Should I hire a professional wedding officiant or should I have a friend marry us?
This is a great question! I recently came across this questions on a wedding forum. The bride is having a small wedding of about 40 people in a restaurant. She has 4 family members or friends who could marry them. She is trying to decide if she should choose one of them or hire a professional. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer, there is only the best answer for each couple.
As a professional wedding officiant, the most logical answer would be to say anything to produce business. But, I have performed an enormous number of budget weddings so I understand the needs of couples getting married and have created services with prices to reflect those needs. I might do one or two large weddings a weekend during the busier wedding months but I perform budget weddings just about every day of the year. I’ve got perspective on the subject. I've developed services to help you make your decision. I've got several different wedding officiant services with different prices and I also provide wedding ceremony consulting.
First of all, in order to get married it’s just a legal document that you need to get from the county clerk’s office and then you need to have the legal document - the marriage license - signed. You need a person that can legally sign the paper. As an ordained minister, I can do that. Indiana is now full of ordained ministers for the sake of marrying couples. It’s a signature on a piece of paper. A wedding is something completely different.
Several years ago, I had some of my friends and neighbors performing weddings. I started as a stay at home mom trying to generate some extra income so I offered the same opportunity to them. I had one neighbor that has a degree in drama from IU. She can literally “perform” a wedding ceremony. Tell her what kind of wedding officiant you want and she can do that. It’s acting. My husband’s boss was having a destination wedding. We were unable to travel to marry them at their destination so I signed their marriage license with them over lunch before they left. They were legally married. Then, they had a friend perform the ceremony at their destination. Their friend had a wonderful time with it. He was preparing and practicing and it was awesome. They knew he would be great at it when they asked him and he was thrilled to have the opportunity!
Anyone can “perform” a ceremony. A religious leader may perform rituals in a religious ceremony that they are qualified to do within their religion that marries you within that religion. The state gives that religious leader the legal ability to make your marriage legal in the eyes of the state, however you are not required to have a religious ceremony in order to be legally married. You have a choice. I’m an ordained minister and that allows me to legally marry couples. The church that ordains me does so to promote religious freedom. There are no requirements so I can, and do, perform all types of ceremonies. I perform mostly romantic ceremonies that don’t invoke God in any way. A lawyer or a judge usually does the same thing.
If your wedding ceremony is very important to you and you want to orchestrate a formal ceremony with a large bridal party you need a person that is capable of doing that. A wedding officiant can do that, a wedding planner can do that, a friend or relative can do that. It depends on your experience. If you are having a large formal wedding ceremony and reception you most likely want to hire a professional to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. If you don’t want to do the research yourself, hire a professional to give you the information you need and organize your ceremony for you.
The ceremony itself is something different. A religious wedding is already written for you. You follow an service in a prayer book. All Catholics take part in the same ceremony. If you are not having a religious ceremony in a church you can have any sort of ceremony you want. There is an amazing amount of information on the internet as to how to put put together a wedding ceremony. I’ve gathered a lot of it, including wedding ceremonies that are already written. The information is there. If you read through a few ceremonies you’ll get an idea of what you want and don’t want in your ceremony. I give couples ideas and choices when I write their wedding ceremony. Many couples read it through and love it. It’s perfect. They choose a set of vows and they are done. I put that ceremony and many other ceremonies right on my website now. Anyone can read it, download it and use it. When I personalize a ceremony for a couple the couple needs to help me with that. I need to get to know enough about a couple in order to personalize a ceremony. Often, I will just point a couple in the right direction and they write the personal things themselves. I can’t write personal vows for you. I can point you in the right direction of how to express your feelings but only you can do that. Some couples already know exactly what they want. They give it to me to perform and that’s it. Sometimes I don’t even meet them before the rehearsal or the ceremony. I’m just the hired help.
If you are booking a wedding officiant many will make you book your wedding with them and put down a deposit before they will talk ceremony with you. They don’t want you to steal the ceremony and have someone else perform it. Chances are, they are using the same basic ceremony with every couple they marry. They create an illusion that they are doing something only they can do. I understand this. I’ve spent a lot of time with couples who just want ceremony information. I don’t make money off the conversations and it’s actually pretty hard to charge for the conversation. I’ve got all of it saved on my files so I decided to just to publish it on my website. It’s free to use. Some of it’s original, most of it is information I’ve gathered and put together in a new way. There are some officiants that do write a whole new ceremony for each couple. Some say it takes them quite a bit of time to do so. To be fair, it does take several hours to write an unique and personal ceremony. But is it necessary? Only you can decide.
I’ve had couples book me to officiate their ceremony and paid top dollar and specified they wanted a short, to the point ceremony. 7 minutes seems to be the magical number for many. One bride really just wanted to enjoy her very lavish party. Another couple was just too scared they would cry through the entire thing and wanted to avoid it. Both couples said they received compliments on the length of the ceremony. With that perspective, you might not find it necessary to hire a professional.
One big aspect you may want to keep in mind in how well the ceremony is performed. I know that I can perform my ceremonies well. I can invoke emotion and insert humor. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve performed weddings by death beds of loved ones or in cancer units of hospitals. Humor wasn’t appropriate there. I’ve listened to friends or family members read a poem or passage and nobody could hear or the presentation was flat. Couples looking for a friend or family member to perform their wedding ceremony usually look for someone with a great personality.
Another perspective I’ve come across, actually pretty common in the bible belt, are couples who have several pastors in their family. They don’t know which one to choose so they hire someone. Often, the couple is not religious at all so they hire me to perform a secular ceremony and if they need to, can blame it on me. I’m OK with that. I want couples to have the ceremony they want. That’s my job.
Weddings always have the reputation for being expensive. Either you have money to spend on a wedding without thinking about it or you are watching every penny. The first questions from most couples is “how much?” You have to make a list of priorities and decide what you are getting for your money. There are professionals that charge a lot of money and may not deliver a spectacular ceremony. There are others that charge a lot less and love their job and deliver perfection.
It’s your ceremony. What do you imagine your ceremony to be and why? What do you really want? I had two weddings. One in my husband’s native Germany and another in the church I grew up in. The first one was in German and required a legal translator, the second was a disaster because the priest decided to be a real jerk. But honestly? In the end, all I really wanted was to spend the rest of my life with my husband. That was a commitment we had already made without words. The weddings were for legal reasons and because that is what I really thought I should do. I grew up in the church I wanted to be married in because “that’s what people do.” Looking back after 25 years it’s really not the ceremony, it was the time we spent together on our honeymoon, decorating our house and being together that mattered.
Should you hire a professional of have a friend or family member marry you? You marry each other.
Victoria Meyer, founder of Marry Me In Indy! LLC has been a wedding officiant in Indiana for over 9 years and married over 3000 couples. She shares her experiences and is happy to be your "Wedding Officiant Insider"