If you are searching for a wedding officiant to perform your wedding ceremony or looking for information because you are starting your wedding officiant business, prices can be a major factor. If you are getting married you are asking, how much am I going to have to pay to get what I want? If you are a wedding officiant you are asking how much can I charge to make this a viable business? I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’m sharing my thought process based on the information I have. This is actually a very long story about my business and my prices. This is my experience based on my local market for wedding officiants.
First, when I decided how much to charge, the first questions was, how much will someone pay? The second question was, how much do I feel comfortable charging? When it comes to business it is about supply and demand. But you also have to take into consideration how much people are actually able to pay. If I choose a price, will enough people hire me at that price so that I can pay my bills and make a profit?
“Paying my bills” involves paying to run the business. Paying for my website and my advertising. Paying for my computer and my printer and paper and ink. Appropriate clothes, my car, gas to drive my car, a babysitter for my kids. Paying for my phone and internet. That’s just the cost of doing business. The other part of “paying my bills” is the mortgage, car payments, car insurance, health insurance, groceries, braces, dental work, dog food and all the things we all have to pay for just for our family to live.
I run my business with as little overhead as possible. I don’t have an office, I’m completely mobile. I’ve done the math, if I were to pay for an office, I would have to do a lot of weddings at a higher price to pay the rent for an office and the mortgage on our house. I honestly don’t think it’s a reasonable goal, based on the current market for wedding officiants in Indianapolis considering business models already in place by other officiants. I do perform enough weddings at the right prices to pay all of our bills except for health insurance. It would be awesome to be able to pay for that too. So, realistically speaking, my wedding officiant business earns enough money for my family to survive, but not really thrive. (Or get sick or have an accident) It’s OK. I’m married, my husband and I, together, do just fine. But, it would be really nice to know I could do it alone if I had too.
If you are looking to hire a wedding officiant you need to decide what you need from a wedding officiant and how much getting your needs met is worth to you. If you just need someone to perform a quick, legal, civil ceremony you shouldn’t have to pay a lot of that. If you want someone to perform a quick, legal, civil ceremony in your home or office you are going to have to pay more for the time and travel involved. If you are having a $50,000 wedding you want to hire a wedding officiant experienced with that type of discerning customer and able to provide outstanding service. You are going to have to pay for that. You might get a good deal, here and there, but you will generally do get what you pay for.
I spoke with a man that charges $1000+ to perform a wedding ceremony. Being a wedding officiant is only one thing that he does and he generally only books those high priced weddings through luxury priced wedding planners. He doesn’t have a website or actively pursue weddings to officiate. The wedding planner calls him when they need him. There are only so many of those weddings each year. He said he may do 6 per year. He is able to charge that amount because he’s well connected and really, quite perfect for the job, he is a full-time performer, looks great in a suit and truly fits the part well. Obviously, I can’t list a price of $1000 for wedding officiant services and expect to have a steady business that pays the bills.
There are websites that provide statistics about the wedding industry, including prices. Sound Vision, or The Wedding Report. This website, Cost of Weddings, gives the average cost of weddings in any area. I’m located in the Indianapolis area. The state the average cost of an officiant is $176. 37-47% of couples actually hire an officiant and they typically spend between $132-$220. They state more experienced officiants charge about $352 or more. They also break it down by the number of guests.
I have no idea where these data firms get their get this information. I’d have to assume they gather their information from published prices on websites. That’s the only thing that makes sense. The averages can only come from people who actually take their survey. There are public records available for how many marriage licenses are issued and to whom. Once you have the marriage license you complete it with a wedding officiant and then file it with the clerk’s office and then you are legally married, and that creates a public record that can be used for accurate statistics.
A “Wedding Officiant” is a person that can legally marry you. That can be a judge, magistrate, county clerk, mayor or religious official. In Indiana, you can get ordained online and state your title as “reverend” or “minister” on a marriage license you sign and that’s it. You don’t have to pay anything to register as an officiant and you certainly aren’t required to charge anything to officiate a wedding.
I know in 2017, I married 564 couples. The prices ranged from free to $550. My average sale was less than $100. I had one wedding for $550 because of the distance I traveled. Some people do have situations I didn’t feel it is appropriate for me to charge money for. I also experimented with prices last year trying to figure out what worked for me and the current market of officiants couples have to choose from. I perform a LOT of budget weddings.
In June 2018 after 8 years of marrying couples - close to 3000 couples - I completely overhauled my website to create a business model that I’m comfortable with and I also believe makes me competitive in my local market. If you live in Indiana my business model makes sense. If you live anywhere else, your wedding environment will be based on how couples can get legally married in your state and who can marry them.
First of all, I’m a full-time wedding officiant. That means I have regular business hours and am scheduling weddings every day. My aim is to earn a full-time income as a sole proprietorship that can comfortably support my family. This is not how I started my business. When I started, my services were basically limited to weekends. As a wedding officiant, I perform ceremonies. If you are having a wedding ceremony and you are not getting married in a church, you hire a wedding officiant. I’d spend weekends going from wedding to wedding during the busy season and they may go weeks or over a month with no weddings at all. I think this is probably typical. I may have had some weddings during the week but they were more the exception than the rule.
The latest statistic I read said the average yearly income of a wedding officiant was around $20K and less than 10% of those officiants surveyed were full-time wedding officiants. If you do one wedding a week over a year, based on a $20K yearly income. You would be charging $385 for a wedding. Those are still averages. Those statistics were put out by a company I advertise with so I’m assuming that is based on their own data gathered from their own advertisers that chose to take the survey. I took the survey so my data could have skewed an average. If you look at the statistics through the mean, median and mode, I’m an outlier. That particular data states averages.
Indiana changed their marriage license process, pretty much across the board five years ago. The switched to online applications to streamline paperwork and they also stopped performing marriages in the courthouse. So, you can’t just run down the courthouse and get married. You have to find a wedding Officiant to marry you. There are 92 counties in Indiana and each county has their own policies about issuing marriage licenses. There are some small county clerk's and magistrates that do perform marriages but that’s definitely the exception, not the rule. Overnight, an entirely new market was created and I was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of it.
The reason I’ve performed so many weddings is that I offer super low-budget options. I didn’t know they were going to stop marrying couples in the courthouse. Some people did, and they set up businesses to take over where the county clerk left off. I received a call on a Tuesday afternoon five years ago from someone asking me to marry them. I thought that was so weird. Who asks me to marry them on a Tuesday? I was interested though. They asked if I could come downtown to marry them and I agreed. They asked how much it would cost and I didn’t know what to say. My regular price for a weekend wedding, at the time, was $150. So, I gave them that price. They asked if I could go lower, so I tried $100. They asked if I could go lower and I really couldn’t. I live 30 minutes away, in the suburbs, and I wasn’t familiar with the area of the courthouse at the time and, I had a preschooler at home so, I’d have to get a babysitter. Being the people pleaser I am, I said, “If you want to come to my house, I’ll marry you for $50.” An hour later, the $50 Quickie was born!
The people who had set up offices downtown near the courthouse to perform, quick weddings were charging $150 Monday through Thursday. On Friday, the price doubled to $300. Considering the average cost of a civil ceremony at the courthouse was (and in many places still is) $80, that’s a lot. But if you think about it, it’s not that much when you are running a viable business. The courthouse already exists. They don’t have any extra overhead. They just need people to perform the weddings. That’s included in the job description of people already working there, already on a salary. People with independent offices have overhead they need to pay for. Everyone already has the idea that you can just go down to the courthouse and get married, the courthouses don’t need to advertise. If you are an independent business, you need to advertise for people to find you and that has a cost associated with it. Running a business costs money and those costs are part of what you charge the customer. If your office is going to be open Monday-Friday from 8-6, it’s your full-time job and you need to make a full-time income.
When I started, I would just go wherever someone was getting married, we’d meet in my living room or in Starbucks for consultations. When I created the $50 Quickie Wedding, I was performing that in my home. No overhead. I didn’t need a babysitter, I didn’t have to drive anywhere and pay for gas. All I needed to pay for was advertising. At the time, I figured if I was able to perform 3 weddings in my house every week, that would pay for groceries. When people ask why they stopped performing weddings at the courthouse my quick response is usually “so I could pay off my VISA bill.” There is actually no official answer from the Clerk’s offices other then, they aren’t required by law to do so. There is no question, I was truly in the right place at the right time to make money and create a business that has forever changed my life.
