Getting asked to perform your first wedding ceremony progresses very quickly from “Sure, I’ll do it!” to “Yipes, what do I actually do?”
A wedding ceremony is a beautiful but complex thing. As the designated Officiant, you may not have realized it before, but you’re in charge. It’s the bridal couple’s show, but you’re guiding them through the ceremony. Once you arrive at the altar (or the other designated spot where the vows will be spoken) you’re running things.
What things? Every thing. When you officiate a marriage ceremony, you’re essentially hosting and narrating the program — you are literally the master of ceremonies! Speak in a voice that everyone can hear, even those in the back row — and especially great grandma in the second row. She doesn’t want to miss a word!
The bridal couple will be following your lead, so make sure that every “repeat after me” is followed by short and simple vows for each of them to repeat. Test it out on yourself, because if you can’t remember more than four or five tongue-twisting words to repeat (with your nerves frayed, and a big audience of family and friends staring at you) neither will the couple!
But that’s not everything…
Don’t Forget To Remember…
More than anything else, please make sure that the bridal couple has their marriage license with them at the ceremony!
It’s their responsibility to go down to the courthouse (or county clerk’s office, or town clerk’s office) and obtain their marriage license — you’re not involved in that part of the process — but it is your responsibility to confirm that they have it there at the ceremony. Please confirm that the marriage license is there before the ceremony begins.
If they are having a rehearsal, it’s a good idea to have it there, and to review it with them so that you know where it has to be signed. Make sure that one of them (not BOTH of them!) has the responsibility of hanging on to the license before, during and after the ceremony. You want to avoid that “I thought YOU had it” moment at all costs!
The marriage license will have instructions for you and the couple to follow. Generally, in most jurisdictions it’s the Officiant’s responsibility to return the marriage license right away to the clerk’s office that issued it — so make sure that you discuss this with the couple. Again, you don’t want an “I thought YOU were going to do it” situation.
We can’t put it any simpler than this: no marriage license = no wedding ceremony. Period.
It’s true — last year, one in three American weddings were officiated by a friend or family member! Make sure your ordination complies with all state and local laws.
Practice Makes Perfect. More Practice Makes More Perfecter…
Make sure that you rehearse. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Rehearse out loud, on your own. Rehearse in front of somebody — a friend or family member. And when you’re done rehearsing, rehearse again.
Rehearse … but know that no matter how much you rehearse, something will change during the ceremony. Not necessarily something bad, but just something you hadn’t planned on. So be ready to keep things going regardless of what happens.
And, Of Course…
At the end of the ceremony, after all the “I do’s” have been repeated and you’re ready to send the couple off to their happily ever after, don’t forget to have them seal their vows with that all-important very first legally-married kiss.
Finally, make absolute sure that both spouses have signed that marriage license, along with the witnesses (if required in your state), and then sign it yourself. Review it once again carefully with your bridal couple — carefully! — to ensure that no errors were made, and that nothing was omitted. If it’s your responsibility to return the marriage license to the issuing authority, then do it immediately; there’s no need to wait a few days, or a week.
I think that’s it. Oh, and have FUN!
If you have any questions or concerns, please post in the Officiants Forum and we’ll do everything we can to help.
The essential guidebook for wedding officiants is Lisa Francesca’s The Wedding Officiant’s Guide: How to Write and Conduct a Perfect Ceremony. Get your copy today!