If you and your fiancé are newly engaged, chances are you haven’t thought that much about the wedding ceremony. (For many, it’s a lot more fun to go dress shopping than write vows.) But nailing down important aspects like who is actually going to conduct the ceremony, and how, should take precedence over other things on your wedding to-do list. To avoid misunderstandings with the officiant, it’s a wise idea to start the planning process right from the beginning by asking important questions and getting information so that you all are on the same page.
Choose an Officiant Early
It may be tempting to push this to-do list item down, but consider the fact that you can’t get married without an officiant. You can get married without your dream bouquet or cake, however. The key here is to prioritize. Pastors, ministers, and close friends and family all have busy lives, so you want to make sure you get on their calendar early. Consider who would make the ceremony special for you and your spouse-to-be. One extra benefit of doing this early is that you can consider also doing some marriage counseling sessions, if your officiant offers them. Everyone can benefit from having the conversations that marriage counseling prompts, whether you think you have issues to talk through or not. (An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)
Ask for a Sample Script They’ve Used Before
Rather than building the entire ceremony from scratch, a quicker option is to ask for a sample script for the ceremony from the officiant. You may even want to do this before you settle on a specific officiant in order to know their comfort level with your ceremony ideas. A sample script will give you a starting place for determining the flow and length of the ceremony, as well.
Ask for Tweaks and a Time Estimate
Speaking of which, have your officiant give you an actual time estimate so that your wedding planner can figure out when photos, cocktail hour, or other post-ceremony activities will begin. This is the time to go through the ceremony outline with your future spouse and decide what matters most to you both. Do you want to insert your own vows? Add readings or singing? If you are from different faith backgrounds, this is the place to decide whether you want to go vague with the ceremony or specifically address both faiths. Once you’ve figured out what the two of you want, settle down for a coffee and a chat with your officiant. Explain your anticipations and expectations. Make sure that anything the officiant is asked to say is actually a request and not a demand. Officiants have standards for ceremony settings, as well as a lot of experience. Make your requests, but listen to their suggestions and see if you can get on board.
Listen to Their Concerns or Needs
Speaking of listening, listen to the practical things, too. Can they not make it to the rehearsal? Will they need to leave right after the ceremony? Do they have special considerations when it comes to lodging or meals? Treat them as well as you would any honored guest at your wedding, and remember to seat them at the reception with someone you think they’d get along with, especially if they don’t know anyone else there.
Decide on Payment and Accommodations
This isn’t technically a form of communication, but do your research and figure out the best way to compensate your officiant, given the circumstances. If the wedding requires travel for the officiant, make sure you book a hotel room for them, unless you are giving them enough compensation ahead of time to choose their own room without cutting into their base fee. If you personally are friends or acquaintences with your officiant, they may not make it clear exactly what they expect to be paid, so try to get across what you are offering as early as possible, and even if they protest that they are giving their assistance as a gift, find a way to at the very least donate to a charity they care about. Money matters between friends are awkward, but officiating a wedding is a service, and it’s worth budgeting for.
When you are a great communicator with your officiant, you’ll have a more powerful and meaningful ceremony and a better long-term relationship with this person who has joined you in marriage. A mentor or person to guide you can be a valuable resource as you enter the adventure of marriage.