The top questions couples ask a wedding officiant

By Kendal Butler

As a professional wedding officiant you meet lots of great people that have one thing in common — they are nervous about their big day.

I’ve officiated big weddings in front of castles and small affairs in barns on blueberry farms. It is truly a great job. I’ve noticed over the years that the same questions keep coming up. I’ve pulled them together along with my personal answers in an effort to help those planning their own ceremonies.

1. Where do we start?

Even if couples grew up going to church every Sunday or they have attended dozens of weddings, it can be overwhelming to consider their actual ceremony. I see this as a great time to assure the couple that everything is just fine. I show them sample ceremonies — everything from “short and sweet” to “long and traditional.” We all go to weddings, but unfortunately the ceremonies aren’t close captioned. It is helpful for couples to read the actual nuts and bolts of a ceremony. From this point, we can begin to craft a ceremony that fits their personalities and the mood of their wedding.

2. What are the rules?

I like to say there truly are no more rules. It is rare that I ask a father of the bride “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I almost never see a bride’s side of the chapel and a groom’s side of the chapel anymore. It comes down to this: the three of us need to properly sign the marriage license, along with two witnesses. The rest is just a beautiful party. I prefer that we include an “I do” or “I will” moment in each ceremony, but I am flexible. I’ve also never officiated a wedding that didn’t end in a kiss. But, that too is optional.

3. Should we write our own vows?

This is a tricky one. It’s important for couples to be honest with themselves about how skilled they are at public speaking. All eyes will truly be on them when they have to remember or read aloud very personal sentiments. After years of performing ceremonies, I am in favor of the “repeat after me” option. I even break down the segments couples repeat into even smaller groups of words to avoid them getting tongue-tied. Emotions run very high whether you have a small 20-person gathering or a packed church with 300+ attendees. It’s best to play it safe.

4. How religious do we have to be?

This is becoming more of an issue. It has been reported that 48 percent of U.S. millennials (people born between 1984–2002) can be called post-Christian. I can perform secular or religious ceremonies, but the norm has become a hybrid. More than one couple has asked me to “throw in some God” for their grandmother. I’m always happy to do it. My advice to newly engaged couples, however, is to plan a ceremony that properly reflects their own beliefs and values. Your guests can say a prayer for you in their own way if you don’t want to include it in your ceremony. Truly trust your own comfort level. Family and friends will adapt.

5. How long should the ceremony be?

I love this question. Think about your favorite weddings you’ve attended. How long did they last? This one is a personal preference as well. I’m facing the audience and can tell when they start to get jittery and look at their watches — or worse their phones. I say the sweet spot is between 10 and 15 minutes for a ceremony. That gives you time to have a song, a reading or a symbolic ceremony of some kind (sand, water, spice, etc.) You want everyone to enjoy themselves and see how happy you are, and I think they can do it in that time. Plus, your wedding party will thank you.

6. What is the best kind of reading?

I really enjoy readings by friends or family members in a ceremony. It gives a couple a chance to honor someone that means a lot to them. It also provides a breather for the two of them in a tense situation. Eyes will avert to the reader and they can relax for a moment. Biblical passages, poems and song lyrics are the most common selections for today’s readings. As long as it is not offensive, you can’t go wrong. Couples can use Dr. Seuss or even lines from “The Gilmore Girls.” My personal favorite is a poem from James Kavanaugh entitled “To Love Is Not To Possess.”

7. Do you want to attend our rehearsal dinner and reception?

Several etiquette experts contend it is necessary to invite your officiant (and a guest) to both your rehearsal dinner meal and your wedding reception. I say they are wrong. Couples are paying per person for both these meals and shouldn’t feel obligated to invite their officiant. I think an exception is if the officiant is a family friend or your family’s personal pastor. Nine times out of ten your officiant will politely decline and hit the road to their home and family.

My final advice is to keep asking questions. Build a rapport with your officiant so when the big day comes you’ll have an ease among the three of you that translates to your guests. And remember, it’s supposed to be fun.

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