It wasn’t long before I was decorating my home like a wedding chapel and planting flowers in my garden to make it a pretty spot to get married. I had a great presence on Google and, based on the cost of the wedding, my living room became an incredibly popular place to get married. That first full year I offered the service, I performed more weddings in the area then everyone but one other officiant service downtown. 1000 of the 3000 weddings I’ve performed since I began happened in my home. It was an amazing experience for me. I had all sorts of couples and their families in my home. For the most part, it was great. A lot of people say I’m crazy allowing strangers in my home like that but I was never fearful. I was annoyed more than once by people taking advantage of me and my home, but for the most part, it was great. The pros far outweigh the cons.
I created the $50 Quickie Wedding. I know that small town pastors have been performing weddings in their homes for over 100 years so it wasn’t like a created something new. I know that as an actual wedding officiant business, my $50 Quickie was the first in the area and there are several officiants in the area that have copied the idea. I stopped performing weddings in my home over a year ago but there are still people who offer them.
I know that I had an effect on what officiants were able to charge for a wedding. 5 years later, the average price to get married in an office in downtown Indy during regular business hours is $100. That’s down from $150. There are no more Friday surcharges. Now, I offer to meet couples and sign their marriage license next to the courthouse for $60. When I started that, more officiants did the same.
Couples had been traveling the 30 minutes to my home to get married because the cost of gas and the travel time and only paying me $50 was a lot cheaper than paying $150 or $300. It was worth it to them and it was worth it to me. As more people starting offering budget options, it wasn’t always worth the drive and my numbers started to go down. Over the 4 years, I did it, by the end, more people were just coming to the house for me to sign their license, as opposed to the couples and families that had been coming to my home for an actual wedding ceremony experience.
After I’d been marrying couples in my home for a year or so, the competition started to get crazy and it got a little vicious. One thing I didn’t know about were local city ordinances and the fact there are limits to the types of business you can run out of your house. You can run a business out of your home but you can only have up to 4 people in your home at one time for the service. I really didn’t know, and I found out the hard way when I received a letter from the city. They were really nice about it. They’d received an anonymous complaint and simply stated that, in that situation, most people really didn’t know about the ordinance and this was just a friendly letter explaining the codes. They’d driven past the house to observe and saw that I didn’t have anything on the outside of my home that marked it as a business or anything like that but because I was advertising as a wedding chapel and having so many people in my home at one time for business I was breaking the ordinance. I was totally freaked out by it. I didn’t want to do anything that could cost me my business. I also didn’t want to hurt or bother anyone with what I was doing.
I might have had 7 weddings on a Saturday and each couple might bring their family. Sometimes it would be up to 20 guests. I really don’t think my neighbors had a problem with it. They supported me and my business and seemed generally happy for me. I may have had all walks of life walking into my house but everyone was really respectful. I don’t think any of my neighbors turned me in. Ultimately, I do have to admit that it was getting a little out of hand and I wanted to set more limits and part of me was happy that I now had a legal reason to explain it to people.
It wasn’t that easy suddenly limiting my services. I had been marrying families. There are some families where I have married several members. I was the wedding officiant some groups of families used. I had a really great reputation. People would tell someone in their office they were getting married and there would be someone else in the office that recommended me, just to find out their appointment was already with me People were used to coming to my home with family and friends. It was a very difficult situation. My income had really started to matter and I didn’t want to lose it. I also felt like I was offering an affordable option people needed. That was a mistake. While yes, I was able to help a lot of people with very little money get married, there were people that took advantage of my kindness. It’s a business transaction but it’s also a wedding. I wanted to be super-nice to everyone. Now, I have to be super-professional or it becomes too stressful. It was a very important lesson I had to learn and I’m faced with gray areas on a regular basis. Someone is always trying to bargain and they can come up with great stories.
The money being generated by wedding officiants in Indianapolis at that time was substantial. There was this untapped market and everyone wanted a piece of it. The reason my $50 Quickie and other budget options are so popular is because there is only so much money some people can pay. Some may have been trying to corner the market and price gouge, but that doesn’t mean people are going, to all of a sudden, have $300 to pay you.
After I received the letter from the city about my code violation, I received cease and desist letters from other wedding officiants. They didn’t come from actual lawyers because there weren’t any actual laws being broken. I had used an SEO tactic where I purchased a bunch of URL’s and had them point to my website. It’s not a very good SEO tactic anymore and I’ve since discontinued the practice. I could see from the actual data that very few people were actually using those exact URL’s in their searches and finding my website. To even know those URLs were pointing to my website, someone had to do a lot of serious digging.
My business name is Marry Me In Indy! LLC. My website is www.marrymeinindy.com. I marry people in Indy. I’m a wedding officiant and I’m in Indy. The URL’s I purchased had those words in them. Other businesses also had those words in their business names. You can’t copyright those words. That’s not the way copyright law works. Because I had those words on my website they were saying that I was infringing on their businesses. One of the cease and desist letters came from a person that had copied my business, almost exactly. They had used a lawyer to send a cease and desist to others for other really silly things but they spared me from dealing with a lawyer.
I was later told that there was one person in town that was the chief instigator and people were listening to them and acting on it. The only reason I can think of that this was done was I was attracting a significant amount of the business due to my prices. If my $50 wedding didn’t exist, there would be more people looking for another person to marry them and they could charge more. It doesn’t work that way though. All that really happened was more people were creating affordable wedding options. Everyone wants a piece of the market. Without me in the market, at that time, there would be hundreds of more couples other people could have the opportunity to marry.
There are now, in 2018, a very significant number of wedding officiants offering their services in Indianapolis and it’s more competitive than ever. Competition to be on the top of Google isn’t necessarily going to guarantee you paying customers. It just guarantees you exposure. People are going to look at more than one website and compare prices. A wedding is still a highly personal thing. While there are a number of people just looking for a qualified person to marry them, many people are looking for the right person to marry them at the right price.
This long, interesting story is what has made me decide on my prices and where I believe they will stay. I’ve outlined 14 different services I offer as a full-time wedding officiant. Many of those services are the same price but you get different things for that price. My prices are almost entirely based on time. The time it takes me to get somewhere, when I have to get there and the time it will reasonably take, based on experience, it will take me to perform the service.
In Indiana, you need a person to marry you. Every couple getting married needs a qualified wedding officiant to sign their marriage license. This is a legitimate business service. I still perform this simple service for $50. However, I don’t do it in my home. You can meet me at a coffee shop 2 miles from my home. You can make same-day appointments or you can schedule online one week in advance for early morning and late evening hours, basically before and after my regular business hours. You are doing all the traveling and I’m not allowing you to make my schedule revolve around you. I used to have people schedule a $50 Quickie months in advance and then I couldn’t book more expensive options in the meantime. This is a 15-minute appointment.
I will charge you $10 extra dollars and meet you downtown by the clerk’s office during regular clerk’s hours to just sign your marriage license. During the week, during the day, that’s worth it to me. It’s a 30-minute drive, I know where to park and I can write the mileage off on my taxes. I can also run errands and do other things while I’m out on a Tuesday. I limit my availability outside of rush hour traffic. If you want me to meet you during rush hour, I charge more. This is a 15-minute appointment.
I offer elopements. That’s where you can have an actual ceremony, basically informal, in public places downtown. They are really nice, iconic Indy locations. I offer $80 M-F and $120 on the weekends. They are in set places, in the middle of the city and I know exactly how to get there quickly and where to park. It’s is a highly competitive price compared to other options published online. This option allows me to offer a wedding with little overhead other than advertising and mileage. The only drawback is the weather. I don’t have a backup plan. But if I did, I’d have to charge more. This is a 30-minute appointment. All of these are wedding options that probably wouldn’t have existed if you could still get married at the courthouse. Essentially, we, as wedding officiants in Indianapolis, created these services out of need and we market them as something to want. Honestly, I LOVE these!!
Everything else I offer is $150. I think this is a fair and reasonable price. It may be too high for some, but I’m OK with that because it’s a price I’m comfortable with. I’ll drive up to an hour in one direction, I’ll arrive 15 minutes early and you will have a full hour to get married. I can meet you at your county clerk’s office during the week to save you time and a drive, I can come to your home or a park or any venue. These are your basic wedding ceremonies.
The average prices most people look at in statistics are for formal weddings. That’s that $352 average. The fee I settle on for that particular service is $450. What makes me different is I’ve broken it down into 3 parts and you can purchase them separately. If you just want me to come to marry you, it’s $150. If you want me to be at your rehearsal, that’s $150. If you want a personalized wedding, that’s $150. A rehearsal takes just as much time as a wedding so I charge the same. The rehearsal is actually more work than performing a ceremony.
