I recently officiated a wedding for two of my dearest friends. I had never officiated a wedding before, but I was honored to perform this service for them.
To write a perfect ceremony, I worked closely with the bride and groom, but they also gave me a lot of freedom. I was tasked with balancing the ceremony between the faith of the couple themselves (who are Neo-Pagan) and their family members (who are Catholic) with a Tolkien vibe for the whole ceremony. It was not easy, but I'm proud of the result. I thought that some other first-time officiant may like to hear about my writing process.
1. Take yourself lightly
I was so overwhelmed by the task in front of me, when I started, that I couldn't even think of where to start. In my first draft, then, I let myself be silly in the extreme, throwing in mermaids and velociraptors as suited my fancy. It may sound counterintuitive, but it took off some of the pressure.
2. Talk to your couple about sensitive subjects
Early in the writing process, ask your friends what they would and would not like their service to include. Subjects that seem de rigeur in a sermon — such as having children, or the idea of eternal love — could be painful subjects for your couple.
3. Build off of one simple but resonant image
Instead of trying to juggle a lot of images or ideas, I picked a single, simple phrase to build my sermon around: “Life is a journey.” It's a bit cliche, but it's a cliche that has earned its use. I could develop this, defining marriage as choosing a partner to travel with.
4. In interfaith weddings, find emotional unity
I had never even attended a handfasting before I was asked to officiate one. I understood the idea: tying together the bride and groom's hands symbolizes their binding their lives together. But how to make that resonate with the Roman Catholic tradition?
So you've been asked to officiate a friend's wedding. Congratulations! Even if you're someone used to exciting things happening all over the universe, someone like,... Read more
Fortunately, I attended Catholic school for thirteen years. I had the idea to connect each cord with a virtue — after all, Catholicism likes to list out virtues, such as Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Julia had the idea that their family members would join them on the altar, and each would tie a cord, as a way to bring them into the ceremony. When I suggested my idea of listing virtues, my friends loved it, and began connecting virtues with the family members they wished to honor. My idea supported theirs with extra meaning.
5. Practice, practice, practice
For weeks leading up to the wedding, I went out every day to my garden and had my dogs sit at my feet while I read the ceremony aloud. Inevitably, after a minute the dogs would get bored, and they'd start to bite, squabble, and play tag. I never stopped my reading. I grew familiar with the material and practiced projecting and enunciating. By the time the wedding came, I knew the material inside and out — and I knew I could weather any distraction or interruption — including a sudden outburst of vampirism in the congregation.
Ultimately, my most important words of advice are: consult frequently with your couple, but trust yourself! There's a reason that your friends asked you to officiate. Let your love and esteem for them guide your process.
What are YOUR pieces of advice for when your friends ask you to officiate their wedding?
Comments on 5 secrets to officiating your friend’s wedding
My only real comment if you want to do this is to make sure your state allows friends to officiate. Mine does not. It’s a state-by-state law, so what’s true in, say, California, may not be true in Ohio or Connecticut or Georgia.
Otherwise, what a lovely gift you gave your friends. You took the task seriously and with such love. I’m sure you made it extra special for them!
In my state, they allow couples to officiate themselves. If your state allows that, then you could self officiate at the courthouse, and then have your friend officiate the actual ceremony. You could also have a judge, justice of the peace, clerk, or whomever officiate at the courthouse for the legal stuff and then have a friend officiate at the ceremony later.
AMM (who ordained the author of the post!) have a lovely, clear breakdown of state-by-state requirements here: https://theamm.org/minister-licensing/
In short, if you’re in the US, you can totally get ordained, you may or may not have to do some bonus paperwork (depending on the state and possibly the area of the state, e.g. NYC), and you can totally marry your friends. If you want. 🙂
Thank you for adding these points! I got my license well in advance, so it wasn’t on my mind as I was writing this out. Like, oh, right, the legal aspect, that’s important… 🙂
In North Carolina they do not recognize people ordained online which has been a hardship on the Pagan community so for those states have a courthouse wedding prior to the ceremony and then anyone can perform the ceremony on the day of,
In Virginia the rules are “be ordained” and “be in regular communion with your church/congregation”(I’m paraphrasing) but what this essentially means is that online ordination is a BIG no-no. Most county clerks have a list of online ordination companies and will not accept them to do a wedding. The only way in VA is to either be ordained by a “brick and mortar” church and then you can perform a wedding anywhere in VA OR you can be a “one day” officiant but you have to live in the city/county where you are going to perform the ceremony. The cost varies but all require a $500 bond and a background check and once you return the marriage license your bond is returned. Don’t get sucked in by many of the online places telling you their ordinations are accepted in all 50 states, it’s simply not true.
Well said! Last summer I had the honor of officiating my best friend’s wedding. Here in Massachusetts it’s really easy to get a “One Day Marriage Designation,” so after filing a little paperwork really all I had to worry about was writing the ceremony. I’m an actor by trade, and they wanted something pretty short, simple, geeky, and non-religious so it was pretty easy to put together. My friends gave me a lot of freedom, which was a little daunting, but they also had a few pretty solid guidelines which helped structure it all.
The biggest point my friend made was that she wanted to include the famous quote from The Princess Bride (I may or may not have worn a fake bishop’s hat for this…), so I used that as my opening. My friends are really into books and video games, so I decided to take the theme of life as both a story and an adventure. With this theme in mind, I planned the ceremony around telling the story of how they met, two readings they wanted to include, a unity volcano, and their vows. I focused most on transitions–getting from one topic or element of the ceremony to the next smoothly. I’m a super perfectionist, so I feel a couple transitions were a little clunky…but I’m also really proud of what I came up with over all. At some point you have to look at the big picture and just get the speech finished, after all! I tried to strike a balance between awesome nerdy references that would make my friends smile, but also general themes that everyone could understand and appreciate. All in all, it felt very fitting to the two of them, which is really the ultimate goal with something like this.
Given the opportunity I’d officiate for another close friend in a heartbeat. It was a really wonderful experience.
That sounds like such an awesome ceremony! What, exactly, is a unity volcano?
And you’re right, the tricky thing about fandom ceremonies is not shutting people out. I was tempted to go much further into the Tolkien theme, but 1. I would have had to recite the entire ceremony in Elvish, and 2. That meant half of the congregation would have been just shifting uncomfortably.
Thanks for responding 🙂
First reference on this site I can find for a unity volcano is here: http://offbeatwed.com/2010/11/austin-vintage-junkyard-wedding
Basically a “science fair” volcano where the couple each puts in one ingredient and when combined they trigger the chemical reaction for “lava” to pour out the top.
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