step in and read your ceremony for you in the case of an emergency. You can even go so far as to ask your officiant for a non-legal copy of your ceremony to tuck into your wedding box just in case. This will keep you from worrying (if you are a worrier) about what will happen if your officiant simply can’t get there in time, or at all.

I was booked for a wedding his last summer and a few months before the big day the couple asked me to move their ceremony from 6pm to 1pm. This happens more often than you would think and it’s for the simple reason that an older relative has sundowners and the couples realize that granny or grandpa might not be able to manage a later ceremony time.

I said no problem, made the change in my book, sent the couple a confirmation email with their new ceremony start time, then opened the 6pm slot to other couples who might want it. Of course that slot was booked up within the week and everyone was happy.

Until a few days before the ceremony when I emailed the couple to check in and confirm that I would be there at 1230pm for their 1pm ceremony, the address, and the final payment.

The bride replied with “You have the wrong time, we booked you for 6pm”.

I went back through our emails and forwarded her the one where she asked me for the time change, and that one where I confirmed the time change.

I can only imagine the heart attack she was having at the other end of that conversation.

She asked “What do we do??”

I offered to still come at 1pm to get them legally married, and write a non-legal ceremony a friend could perform for them at 6pm. They said yes (whew!) and I got to work. On their wedding day I arrived at 1pm armed with their quick legal ceremony, and the ceremony for their friend. Once they were legally married I spent some time with the friend going over the ceremony I wrote and all the physical cues, and left them with a certificate I designed and printed so our couple would have something to sign at their ceremony. Crisis averted!

A great question to ask your potential officiant is how they handle a crisis. Not everyone is a great problem solver and will come up with a solution within seconds.

Your officiant should always be someone who you are comfortable with and who is well suited to you as a couple. Don’t rush your decision – it’s an important one!

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