Using an officiant to lead

It’s OK to have a friend conduct your ceremony. But choose carefully.

click to enlarge Molly Suhadolnik and Tim Hahn of Springfield, married Sept. 30 at Hill Prairie Winery. - PHOTO BY KATE BLANKENSHIP OF THIS BLUE DOG PHOTOGRAPHY
photo BY Kate Blankenship of This Blue Dog Photography
Molly Suhadolnik and Tim Hahn of Springfield, married Sept. 30 at Hill Prairie Winery.

Weddings in Illinois must be “licensed, solemnized and registered.” Couples often choose to have their wedding “solemnized” by someone with whom they have a personal relationship. For many, this is their pastor, priest, rabbi or other clergy member. Others may not be affiliated with a church or may not currently have a personal relationship with a member of the clergy. It is increasingly common for couples to solemnize their wedding by asking a person close to them to serve as their officiant. Many choose this option in order to make the ceremony uniquely personal. This is an important decision and should involve thought and consideration.

Individuals can become ordained online, through organizations such as the Universal Life Church. Some people may be skeptical about this arrangement. However, many couples have worked with an officiant to develop unique, meaningful and spiritual ceremonies that reflect the personalities and special relationship of the individuals being married. An online ordination allows the marriage to be legal, but it takes collaboration and communication among the officiant and couple to plan a meaningful ceremony.

Betsy O’Brien of Springfield has officiated three weddings in Springfield and St. Louis. Friends asked her to perform this role, knowing that she is responsible, organized and a good writer and public speaker.

O’Brien describes her role as a facilitator to work with the couple to create the most meaningful ceremony possible. She says it is a way for a couple to celebrate their wedding in their own way in front of family and friends. She helps the couple tell their story through their wedding ceremony.

Based on her experience officiating three very different weddings, O’Brien has valuable advice for working with an officiant.

• Verify the legal requirements in your state and county. Regulations are different in every state. The officiant needs to make sure the wedding is legal. It is the officiant’s duty to turn in the signed marriage license, which is an important step in the process. Couples should make sure the officiant has earned the qualifications and meets the legal standards in their county and state.

• Choose your officiant carefully. Don’t select a friend to be your officiant without considering if he or she is organized, responsible and comfortable speaking in front of an audience. The role of the officiant is more than simply showing up on the day of the wedding and reading something.

• Start planning far enough in advance to have time for ongoing dialogue. Four months out is a good lead time.

• Make sure there is clear communication of roles and expectations. Clarify who is in charge of creating the ceremony. Some couples may have done a lot of research and have specific things in mind for their ceremony. Others may be looking for suggestions and advice. It can take a lot of work and going back and forth to flesh out the details of the ceremony.

• Develop a written script for the entire ceremony. Don’t wait until the last week when the couple is busy with last minute details to finalize the script for the ceremony.

O’Brien considers it an honor and a major responsibility to officiate a wedding. She devotes a great deal of time to help the couple create a ceremony that represents their interests, values and relationship. She says the benefit of using an officiant is the ability to create a ceremony that reflects the couple. That is the reason Eteri Chatara-Morse asked Betsy O’Brien to officiate her wedding. They were friends from high school, O’Brien had previously officiated a wedding and Eteri wanted a very personal ceremony. “The process is a collaboration,” she says. “There are three people at the center of the ceremony, and the officiant’s personality comes through as well. That should be a consideration when selecting an officiant.”

Officiants are one option for couples to consider as they make the important decision of who to lead their ceremony. This warrants a great deal of thought. The role of an officiant is much more than just showing up on the day. With good planning, communication and collaboration, an officiant can help a couple create a meaningful ceremony that uniquely reflects their personalities, values and dreams.

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