A Professional Officiant…or Uncle Bob?

When it comes to choosing who to officiate your wedding ceremony, couples today have several choices. Do you work with an ordained member of the clergy from your church? Or a registered wedding officiant? Or, do you just want to have your favorite relative or family friend go online and get ordained? As you weigh your options, here are a few important things to know:

Ordained clergy: If you’re fortunate enough to have a pastor, priest, rabbi or other clergy member who you know and love, that’s wonderful. However, if you plan to have your wedding ceremony at a location other than your church, be sure to ask if he or she is willing and able to officiate the wedding offsite. In 2017, about 80 percent of couples chose to hold their wedding ceremonies at the same venue as their reception, so you might have to make some planning tradeoffs to ensure your day is as special as you want it to be.

Legally registered Wedding Officiant: Rules and regulations for a registered wedding officiant vary from state to state, so if you go this route, it’s critical to enlist an experienced wedding officiant who not only knows the legal ropes, but is well versed in the many different options for your ceremony.

For example, in Minnesota, state law requires that anyone officiating over a wedding ceremony must be registered in the county they live in. However, they can officiate at a ceremony anywhere in the state. Wisconsin is a bit different. If you are from Wisconsin and your officiant lives in Minnesota, he or she must have a letter of understanding with a church in Wisconsin to legally marry residents in Wisconsin.

Another important note is that if you live in Minnesota, you need to have a Minnesota marriage license and the ceremony must be conducted in Minnesota. If you want to have your ceremony in Wisconsin, this would not be legal.

Favorite relative or family friend: These days, it’s easy for anyone to just go online and get officially ordained by shelling out a few bucks on some website. Even though you love Uncle Bob — and you know he would do anything for you — there’s more to consider with this approach than first meets the eye. For example, he also needs to get certified by the State of Minnesota, but that’s really just the beginning.

The much more important thing to consider is this: How helpful is Uncle Bob really going to be with all of the other planning details? Will he know how the phrasing for the ceremony should be worded? How the flow of the ceremony should go and who goes where? Everything you will need to do to make the marriage legal?

Chances are, Bob’s not going to be much help in these areas, or filled with particularly creative ideas, especially if he’s from a generation that got married decades ago in the church, when couples really didn’t have the option to make many choices about their ceremony. Having done hundreds of weddings over the years, we have indeed heard from couples who chose a relative or friend as their officiant that if they had a chance to re-do their ceremony, they would’ve hired a professional instead.

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