Personalizing a ceremony takes more time than anything. Face to face meetings, emails, phone calls, time to sit and personalize a ceremony takes a LOT of hours. Maybe because it’s the way I do it, but I’ve tried to use templates and cut and paste but, in the end, that’s only half of it. You still have to personalize what you cut and paste. If I count out all the hours it takes to complete a full, personalized wedding package and compares it to what I can do to earn $50 I can multiply it by 9 and make more money for time spent just signing marriage licenses at Starbucks. But, it’s not really about that. Some ceremonies are amazing. Having the opportunity to perform certain weddings and being part of some incredibly special days is what it’s all about. When I just started out it was an experience. Being part of the experience was everything, and it still is. But it’s also a job and I have to remember that or my bills don’t get paid and I get taken advantage of. $150 for a personalized ceremony, to me, is a bargain, however, I can see how a lot of people might not see it that way. The truth is, some people could care less, so I give them the option. If you just need someone to show and perform a basic ceremony before you can begin your party, I’m fine with that.
What I did to solve the personalized ceremony dilemma was become more transparent in writing ceremonies and I give couples more options to decide on their own ceremony. Over the years, I’ve realized very few couples truly personalize their ceremony and if they do, they do it themselves. I give them a ceremony template with links to options on my website so they can choose different readings or vows or ring exchanges. After all the meetings and personalization I’ve done over the years, I’ve realized most couples choose the same weddings over and over again. So, I simplified it. I put those ceremonies on my website, with links to the different options and said, if want to save money, you can design your ceremony yourself. Just pick one and we’ll insert names or email me the personalized ceremony you want a week before your wedding and I will come and perform it. Some people have actually hired me as their officiant because they wanted to write their own ceremonies and I’d allow it. The whole reason I became a wedding officiant is to allow couples to have the ceremony they want. Anything goes.
Over the years, thinking about the cost of my services I’ve tried to look at it in a lot of different ways. Some people might think that if you are a minister, your services should be free. But, that’s not true. If you belong to a congregation, you donate money as a member of the church. Some churches require you to be a member of the church for at least a year. That’s a tithing member. (You donate 10% of your income to the church) Sometimes couples get a pass on that if their parents are members of the church, but money is definitely changing hands. Hundreds of dollars are changing hands. I had one friend that said in the deep south, where her family lived, there were pastors of very poor congregations that do everything or free. But I’d have to assume those couples being married for free aren’t spending $10k+ on their caterer either.
I’ve had couples declare my prices are too high for them, yet they have destination bachelor and bachelorette parties. How about those 12 people in your wedding party you are buying gifts for? While I totally understand that it’s their money and they are setting their own priorities, I found it difficult to offer my services at low budget prices where clearly there was a much higher budget for everything else. So, I decided to change the way I look at it. If I am charging everyone for my time I can stand there, waiting for a wedding to start knowing that I clearly stated what services you are, and are not, receiving for the price and I’m happy with the deal.
So, if you look at my prices, I’m getting paid $50 an hour?!? Or $50 for 15 minutes just to sign a piece of paper?!? Well, yes and no. I’ve actually scheduled my whole day around your appointment. I’ve answered texts and emails and phone calls about your appointment and the services you are paying for. I’ve answered texts and emails and phone calls giving out information I’ll never get paid for. Some people schedule meetings just to get information and never book a service. They just assume, as a business person, it’s my job to do that. Now, I clearly state, meetings are free after you have booked a $150 service and a brief meeting to meet me before booking a full $450 package is free. I offer a meeting to gather information without actually booking services for $50. I actually think that’s very fair. I can answer a lot of questions for you in an hour and save you time and money as you do it yourself.
Some officiants will say they are personalizing your ceremony when, in fact, they have 3 ceremonies they perform and they just give you the one that suits you best. Or they send you a document with options to pick and choose from. They have great sales skills and you believe they have slaved away at your ceremony. And that’s OK. If everyone is happy, be happy!! My brain works the way my brain works.
Some officiants pay to be part of organizations. You can join a wedding officiant association that gives you some sort of title to make you look good on paper. You can actually start your own wedding officiant association and make yourself the president of the association and collect that money for yourself. Things like that can help your SEO with backlinks or give you something to add to your resume. It doesn’t necessarily make you a better wedding officiant. You can pay to be part of the Better Business Bureau, but really just helps you pay your legal fees if run into trouble. You are also paying for the BBB seal of approval. I understand that it can be great for some businesses but for a small, sole proprietorship, that extra $500 can be spent in much better ways.
In the end. I’m a wedding officiant running a business. I only want to pay for things that I actually need to run my business, like pinpointed advertising and a good cell phone. The rest is profit, which is the point of having a business - to pay my bills. Hopefully, I can express myself in such a way that you know who I am and what I have to offer you and you can decide if I will or will not be a good fit for you. I know that if you hire me, I’m happy with the price you are paying me and I’m confident that I and the services I offer are worth that price. You, as always, can decide for yourself.
2. Do you travel to the place I’m getting married?
Some officiants don’t travel or will only travel a certain distance. You may be getting married at home and some people decline to go to private homes. They may be available at the time of your ceremony but might have scheduling conflicts due to the time it would take to get back and forth to your wedding.
3. Do you charge an extra fee to travel to my venue?
The regular price for a wedding ceremony with the officiant may be very affordable. If they have to travel several hours to get there, the price is going to go up and, it could, go up substantially.
4. Will you marry us?
This is a very relevant question. This question is a little different from literally wanting to hire someone to marry you. You can’t just assume a wedding officiant will marry you. Some people are wedding officiants because they are full time pastors or ministers. They may have certain criteria you need to meet for them to agree to marry you. You may be asking questions to decide if you want a certain officiant to marry you. It can go both ways, the officiant may be deciding if they want to marry you.
5. Do you perform LGBTQ weddings?
I’m sure if you are LGBTQ, this is the first thing you will ask, but maybe not. I have it on my website that I marry anyone but some religious people could say that to lure you in so they can witness to you. If you are going to have LGBTQ people in your bridal party or participating in our wedding you might want to include that in your questions too. An overly religious wedding officiant could react badly to LGBTQ people being present. You don’t want to find this out at your rehearsal. Religious zeal can be unpredictable. I once got a call asking if it was OK that both the bride and the groom had twin siblings and they were all transgender and all in the wedding party. I said it was AWESOME and we went on from there. (Literally, what are the odds?)
6. Do you perform interracial weddings?
I was literally shocked when I received a call about interracial marriages. The groom said he had called 7 people who said no before he called me and I said yes. I still find this a really weird question but, where you live, it might be relevant.
7. What do you require from us before you will marry us?
Some officiants will want to meet with you first, others won’t care. Some require a number of meetings or counseling sessions. I once performed a quick, legal wedding for a couple who said I was so much easier then their local judge who required a meeting before scheduling the actual wedding, which was just a civil ceremony and a signature on a piece of paper. I would have assumed a judge or magistrate would perform a quick civil ceremony with no questions asked, but that can depend on the judge. That judge might have seen enough divorce requests that his personal requirements before marrying a couple make him feel better about performing a wedding.
8. Do you offer premarital counseling? - You might want counseling or you may not. One thing to keep in mind is counseling is counseling. There are qualified trained counselors available if you need one. I have a childhood friend that became a pastor and he said he would meet with couples before marrying them as part of the requirements of their religion, but he was not a counselor. He explained to me right away he is not a qualified marriage counselor. His church, like many churches, require you to take classes or read books, and meet with the pastor several times. That’s also not counseling. A religious officiant might offer counseling in accordance with their religion, they will counsel you as to what their interpretation of scripture says about marriage. A secular officiant might be able to refer you to a qualified counselor. Personally, I refer couples who ask, to a pre-marital coach. She has a program that literally coaches couples on relationship building and how to do it in a healthy way before problems arise. If you simply want your officiant to get to know you before marrying you so they can personalize your ceremony, that’s not counseling. That’s a consultation.
9. How much do you charge? - You will want to know if you can afford the wedding officiant. Click here for my explanation of prices.
10. What’s included in the fee? - Prices can really vary. I’m very cost conscious. I have several different priced options so customers can pick and choose what they really need and want to pay for. I have couples who are happy to pay for my most expensive package because they know they need everything it includes and it’s worth it, to them. Others just can’t afford it so I’ve gone out of my way to offer as much information as I can for free. All you have to do is read. They can then just pay me to do what they need me to do. There may be a non-refundable deposit due to hold your date and time.
