We received an inquiry recently from a minister who was getting ready to perform her very first marriage ceremony the upcoming weekend.
Getting asked to perform a wedding for the first time progresses very quickly from “Sure, I’ll do it!” to “Yipes, what do I actually do?”
That means it’s time for some wedding minister training – a basic boot camp for the first-time Marriage Officiant.
First Things First
Here is the million-dollar question: are you ordained to perform wedding ceremonies?
If you don’t know what ordination is, I’ll give you a quick explanation. Ordination is the process through which you receive legal authorization to perform marriage ceremonies. Every state in the United States requires you to have legal authorization, without exception, before you perform a wedding. You cannot, under any circumstances, simply proclaim yourself to be ordained.
Upon becoming ordained, you will receive your minister’s license – an ordination certificate, letter of good standing (a signed letter from the ordaining organization) and/or other ordination credentials (such as an ID card) that are valid proof of your legal standing. (To see samples of minister’s credentials, please click here.)
If you don’t have these documents, or if you aren’t certain whether you are actually ordained and licensed, do not perform the ceremony. If you cannot actually present a copy of your credentials to your bridal couple (which is standard professional practice) or if you are unable to submit them to the county clerk or secretary of state (which is required in several jurisdictions), then do not perform the ceremony.
Becoming ordained is quick and easy, and very affordable. If you are not ordained, or if you aren’t sure if your authorization is current and valid, you can apply for ordination easily by clicking here.
After becoming ordained, if there are forms that have to be filed with the state or county, do so immediately. Check your documents packet – if there are documents and forms included for the location where the ceremony is taking place, fill them out completely and submit them right away. There is no good reason to wait!
Standing On Ceremony
A marriage ceremony is a beautiful but complex thing. As the designated Wedding 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? Everything. 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!
What’s the structure of a wedding ceremony? Do you know when the bride is supposed to walk up the aisle? Where do the groomsmen stand? How do you make the marriage legal?
Why isn’t there a “cheat sheet” that spells everything out for you? Good news – there is! Click here for The Wedding Ceremony Cheat Sheet that covers everything.
Well, almost 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 are 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.
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.
I think that’s it. Oh, and have FUN!
If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with us and we’ll do everything we can to help.
Not ordained yet?
PHOTO CREDIT: Megan (creativevictuals) via Flickr Creative Commons.