I frequently get questions from brides (and grooms!) across the country seeking advice about hiring an officiant for their ceremony. People getting married within a religious community may not give a second thought to this aspect of wedding planning. For many couples though, the hiring of an officiant is one rather important detail to which they must attend.
Q: My fiance and I do not attend church on a regular basis and prefer a secular ceremony. What are our options if we don't want a courthouse wedding?
A: You can have your wedding virtually anywhere. Who can officiate the ceremony depends upon the state in which your wedding will take place. For example, Florida is one of only three states in which notaries have the legal authority to solemnize marriage. I believe Massachusetts allows people to register as an officiant for a friend or family member's wedding once per year. (Check me on that!) Some areas have no problem with on-line ordinations satisfying the statute as clergy, while others such as New York City and North Carolina absolutely do not.
A quick internet search of your state's marriage statutes should easily provide you with the information you need. Wedding planning sites such as weddingwire.com, decidio.com and wedplan.net can give you a sense of what is available in your area. Inquire with the venue you have selected for your wedding. Their staff should be able to point you towards independent officiants they know and respect.
Q: Are there specific questions we should ask prospective officiants that will let us know which one we should choose?
A: I whole-heartedly recommend contacting at least three to four officiants and comparing your interactions with each. You will likely feel an emotional connection with one of them which may be all you need, but there are a few considerations to which you should pay particular attention.
In the Event of an Emergency: I am shocked more people do not ask this question. I've only had two or three brides ask it in six years, but goodness it can be important! What happens if the officiant has a last minute emergency or falls ill? You want an officiant who has backup plans in place.
Primary Responsibilities On-Site: What does the officiant consider to be his or her role at the ceremony? Personally, I don't just "perform the ceremony." I am the non-anxious presence responsible for making sure the couple are fully present mentally and emotionally and are enjoying their own wedding. You might be surprised how often they aren't!
I have repaired dresses, pinned on flowers, located lost ring bearers, set tables, rearrange chairs, etc. Anything that needs to be done to keep things on track or get them back on track.
Q: I have searched the internet for officiants in my area and noticed there is a wide range of officiating fees. Why is that? (Florida Resident)
A: Florida law allows notaries public to solemnize marriages, but restricts their fee to the amount charged by clerks of the court. As of the date of this post, they can charge up to $30 for notarizing the certificate of marriage section of the Florida marriage license. Notaries public can charge additional fees for writing the ceremony, travel expenses, etc., but typically their fees tend to be lower than ordained clergy as a consequence.
Some officiants feel their responsibilities begin and end with the reading of a ceremony and signing of the license. Others understand they are called upon to do a lot more than that: guide the couple through the marriage license process, customize a personalized ceremony, conduct a rehearsal, arrive early to alleviate stress, provide sound equipment, coordinate last minute details, etc. Officiants who charge higher fees are also more likely to provide more as part of their services.
This is a skilled profession that is best suited to a very particular type of personality. Experienced and high-quality professionals are going to charge more for their services.
You need to decide if the officiant is a priority for your wedding experience. For some, an amateur officiant who satisfies statutory requirements to solemnize marriage is perfectly fine. Others prefer a ritual specialist who is an accomplished public speaker adept at picking up emotional cues and responding to them appropriately. Simply a matter of personal priorities.
As a very general guideline, you can expect roughly the following range of fees when hiring an independent wedding officiant for just a wedding ceremony in Florida. (Rehearsals can increase this amount by approximately $50-200)
Notaries Public: $75 - $200
On-line Ordination: $150 - $300
Regularly Ordained Clergy: $200 - $500
The advantage to hiring ordained clergy is two-fold. Clergy are more likely to have formal training in ritual composition and public speaking. They are also trained in pastoral care, able to function as the "non-anxious presence" when that becomes necessary. And it does become necessary.
The disadvantage is that some clergy may be reluctant to perform ceremonies that do not conform with their denominational doctrines concerning marriage. This is a question that needs to be addressed with clergy in a consultation meeting, but is probably not an issue with a notary, justice of the peace, or clerk.
Do you feel comfortable with an officiant and find him or her to be both an engaging public speaker and a soothing presence? Book before it's too late!
Right: Jana Martin Photography
Left: Florida Beachside Weddings
Rev. Ann Fuller
The commentary on this blog is my own opinion developed over years of officiating a wide range of wedding sizes and styles. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.