11. Are there hidden fees? - Some officiants might charge extra if you start late. I literally state how long your appointment is and how long you have to get married. I explain it takes 5 minutes to complete the license and a certain amount of time to perform the ceremony. At the end of the 15, 30 or 60 minute appointment, I’m done. My premium package gives up up to an hour past your scheduled start time to start your wedding. Some wedding officiants may charge you $50 for every 15 minutes past your scheduled start time. They may charge a transaction fee, depending on how you pay.
12. Is a consultation included?
You might assume it is but ask to be sure. Some people assume there are always free, no-obligation consultations. That might not be the case. If you book a bargain elopement with me I’ll answer you questions, no problem. You don’t necessarily get a face to face meeting included with the bargain price. More than anything, you are paying for my time. A meeting takes 3 hours. I have to give myself time to get to the meeting, schedule an hour for the meeting and schedule time to get to the next appointment. I answer unlimited emails and texts and am happy to schedule a phone call for no extra charge. Honestly, a lot of people are happy with that, they don't have those 3 hours to attend a personal meeting either.
11. Is the rehearsal included?
This might seem obvious, but it’s not. I charge extra for a rehearsal. It takes time to get to the rehearsal, perform the rehearsal and then get to the next appointment. Weddings are generally on a timeline so start close to on time. Rehearsals are notorious for running late.
12. Is there a written contract?
If you are planning a formal ceremony, it’s a large financial investment. The cost of your wedding officiant might be minimal in comparison to your catering bill but the services are still vital to the success of your wedding day. Is there some sort of guarantee of services? There are ultimately no guarantees. But if someone is able to articulate their services and is willing to put them in writing, that’s a really good promise. I’ve gotten calls last minute when the officiant that was hired didn’t show up, or wouldn’t answer their phone, or both. If you book a wedding officiant that’s not busy every weekend they might forget they booked your wedding or lost interest and scheduled something else to do. It’s more common than you think.
13. What happens if something happens to you and you can’t officiate our wedding?
I’m going to be honest. For the most part, there are no absolute guarantees. Accidents and emergencies happen. Some people think if you book the pastor of a church the associate pastor will just step in if something happens. That’s really not the case. You may book through a wedding officiant service that books several wedding officiants. That doesn’t mean they will have someone available last minute. I tripped and broke my ankle between weddings a few years ago. I didn’t know it was broken and I kept going and everyone got married that day. After the x-rays, I was off my foot for a long time. If I couldn’t get there on crutches or with a knee scooter, I had to find someone else to perform the wedding. I know for a fact, there are other people who wouldn’t do that. They will just call and cancel, albeit with a valid excuse. Keep in mind, they may not be able to call. I had an emergency appendectomy several years. Everyone still got married. If it had been a bigger emergency I may have not had that option. This is a good question to ask, just to see how the person answers it. That will tell you a lot about them. I used to say I would find someone, at no extra charge, to perform the ceremony we already wrote and agreed upon. I stopped this because I realized I really couldn't guarantee it. I do try really hard to do it though. I would only offer this to a large for a large formal wedding. What I do explain is, as part of the process in writing your ceremony the ceremony and an organized rehearsal is all written in a document we share online. Someone else could step in and do what the document says.
14. Who will perform our ceremony?
This seems obvious, but it’s not. There are plenty of wedding officiant booking services out there. They may be located in another state and just subcontract to someone in your area. You could also be talking to a local business that books weddings and then sends a random officiant to perform your ceremony. This is truly not a bad thing. You might not care who performs your ceremony, but if you do, ask to be sure. Several years ago, when I first started officiating weddings I was a stay at home mom and I would book other moms in the neighborhood that wanted to make some extra cash. I would meet with the couples and personalize the ceremonies and then someone else would go and perform them. It turned out some couples were becoming emotionally invested in the process and didn’t want a different person to marry them. It became a problem, so I stopped. What I really learned when I booked other officiants to perform weddings is they really weren’t as invested in it like I was. I had an officiant cancel on a HUGE formal wedding last minute. She had literally already confirmed the details personally with the bride and it was less than a week before the wedding. I found another officiant to fill in but decided I would never to that again. It’s too risky. It’s not that it’s too risky for me, it’s too risky for the couple getting married. Keep in mind some booking services charge you a premium fee and only pay the officiant that performs your ceremony a fraction of that. You might pay $500 and then booking service will keep $300 of it, or more. They will charge you as much as they can and pay out as little as they can.
15. Do you have a selection of ceremonies for me to choose from? - This is the reason I became a wedding officiant, to offer couples choices. Not every officiant is going to offer you that, and if they do, they may charge extra. I have cost conscious packages that allow a couple to choose from pre-written ceremonies, but I always allow them to write their own ceremony and vows if that’s what they want. If a couple wants me to personalize their ceremony with them, I charge more. It’s a lot more time consuming to personalize ceremonies then you might think. Keep in mind, just because someone says they personalize every ceremony it doesn’t mean they do. They might have a few ceremonies they use, they just don’t tell you that. I decided to put all my ceremony information online to choose from. I can usually point you to the information that might be best for you.
16. Can we write our own ceremony?
I think it’s great that you want to write your own ceremony and are just looking for someone to perform it. Not everyone may be OK with that. If you want to perform a handfasting or something like that, you will want to ask if the officiant is OK with that.
17. How long will the ceremony be?
This is soooooooooooooo important! Some venues are on very tight schedules. They may stipulate your ceremony can be no longer than 30 minutes. Some couples simply want a short ceremony.
18. Can I read the ceremony ahead of time and control what is said?
I could reword this different and ask, “Are you going to give a long boring sermon about something nobody cares about?” You might want to make sure that sermon won't offend anyone. How about, “Do I have to say the word obey?” I still laugh when people ask that. Of course not! We generally don’t ask if there are any objections either, unless it's a really fun wedding.
19. What do you wear?
I get this question from time to time and usually, the reason a couple asks is if they are having non-religious wedding they want to make sure I don’t look religious in a robe or religious garment. They may not want me to clash. Usually, for a formal wedding, I’ll wear black, because it looks best in pictures, unless a different outfit would be more appropriate. Some couples prefer me not to wear black. I’ve started asking couples what I should wear because sometimes I’ll show up to a bargain elopement on a Tuesday in an everyday dress and they will have on a wedding dress and tux and have a professional photographer. Other times, I’ll show up dressed for a formal wedding and end up hiking across a large property in a completely inappropriate outfit. I think this question may be more relevant because I’m a woman. I don’t just have a regular suit to wear.
20. Are you qualified to marry us?
This is an interesting question. You would assume that if someone were advertising themselves as a wedding officiant they would be legally able to perform your wedding. Usually, I get this question when someone is calling to inquire about a bargain wedding. I have very low priced options for basic services and sometimes it seems to good to be true. Whomever you ask should be able to explain their qualifications. Click here for how to find a qualified wedding officiant.
21. Can you accommodate our wishes?
If there is something you want that’s out of the ordinary, ask to make sure they will do it. There are some things people just aren’t comfortable with. Better to know ahead of time what those rules are. One popular question is about photography during your ceremony. Photographers will always ask me that question and I usually ask if there is anything special that I should do so they can get the shots they want. Some pastors or priests won’t allow any photography during the wedding ceremony or if they do, only from a distance.
22. Do you have a video I can look at so I know what my wedding will look like?
I actually hate this question. Let me explain why. What sort of video would I have to show you? Can I videotape your wedding and share it with strangers? How could I get an authentic video of me performing a wedding? If you have a videographer at your wedding they might have me in a few seconds of the final product, and it might just be my voice or me standing next to the groom watching his bride walk down the aisle. It’s my job to personalize your wedding ceremony. I may use the same words I’ve used a hundred times before, but this is the first time I’ve said them for you, surrounded by your family and friends. The venue is decorated for you. The two of you and your wedding are something amazing and spectacular that’s never, ever been done before and will never be done again. It’s a feeling I want to invoke. It may be lighthearted and funny with children running around. It could be a deeply moving, family affair where you father walks you down the aisle knowing he has a few more months left to live. It could be a deeply spiritual time or the moment you’ve been waiting for your entire life or since your very first date and very first kiss. Ask your videographer to see their videos. Ask your photographer to see photographs. Ask your caterer to taste their food. Take a few minutes to talk with your wedding officiant and ask them questions and decide if you get along and you feel comfortable together.
enough to have customers call, ask questions, get answers and go on with their lives. We needed them to take more time out of their day to tell us how great we were doing. This seemed illogical to me. “Yeah! I get to take time out of my day to call my credit card company and I want to spend extra time on the phone after I’m done solving my problem telling them how great they are!!!” Said nobody, ever. Unless, you were in that person’s shoes, then you might take the time to do a comrade a favor when you can. I know I do.
