Is A Professional Officiant Really Worth It?
The state of Florida is one of three in the U.S. that authorizes notaries public to solemnize marriages. Minimal on-line training and a low fee are virtually all that is necessary to secure an appointment as a notary. Additionally, Florida does not prohibit on-line ordinations for the purpose of solemnizing marriages. Consequently, our state is flooded with independent wedding officiants of varying price points, degrees of experience, and quality service. It also means Uncle Joe the notary or Cousin Jane ordained by the ULC can be your wedding officiant as a wedding present. More on that!
I am by no means disparaging notaries or people with on-line ordinations as wedding officiants. There are just a handful of people to whom I will confidently refer couples. Several of them are notaries rather than clergy and one has an on-line ordination.
How someone is authorized under Florida law to solemnize marriages is less important than their professionalism and personality. However, the adages "buyer beware" and "you get what you pay for" are definitely something to keep in mind precisely because the qualifications for becoming a wedding officiant are minimal in Florida.
Why do officiants cost so much for twenty minutes of work?
We'll dispense with that myth first.
1. Let's put this in some perspective. Compared to your venue, caterer, photographer, DJ, and pretty much all your other wedding expenses, officiants don't cost much at all. Yet they have a huge impact over the quality of your service and your experience during the ceremony.
2. Typical officiant pricing varies by area of the country. Florida fees are a downright bargain when compared to an officiant in a major northeastern city. Granted, their expenses are higher too, but you get the point. You would easily need to budget 3-4 TIMES the amount in Washington, New York, or Boston.
3. The total time an officiant works on a particular wedding is a lot more than twenty minutes. In addition to officiating the ceremony, really good officiants:
What makes some officiants more valuable than their colleagues?
Some officiants provide generic ceremonies or consider a "personalized" ceremony to be one in which the couple chooses from set options. If that's what you want, than one of these individuals would be a good choice for you...and may very well save you some money.
Some show up moments before the ceremony begins, read the words, and then leave. You want to find someone who is too much of a control freak and a caregiver to operate that way.
Many officiants rely on the couple to have a DJ or a venue that "mics" them. That's pretty standard actually, but true professionals will have their own portable sound system since they often do not know what they are walking into and want to make sure your guests can hear every word.
Some officiants insert their own beliefs into your ceremony rather than keep the focus on you. That's an ethical violation in my opinion, but I have seen it happen. Your officiant may be the one writing the ceremony, but should prefer to allow the couple total control over the content of the ceremony. It's their wedding after all!
Some officiants look the other way when something unrelated to their role goes awry. I don't understand that and feel officiants should be happy to assist in any way they are able.
Some officiants are appropriately trained and certified to teach marriage preparation classes or offer premarital counseling and some are not.
The best value officiants are those who customize all of their ceremonies, have personalities well suited to the occasion, and go the extra mile simply because they love what they do and genuinely want you to have the best wedding day possible. You should definitely interview more than one officiant to get a sense of what you can expect and determine who fits best with your personalities and your expectations for your wedding.
Why should we hire someone if a friend or family member has offered to officiate our wedding for free?
If your friend or family member is ordained clergy or an experienced wedding professional than you don't need to hire someone. If this individual is not, than you need to give the idea very serious consideration. It is a tempting place to cut corners in your wedding budget, but one you may well regret...and might not be such a savings after all.
I wish this weren't the case, but I frequently received calls from panicked couples needing an officiant at the last minute. Why? Because the friend or family member who promised to officiate their wedding has backed out. Whether from nerves, a schedule conflict, or general flakiness I have no idea. "We never saw this coming!" is a common refrain.
Additionally, wedding officiants are professionals with a specialized skill set that makes them good at what they do. Just as you would not expect shutterbug Aunt Barbara with a $90 point and shoot camera to be able to produce wedding photos of the same quality as a professional photographer, I can guarantee your amateur officiant is not going to give you the same high quality service of a professional officiant.
What is that specialized skill set that makes professional officiants worth the expense?
Officiants are ritual specialists, accomplished writers, public speakers, coordinators, agents of the state, and caregivers. That's a tall order in one individual!
Training: My ministerial education included a great deal of academic theory and practical application of what constitutes a meaningful ritual. That's precisely what a wedding ceremony is; a ritualized expression of the transition from your social status as single individuals to a publicly recognized married couple.
An advanced degree or ministerial training is not necessary for wedding officiating. However, the public speaking, writing, and pastoral care giving components of my degree work have been invaluable in providing couples with ceremonies that delightfully exceed their expectations. Look for someone who appears to have taken their training seriously whether it was academic or practical, ministerial or secular.
Experience: I have officiated almost 500 weddings and over the years learned what works better and what doesn't work remotely well at all. Most importantly, I learned that an officiant can never stop learning. Opportunities for professional growth happen all the time. A great officiant will keep his or her eyes open, research wedding trends, and share ideas with colleagues. The officiant will use the tips and tricks they acquire with experience to help calm your nerves and engage your guests.
A good experienced officiant also knows when to seek advice from peers. For example, I have Florida marriage license law emblazoned on my frontal cortex, but have needed guidance when officiating weddings in other states. Inexperienced or amateur officiants are sometimes oddly reluctant to ask for guidance precisely when they need it most. Don't ask me why, it's counter-intuitive to me too.
Personality: This aspect of a wedding officiant cannot be emphasized enough. It takes a certain kind of person to become an exceptional wedding officiant.
If you made it through this entire page and are a
glutton for punishment, I have even more information
about officiants on the blog and a page that
addresses other rites of passage.
Officiant Category on my Wedding Blog
Rites of Passage
Rituals for Children and Rituals for Grief