I used to be a top performer in customer service. I solved problems. I solved difficult problems and cleaned up messes. I was fast and efficient at my job and often, my boss was asking me to answer his questions because I knew the job better than he did. I could literally answer 25-50% more calls more than the person next to me. But, that person next to me was a better salesperson so they were rewarded for getting someone to leave feedback. They were able to produce a statistic that was important to the company through their power of influence. They made someone stop and say good things about the company. They made the company look good in a tangible way. They helped fill this column on the company spreadsheet filled with data they could use to manipulate their marketing. I got bigger bonuses because my overall performance was better but it just really bugged me. Maybe because I hated the fact I couldn’t do it well but more because the practical side of me thought it was a waste of time when there were other customers waiting for actual help with their accounts.
Online reviews are essentially used as sales tactics. There is a lot of hype around reviews and there are a lot of people who take them very seriously but there are also a lot of people who don’t. For all the people who have said they chose me to marry them because of my reviews, very few have taken the time to leave a review. Honestly? Many of those couples wanted me to marry them in secret so they weren’t about to go online a leave me a review for my services. They didn’t want anyone to know they used my services. That’s the point. One of my services is a discreet, legal wedding. I would say most of my everyday customers are indifferent, and they like it that way. It's not that I didn't provide a service they were happy with, it's just regular people generally live busy lives filled with other things to do. They might not want to become part of the conversation online, they just want to listen in.
Reviews are really important when it comes to online presence and getting your website or information to rank higher in search engine results. If a wedding website can get me to get my customers to leave a review on their website, it looks better for their website. In fact, I get rewarded when I receive a certain number of reviews each year. I get $10 off my yearly advertising rate for each review I receive up to $100 off per year. If I get 10 or more reviews I also get an award badge to put on my listing and on my website. I understand I’m paying for the whole package and the advantages it gives me in attracting couple to marry. I’m not saying reviews aren’t important, I’m just putting them into perspective. I think customers should understand this.
The more couples a large website can get to register with them the larger their client base becomes. The larger the client base the greater chance they have to make money. They can charge more for advertising and, hopefully, make passive income off of you. If you sign up for on online gift registry through a wedding website, the wedding website makes money off of that. Sign up for a gift registry through my website so I can make money too! The more a company can get you to engage through their website, the greater possibility they have to make money off of you. They send me advertisement to buy stuff through them too. Buy magazine subscriptions or gifts for your clients...
When the large wedding website was giving their seminar about reviews they encouraged making getting the review at the end part of the process. Basically, the suggest you talk about it through the entire course of interactions. “And after I deliver your prints, I’d appreciate it if you leave a review. I’ll send you a link, it’s easy….” You haven’t even had the pictures taken yet, but the idea of leaving a positive review is already planted in your mind, maybe 5 times. They have the sales technique down to a science. Sales and marketing is a science, it's a mind game, and they have statistical data to back it up. Having that data makes them an authority. They have something tangible to show. And we all know we should listen to authority, don’t question it…. (not)
I value my online reviews and I’m grateful to every customer who takes the time to leave them, but honestly? I had to ask most of them to do it. They didn’t spontaneously feel the need to leave a review - at least not enough to figure out how to actually to it on their own. There are some people who do yelp or generally leave reviews but I’m a wedding officiant, not a restaurant. I’m proud of my work and it’s important to me that my customers are happy, however it’s incredibly difficult for me to ask someone to leave a review. It’s literally painfully awkward for me. I'm not a salesperson. I do my best to be an expert in my field and provide information to people who are looking for it.
The places that gather reviews aren’t necessarily the major source of my customer base. It's more of a part of my overall marketing and SEO plan to drive people to my business information and my website. My backlinks from those websites help my business webpage to rank higher in searches which will hopefully help you find my business more easily. My customers didn't necessarily start their wedding planning process at those websites, I have to ask people to go to those websites and leave a review there. Leaving a review isn’t always quick and easy. If you go to a wedding website you have to give them your information and fill out questionnaires and then leave a review the way they want you to leave a review. It’s not like going to facebook a pressing a button. It requires effort. It’s not always easy to do on a mobile phone either.
Several years ago, when I was just starting out, if I had a good rapport with a bride or groom I would ask them to leave a review and they usually would. Bonus points to the couples that both left reviews! I thought that a less than 5 star review with an honest assessment was sometimes better because then a perfect score because when people read those reviews they would get a much better idea of who I am and what kind of services I provide. People actually want to know the story behind something less than perfect. I have literally gotten excellent feedback from those particular reviews. Brides would say they understood where that person was coming from but it wasn’t really important or they could spot a crazy person pretty easily and call it crazy. Or, just like when I read feedback on Amazon, I learn more about something and maybe, another person's junk is my treasure!
Appreciating the less than perfect reviews in the beginning, was good, and then it was bad. Nobody wants to see less than 5 stars anymore. Merchants and service providers literally ask you that if you are going to leave a less than 5 stars review to contact them first so they can make it right. Or at least talk you into not leaving the review. What the reviews say no longer really matter, just as long as you leave 5 stars. Sometimes, I leave 5 stars but still give honest, detailed feedback. If I have nothing nice to say, I say nothing at all, or, if given the opportunity to leave an honest review for the company without sharing it with the public, I do. Honest feedback is important. Sometimes you don't know there's room for improvement unless someone points it out for you. I appreciate that.
What I found out the hard way is review sites don’t just ask you to leave a general review, they ask you to review different parts of the services you received. It’s not good enough a customer had an overall great experience, now, they ask you to break down the experience into parts. This is an incredibly gray area. All of a sudden they are asking the customer to think more critically about things. The most recent time this happened a customer gave me a 4.5 out of 5 when she rated my communication skills. Although she never answered any emails after she scheduled by email. My online scheduler showed me my emails were delivered but never opened. I had to try several ways to contact her to confirm information. Another person gave me a 4.5 out of 5 for the value of my services because she didn’t think the package she paid for was worth the price, even though I explained the differences in the packages to her and how she could do those extra tasks herself, for free and save $100. Or a 4.5 out of 5 for professionalism because they didn’t think my absolute, bargain, quickie wedding was professional enough? You paid $50 for me to marry you in my living room. What exactly were you expecting? You were wearing jeans and a t-shirt. One of my favorites was a bride that gave me 4.5 review and then a few years later asked me for a job!!!
Reviews and statistics are really only based on the people who leave reviews and the people who engage in online surveys and questionnaires. There are thousands of couples that get married that will never fall into those categories. The statistics are gathered to market to certain couples, generally couples that are going to spend a lot of money on their wedding. If a company can present statistics in such a way that they can make them look like absolute facts they are hoping you will respond to them as absolute facts.
If a statistic says the average couple spends $24,000 on their wedding and you only spend $12,000, it looks like you actually got a bargain! It doesn’t matter that you live in the affordable midwest and those statistics come from a major metropolitan areas with an entirely different cost of living to take into perspective. The dollar amount usually includes the ring too. So, you could be sporting some serious bling on your finger but had a totally affordable wedding because of your personal priorities.
There could be hundreds of happy customers that didn’t take the time to leave a review. I recently got a very good perspective from a couple. They were probably one of my top 10 couples to marry, ever. They were looking for exactly what I specialize in and I was able to provide them with exactly what they needed. We really clicked. Every email and interaction, the day of the rehearsal, the day of the wedding, it was all perfect. I was in tears reading their love story! We were all in a holding area before the wedding, just hanging out. The bridal party was relaxed and friendly. The wedding was about friends and family gathering from all over to be together. I was literally thinking, maybe I can ask them for a review? Then, the bride said she was so looking forward to the next weekend when she would NOT have to worry about anything wedding! She could get on with finishing her masters degree program and then move with her new husband to his residency program. She had literally had enough of their wedding and after that day and was getting on with her life. A few weeks after the wedding I received a beautiful, handwritten letter that thanked me for making such an incredibly stressful situation so easy for them. Me and my services were perfect from start to finish. The note was literally everything! Who needs an online review when you have something so special? I did email afterward and ask them to leave a review, I still haven’t gotten one, and that doesn’t mean I won’t get one. But I really don’t expect it. They have moved on with their lives, like people do. I did have another doctor leave me a review a year after his wedding. He probably had a few minutes to clean out that email folder and was kind enough to open the email I sent asking for a review a year earlier. He was busy with helping sick people in the meantime….
I will say this, you can’t pay to get rid of reviews. If someone leaves a bad review, there are ways to dispute it, like they need to produce an actual contract or proof of purchase. You have provide legal documentation to prove your case. Someone can’t just make up a bad review or retaliate because they don’t like you. But if it’s a legit review, it stays. That’s what makes large, reputable websites that gather reviews worth it. Someone was angry because a conversation went bad and I refused to marry him. I disputed it with the website and they removed it while they researched it. According to their policy, the person who left the review would have to prove services were actually rendered, paid for or that we had a contract. He obviously couldn't. I had someone rate me with 1 star on my Facebook page. I have no idea who that person is they weren’t a customer. They rated my facebook page 1 star, not me or my business. I can't delete that. On the other hand, I get great reviews on my facebook page from my fabulous, every day, low budget customers. You won’t see those unless you go to my facebook page. You won’t see my Google reviews unless you go to my Google listing. You won’t see my reviews on The Knot unless you go to The Knot. WeddingWire had a widget so you can read my reviews on my webpage. But, mainly, they all want me to send you to their website to read my reviews. Well, actually, they own the reviews. They are just reviews about me and my business. Sneaky huh? And brilliant marketing. Because hey, customers consider online reviews the same as a recommendation from family or friends. It's easier to go along with the crowd and blend in, especially if the crowd is large and loud enough. Little do you realize, the size of the crowd and it's volume is being controlled by online marketing masterminds making money, more than it is actual individual people.
What is your wedding? Think about it. I performed a wedding for couple that were just having a wedding ceremony. It wasn’t an elopement. They rented a gazebo and chairs, they had a friend who brought their DJ equipment. We performed a short ceremony, enjoyed each other’s company for a while and then went home. No reception. They were a lovely and loving family. I’d married other family members that were in attendance with a quick elopement, but this couple wanted a ceremony with family and friends, the white dress, the hair and makeup, the rented tux, their own exchange of vows and prayers and blessings, but no reception. It was about their ceremony.
On the other hand, it’s not always about the ceremony. A few years ago, I married a couple because they were planning an AMAZING reception and needed a ceremony to kick it off. The bride admitted she was definitely more interested in her dress then the ceremony, but the groom wanted a wedding ceremony, with his nephew as a ring bearer and as many traditions they could agree upon. Obviously, the ceremony had no real bearing on the rest of their lives and long term relationship. It was just part of the day. They even went on to say that since they had to have a ceremony they decided to hire me because I am so different and would perform a “different ceremony” as in, really short, no sermon, no communion. I was a spectacular event! I spent time before the wedding talking with the wedding planner, who said she may plan wedding like this 6 times a year, as such lavish, expensive weddings are rare. The decor, the venu, the live band, and everything, right down to the wedding favors were amazing. It was a doctor marrying a pharmacist and they had pill bottles - prescribed but the groom and filled by the bride- filled with candy as their wedding favors. The guest list was not just colleagues of the bride and groom but of their parents as well as a large group of family and friends. It was really quite a social event. The occasion was the wedding, the focus was the party. It was all the spectacular wedding magic money could buy.
What is your wedding ceremony to you? There is no right or wrong answer. Maybe it really is just a perfunctory part of the day or, maybe it’s a very special part of an altogether special day. Some people don’t care what happens, just as long as they are married in the end. Some fathers and daughters have dreamed of walking down the aisle together and hearing the words “who gives this woman to be married?” They cry just thinking about it. Your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles may have been dreaming of this day for you and with you since the day you were born. Your grandparents may be holding on and living for this day, literally. Maybe the two of you have been planning your vows since the day you met and can’t wait for the moment to share them. Maybe you have been anxiously awaiting your own version on the Bachelor-inspired Rose Ceremony. Maybe this is the day you have been praying over and you have been consciously preparing yourself to make vows to each other before God and your family and it’s a monumental occasion in your spiritual life.
Is your ceremony part of the wedding industry? The answer is both yes, and no. You might hire vendors to prepare your flowers and play music, you purchase a dress and a suit and lots and lots of other things. But you don’t really need any of those things to be married. All you really need is a marriage license and someone to legally marry you. I realized this a few years after I started working as a professional wedding officiant. I live in Indiana, and they decided they were not longer going to marry couples at our local courthouse. You could no longer just “run down to the courthouse and get married.” In many counties in Indiana, judges, magistrates and clerks no longer perform weddings during regular business hours. Suddenly, I had couples requesting my services to fill that void. While I was still performing personalized wedding ceremonies at large affairs on the weekends, my weekdays filled up with elopements and people just looking to get legally married. That’s the legal system, not the wedding industry. The act of your priest, pastor or rabbi marrying you is part of your religion. Some religious leaders might not even sign the marriage license for you. If you get married in religious institution without a marriage license, your marriage may be recognized by your church, but not the state. They are two separate things. Yes, you can do both all at one time, quickly and easily, it only takes a few minutes to complete a marriage license, but it does draw to light what you are actually doing.
You may be doing one or all of the following on your wedding day:
When you are done with the act of getting married, you can do anything or nothing to celebrate.
Her are some things to keep in mind when you are planning a wedding and being bombarded by the wedding industry:
Why do you paying more for something because it’s for a wedding. You could go to a bakery and order a cake and pay one price, then say it's a wedding cake and pay more. Or rent a venue for a meeting and pay less than if you rent it for a wedding. Or buy flower arrangements cheaper then bridal bouquets. There are reasons for this. Since this about wedding ceremonies, let me explain how I price things to give you perspective.
If you just need to get legally married today, meaning you just need to have someone sign your marriage license and say your “I do’s,” I charge a nominal fee. I don’t have to get dressed up for it, it’s a 15 minute appointment and I control the times and locations. My prices go up depending on the services you want. If you are planning a huge, expensive wedding, your expectations of my services are different. I’m going to be personalizing my services just for you. Finding out how you need my services personalized takes time, correspondence takes time, traveling back and forth to meetings and to your rehearsal and wedding takes time. I’m planning my schedule around you a year in advance. Your ceremony may last less than 30 minutes but a lot goes into preparing for that 30 minutes. I recently changed my entire price structure explaining what I can do for a couple and allowing them to choose what they want. If you don’t want a personalized ceremony, you don’t have to pay for it. If you don’t want me at the rehearsal, you don’t have to pay for it. However, my full price has it’s benefits if you are planning a formal wedding. I clear my schedule earlier to arrive to your wedding earlier to avoid problems with traffic delays or other ceremonies running late. I schedule extra time so you can start your ceremony late if there are traffic delays or you or your guests are running late. You are paying for assurance, kind of like an insurance policy for your wedding ceremony. You are putting a lot of time and money into planning your wedding day and each wedding vendor respects this. You may pay less for something off the shelf, and you can do that if you want, or, for a few dollars more, you get exactly what you want.
There are many options you can can choose from when deciding on the ceremony part of your wedding. You can read more about those here. I put together this entire website so that you could have a wide variety of ceremony ideas to choose from. Part of making that choice is knowing what you want and why you want it.
The Procession This is how everyone enters the ceremony. If you are having a small wedding or eloping, you might just gather around, with the couple holding hands and facing each other. If you are having a formal wedding, you will decide how everyone is going to enter or walk down the aisle. Who will escort grandparents or the mother of the bride? Perhaps both parents will escort both the bride and the groom down the aisle?
The Presentation Traditionally, this is the presentation of the bride and the words are, “Who gives this woman to be married?” Or, “ Who gives this woman to be married to this man” Today, the verbiage might be changed to “Who presents this woman to be married?” Some couples choose to have both the bride and the groom presented in a wedding, as in the Jewish Culture. If it’s a same gender wedding, both brides or both grooms may want to be presented in marriage. It’s a way to honor your parents and your family and give meaning to now only marriage but the continuation and growing of the family.
Opening Prayer If you are having a secular, or non religious, ceremony, you can leave this out. It could also be replaced with something secular like a poem about love.
The Welcoming As a wedding officiant, I love to say to the couple “Welcome to your wedding!” All the planning that goes into your wedding day and the momentous occasion of walking down the aisle and being in this place of actually going through the process of being married and exchanging vows is huge! You’ve just had the emotion of maybe seeing each other for the first time on your wedding day or finally experiencing the moment of walking down the aisle. I love to take just those few seconds to breathe and acknowledge that particular moment for what it is, even if they are the only two people to hear it. The wedding ceremony is about the two of you exchanging vow and making promises to last a lifetime.
Of course, after I welcome you, the couple, I welcome everyone who came from far and wide, thanking them for being there and making the trip. We might also take time to say hello to those people Skyping or Facetiming from a distance. If the wedding is being videotaped for an elderly person to watch later, I like to acknowledge them as they are there in real time. Some couples do their best to do a live video chat but if they can’t, they take a video to show them later.
Moment of Silence This is when we take a moment to acknowledge those who aren’t present at the wedding. Either they couldn’t make it or they have passed away. For some couples this is very important. They want to remember those who have recently passed away. I know personally, my father will always remember our grandmothers on special occasions, especially a wedding, knowing how special and important it would have been for them if they were there. I always caution couples when they decide to do this. If someone recently passed away it may do more harm than good because it will stir up emotions. You can name actual people or, you can make a blanket statement. Some couples simply leave it out. The day is about them and those present. End of story. I once had a couple use the phrase, “We’d like to remember those who are not here today, either they are no longer with us or they had something better to do.” Think about it, it was a realistic statement!
Words about love and marriage for the couple This could be a few short paragraphs about marriage itself. It can also include personal information about how the couple met, things about their relationship and funny or meaningful stories. This could also include religious passages or scriptures about marriage. For a small wedding or elopement, I often use an appropriate reading, poem or passage from a book that says everything perfectly. My favorite passage to use is Union, From Beginning to End by Robert Fulgham
Readings Readings could be passages from the bible, poetry or passages specifically written about marriage, love or spirituality. This is a great opportunity to have loved ones participate in your wedding by sharing a reading. It can be very special to have those people reading choose a reading to share that is meaningful to them when they think of you and sharing the day with you. These readings could also be funny, about your dogs or something fun and lighthearted for your wedding. Not everyone has a super-serious wedding. Sometimes the people chosen to do a funny reading actually give a fantastic performance. I once married two english teachers who chose their favorite book passages and read them to each other during the wedding. It was so sweet!
Declaration of Intent This is generally the question, “Is it your intention to get married today?” It might also include “Can anyone show just cause as to why these two should not be joined in marriage? If so, speak now or forever hold your peace.” Personally, I find these to be more legal aspects of marriage than a necessity in your ceremony. I’m a wedding officiant in Indiana, I’m not required to ask these things. They may be required where you live. Your wedding officiant will know that. Some couples specifically ask me not to ask these things knowing there could be trouble from family members. I will ask about intention it I’m performing a quick, legal ceremony where I think it may be questionable, like a sham wedding or marriage of convenience. If I’m performing a small family wedding in a backyard and it’s a really fun group, I’ll ask if there are any objections just because it’s fun to hear the reactions. Sometimes everyone will object in unison.
On a more serious note, taking a moment to pause and acknowledge it is your intent to marry before making your wedding vows mentally prepares you for the moment. During a formal ceremony, I always take a moment to ask “are you ready?’ Simply because your wedding vows are a big moment and I want you to be in that moment and hopefully remember it.
Sometimes the declaration of intent is the officiant asking you traditional wedding vows, “Do you, Groom, take Bride, to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do you part.” Then, later, during the vow or ring exchange they actually speak the words. Personally, I’m at odds as to how I feel about that and leave it up to the couple to decide what they want. It think it’s redundant for me to ask the words and having the person say, “I do” and then having them say the same words. I’ve seen it many traditional wedding scripts. If the couple chooses to write their own vows, then I will ask them those traditional vows too, if they like. There is something about those particular words in a wedding ceremony, if not for the actual practicality of the words but the romance of a wedding
Exchange of Vows This could be writing your own vows or using traditional vows or one of countless updated, more modern wedding vows. This part of the ceremony often makes couples the most nervous. They might not like to be the center of attention or are worried they will mess up. I always assure couples that I can state the vows as a question and they can simply say “I do” or anything in the affirmative to agree to them. They can also repeat after me. Depending on the couple and the vows they are using, it can be more meaningful for them to be facing each other and holding hands in the moment, connected, as I speak those words. If you want to write your own vows but not share them with everyone, you can write the vows and then put them in a box for safe keeping to share later. It could be a formal box ceremony or just a moment. To acknowledge the vows themselves. Here are some pointers about writing your own wedding vows.
The meaning of the wedding rings This can be something different for everyone. They could be an outward and visible sign of the vows you’ve made. They can mean, you are “taken” when you go to a bar. They could could symbolize the unending circles that they are, like love, they have no beginning and not end. They can be a daily reminder that there is one other person in the world that has pledged to love you, forever. Some couples are choosing tattoo’s over actual rings and some couples are choosing not to wear them or one person is choosing not to wear a ring, for whatever reason. I thought that was really odd the first time I heard it. However, the bride really didn’t care and they decided to spend the money on something else. I have a friend that got married late in life and her husband also chose to forego the ring. He works with his hands every day and with electricity. There are non-metal wedding band these days a lot of couples are choosing however, there is no law that states you must wear a ring.
The blessing of the Rings. This is for a religious wedding. I never really thought about it until I was performing a christian wedding for a couple in their backyard. We didn’t include a blessing of the rings. At the end of the wedding the father of the bride was quite upset. He said, “You didn’t bless the rings! If they walk into the house without having their rings blessed it’s bad luck!” There was no logic in the statement, but we stopped, bowed our heads, and I blessed the rings. Other couples have specifically asked for me to bless the rings during the ceremony.
The Ring Exchange Sometimes couples simply put the rings on each other’s fingers. In an informal wedding or elopement I usually ask the couple if they have anything they would like to say to each other ask they place rings on each other’s fingers or would they like to repeat after me? They may say something like, I love you! Traditionally the phrase has been, “With this ring, I thee wed.” I’ve started using, “With this ring I marry you” because a lot of people were not familiar with using the word “thee” and it was coming out, “With this ring, we be married.” Sometimes couple speak actual vows while exchanging rings. You can see many options here.
Unity Ceremony There are a lot of options for unity ceremonies. This is another thing I have mixed feelings about There are things to do during your wedding that having incredible meaning at this point. If you are joining two families with children there may be vows to the children or some sort of unity ceremony, like the sand ceremony. Maybe the couple can express themselves in a really fun way during their wedding ceremony with a unity ceremony. The unity candle honors their mothers in a beautiful way and is common in a Catholic wedding so mother’s appreciate it if you aren’t getting married in the church. Exchanging roses or flowers, tying a knot or doing a box ceremony. They can have a powerful meaning or be really fun during your ceremony. Just remember you don’t have to do a unity ceremony if you don’t want to. It’s not in any way a required part of your wedding. You may not want to spend the money on the supplies or it may just not completely unnecessary to you.
Final Words of Encouragement for the couple This could also be a personal statement for the couple or a blessing.
Final Blessing of Closing Prayer There are lovely non-religious blessings that can be used here. There are also Cetlic or Native American Blessings that are very appropriate. The Seven Blessings for a Jewish Wedding or the Hindu Seven Steps work well here. In a Christian wedding, a final prayer can be offered, or a mixture of many.
Pronouncement of Marriage! “ I now pronounce you married!” “I now pronounce you husband and wife!” Man and wife is definitely out of style, for the most part. There are a few ways you can say this.
The Kiss! “You may seal this marriage with a kiss” or, “You may kiss your bride!”
Introduction as a Married Couple This can vary for everyone. Sometimes I just say Bride and Groom are Married! Mr. and Mrs. Doe or Mr. and Mrs. John Doe or Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe. Some people choose to leave it out.
Instructions for the Guests Where should the guests go now? To another room for cocktails? To the reception at another venue? Should certain people stay for pictures? I sometimes put the instructions for guests before the pronouncement, especially if there is some sort of send off for the bride and groom and you need to give specific directions.
If you’ve read this far, thank you! You may have learned more about wedding ceremonies than you realized. Hopefully, you have more of an understanding of the parts of a wedding ceremony. I go into more detail and examples and options for each part if you follow the links. The biggest thing I think most people don’t realize is they don’t have to do each thing. It’s OK to just say vows and exchange rings and be done. I once wrote a long, detailed, personalized ceremony for a couple who came back with a request that I use a very short, traditionally worded ceremony, verbatim. It seemed really odd to me, they’d literally rented one of the most amazing ceremony venues in town for a 5 minute ceremony. It turned out, they really didn’t want to cry during the ceremony so they made it super simple and the verbiage make it hard to get emotional. I received a thank you note from them stating they had more compliments on the ceremony and it’s brevity! There is something to be said for keeping it short, simple and brief!
I’ve found that some couples are a little scared of a wedding officiant. They equate a professional wedding officiant with a religious leader that left a bad taste in their mouth. They don’t want a religious wedding or to be judged for their actions or decisions. They aren’t quite sure if I’m going to do that or not. When we meet and they realize that’s the last thing I’m going to do, they relax. Some couples realize that need to hire someone to marry them but don’t know where to begin, and it shows. They are nervous because they don’t know what to expect or what to ask. They might be familiar with wedding ceremonies but have no idea how to get from having a concept of what they want to an actual ceremony. I do my best to walk each couple through the process. I have a list of questions I go through, and in the process, I almost always answer 99% of their questions. Here are my core questions.
1. What Is the date, time and location of your wedding?
This is important because I want to make sure I’m available. I’ll ask you this with the first email, text or telephone call so we don’t waste anyone’s time going forward.
2. How did you meet? Tell me about your relationship. What do you like to do together?
This will be the first question. I want to get to know you so I can find the best way to relate to you. I’m also picking up pieces of your story to add to your ceremony and coming up with suggestions for things you might want to include in your ceremony.
3. How many guests do you expect at your wedding?
This gives me an idea of what to expect. Will it be an intimate gathering or a larger group? There are things more appropriate for smaller groups
4. How many people are in your wedding party?
This questions tell me what kind of rehearsal you are going to need. I offer ceremony only services as well as packages with a rehearsal- if you have a large bridal party, 99% of the time, you are going to need a rehearsal with a professional. I always respect your budget.
5. Will there be children in your wedding party?
I ask this to bring up other questions that need to be answered, How old are they? Where will they go once they get to the front? Will they have someone waiting for them? Anything the child does during the wedding is going to be perfect and a cute picture and I always say not to stress about it, just think about it.
6. Is there anything atypical about your wedding party?
Man of honor or best woman? I love different! No judgement at all. Usually the first contact will include the really interesting situations like, we both have transgender siblings in the wedding, is that OK? Of course it is! It’s your wedding, your way. I’m going to ask you questions like, are your parents and immediate family members OK with this or should I look out for their reactions? Family dynamics at your wedding are important.
7. Who will escort the bride down the aisle? Do you want to be give away or presented in marriage?
Sometimes it’s the bride’s father walking her down the aisle and he’s going to “give” her away. Sometimes he will “present” her, instead. Other times, he will just walk her down the aisle and that’s it. Sometimes is mothers or mothers and fathers or stepfathers or stepfathers and fathers. It might be a brother, cousin or grandparent. Sometimes it’s more than one person. Sometimes both parents will walk the bride and the groom down the aisle.
8. Do you want to write your own vows? Do you want to repeat after me or just say "I do."
You don’t have to write your own vows. You might be thinking about it, maybe I can give you some pointers or suggest other ways to share your vows in private instead of in front of everyone. Some couples don’t realize they have options. You can repeat after me or I can simply ask you a questions and you say “I do” or “I will.” That will often take a load of stress off a couple that is really shy or simply doesn’t like to be the center of attention. You have options!
9. Do you want a unity ceremony?
Some couples know for sure they do not. Others want to know their options. There are plenty of options!
10. What type of ceremony do you want?
Religious, non-religious, something in the middle? As a professional wedding officiant that happens to be an ordained minister, this is usually one of the first things we talk about, even before a meeting. I specialize in combining different religious backgrounds into your ceremony or just keeping it as atheist as possible. Often, we create a ceremony together that will keep the couple true to themselves but still honor the religious backgrounds of their families. More than once, I’ve been hired to perform a completely non-religious ceremony for closet atheists. I was very quickly escorted off the property at the end of the ceremony by their very zealous, religious families. But, that’s what I was hired for. I’m OK with that. I have a christian background - including Episcopal, Baptist and Pentecostal. I can definitely hold my own. Every season I do at least one multi-faith Jewish ceremony, one secular humanist ceremony, several kinda-Christian ceremonies and the rest are completely secular, non-religious and beautiful.
11. Will there be anyone participating in your wedding Readers? Performers?
Do you have special people you want to share readings? Do you have someone who is going to sing or play other music? Maybe you have people you want to include but are unsure how.
12. Is there anything you must have in your ceremony?
You might want a certain reading or unity ceremony that you’ve seen before. Maybe you want exactly what they did in your favorite movie or TV show. Maybe a certain version of 1 Corinthians 13 is what you have been dreaming of your whole life.
13. Is there anything you definitely do not want in your ceremony?
Chances are, there is something you’ve seen in a ceremony you hated and definitely don’t want in yours. No sermons or definitely not the same unity ceremony you’ve seen over and over again.
14. Is there a theme to your wedding? Anything interesting?
Themes can be fun! Dr. Who or Harry Potter. Maybe your dog is going to be in your wedding. I can work in lyrics from songs or quotes from movies into your wedding ceremony.
15. Are your parents still married? Remarried? Do they get along?
The family dynamic is important. It’s important for me to know that your mother and step mother hate each other or your parents haven’t spoken in 13 years but promise to be civil they day of your wedding. Maybe your stepmother raised you as her own since you were 4 and your biological mother just stepped in a year ago to steal her, mother of the bride, thunder…
16. Are your grandparents still living? Will they be in attendance?
Sometimes we Skype or Face Time to those not in attendance. Sometimes they have recently passed away and it's a sore spot.
17. Do you want to remember anyone during your ceremony? Do you want a moment of silence?
Most often, we do a general moment of silence, sometimes we name specific people. It’s often a good idea to discuss this with your parents to decide if it’s a good idea to name people. It may take away from your moment and put your guests minds in a sad place instead of loving, happy place. You don’t want someone to simply breakdown in the middle of your wedding because you mentioned a name. Personally, my parents always do this out of absolute respect.
18. Will you be drunk at your wedding ceremony?
Generally, I know there will be drinking at your receptions. That’s not the question. I want to know if you plan of being drunk or tipsy at your actual ceremony. I don’t care what the answer is, it will just give me an idea of what I’ll be dealing with. Drunk or tipsy people can be a lot of fun in a wedding and I’ll walk you through it, it’s not a problem. I’ve learned from experience, some people are too drunk to sign a marriage license of might need someone paying attention to details. One bride answered, “Absolutely! I’m not going to be able to walk down the aisle without a bottle of champagne, the rehearsal is very important!.” Another couple said they were going to send me their vows so they could repeat after me instead of reading them. Turned out, EVERYONE at the wedding had at least one drink before the ceremony, if not two. Many had drinks in hand during the ceremony.
19. Will there be children in attendance?
This is a really important question. I learned it the hard way, in a closed room where there was a screaming child in the front row. No one removed the child so we had to just keep on going. I ask the question so you can be aware of what might happen so you can prepare for it. If you are having an outdoor wedding kids can run around no problem, in a formal setting, this can really ruin a ceremony. Often couples are happy I bring it up so they are aware and could prepare for it.
20. Will you have a day of event coordinator, wedding planner or someone organizing your rehearsal?
This will tell me how much I have to do to prepare for your rehearsal and what my place will be. Will I just arrive and follow directions or do I need to arrive ready to give directions? If you are on a budget and you do have a day of event coordinator you might save money by not hiring me to be at your rehearsal. I’m familiar with many area venues and how they run their rehearsals. I’ll know best how to prepare to make sure everything runs smoothly.
When we are done with all of these questions, most couples are satisfied. They realize I’ve answered questions they didn’t even realize they had. They are confident that I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had a few couples, who in the end, still weren’t satisfied because they had other preconceived ideas of that a wedding officiant should be. They were concerned with how I’d be perceived as a person by their family. Do I look the part? I realize I am who I am and I can’t suddenly become a man or grow my hair. I might not be able to meet their budget so they choose someone cheaper. That’s perfectly OK. It’s your wedding. It’s your money, they are your memories. Everyone has a different idea of what their wedding ceremony should be and I respect that. I want you to have what you want. If I can help you with that, I’m happy to.
Victoria Meyer is the founder of Marry Me In Indy! LLC. She's been officiating weddings in the greater Indianapolis area for over 8 years and has married over 2500 couples.