Get my Planner!
A holistic, sustainable planner designed to align your work + wellness.
VISIT MY SHOP
I create holistic, sustainable paper goods for socially-conscious changemakers.
Shop owner, online educator, and activist. Fan of hydration and organization.
Your friend has asked you to officiate their wedding….but now what? You don’t need to be a practicing priest to unite your friends in holy matrimony, a simple online ordination that takes about 10 minutes will do the trick and I’ll walk you through the simple steps.
When we got married, one of the best decisions we made, by far, was opting to ask one of our closest friends to officiate our ceremony. We aren’t religious, so having a meaningful ceremony performed by someone who knew us meant a lot to us. Our guests also enjoyed it, and we got more compliments on the ceremony than anything else. So, when our friend Steve asked me to officiate his 2019 wedding I knew that it was more than just a supporting role. A good officiant could make or break the entire ceremony.
Did your palms just start sweating? Don’t worry, because once I walk you through the simple steps for officiating your friend’s wedding, I’ll also share the step-by-step process I used to write and deliver the sermon.
First things first. Call up the bride and groom and ask which state and county the wedding ceremony will take place in. Marriage laws vary and that means what’s expected of you, as an officiant, will vary, too. A bit of brief research will tell us what we need to know.
Visit this website and click on the state where the ceremony will take place. The next page will have a simple outline of the requirements that pertain to you, (but it’s typically as simple as presenting your proof of ordination, getting the marriage license, performing the ceremony, and then submitting the marriage license following the ceremony).
Most states require that the person officiating a wedding ceremony is ordained through an accredited organization. Thankfully, Universal Life Church makes it super simple to get ordained online in less than 5 minutes.
The initial process is free, but you’ll need to pay for certified documentation that proves you are a licensed marriage officiant. If you’ve completed Step 1, you can simply continue to scroll down on that page and it will walk you through getting ordained online. It honestly takes just a few minutes.
One thing I personally appreciate about being ordained through Universal Life Church is that it’s an inclusive organization that is fighting for marriage equality and often speaks out on social justice issues.
This is when you’ll need to know the county where the wedding will take place. If the state where the wedding takes place requires officiants to be registered, you’ll need to contact the County Clerk to find out what is needed for performing a marriage in their county. In most cases, all you need is an “Official Letter of Good Standing” which you can purchase after completing your online ordination from Universal Life Church.
The page on this site that loads after you select a state will have a drop-down menu for counties and will provide you with the contact information for the County Clerk. You can simply call to verify what information they’ll need and how to submit it. In some cases, you can do it online or via email.
In my case, I just got the letter, took it to a courthouse, and had it notarized. It took about 5 minutes and I didn’t need to have it done in the county where the wedding was being performed. For example, their wedding was in Minneapolis, MN, but I registered my documents in my hometown in Southern Minnesota.
The marriage license is issued by the county where the ceremony will take place. and is typically picked up by the couple. Your job is simply to know how it works. I’d suggest taking the marriage licenses off their hands and being in charge of it. That means keeping it safe, bringing it to the ceremony, making sure they set aside time after the ceremony to sign it with their witnesses, and then ensuring it gets sent back to the correct office.
Once you are ordained, registered, and are in possession of a marriage license, all you need to do is perform the ceremony. But, before you start writing that sermon make sure you know what is required in the state you’ll be performing the ceremony in. For example, some states require specific aspects of a ceremony such as an exchange of vows or declaration of the new couple. This site I keep suggesting will literally outline the specific steps once you identify the proper state.
The most important part is to have them sign the marriage license after the ceremony, and then put it in the mail back to the issuing office the next day. Do not wait.
This is because a lot of states have strict rules stating that the license must be signed and returned within a certain time frame. In Minnesota, the limit is 5-days. The days following a wedding can be busy and before you know it 3 days have passed by. So, bring an envelope that is stamped and addressed and plan to pop that baby in the mail as soon as you can.
And that’s it! Once the marriage license is in the mail your duties are officially over — at least in a professional capacity. For the most part the process should cost you about $20-50 and take about 30 minutes of your time (ten for the online ordination process, twenty for getting registered with a county clerk). And then, of course, there’s writing and delivering the sermon…
Perhaps you’ve been asked to officiate a ceremony and the job is pretty cut-and-dry. You’re serving an official capacity to get the job done and your friends have a pretty simple ceremony for you to follow. Nice!
But, I’m willing to bet your friends chose you because they knew you’d put the thought and effort into creating a meaningful ceremony. If that’s the case I have three tips that I found really helpful:
Before you start fretting about what the couple expects of you, just ask them. Suggest that they put together a ceremony outline 4-6 months before the wedding so that you have any poems or verses that will be included or read, a rough idea of the order of events, whether or not they want you to perform a sermon and an estimate on how long they want your sermon to be.
My first tip is to create a Google Doc or some sort of shared document that you can access on the fly. I used a Google Doc that I could easily access on my phone (through the app) or on my computer. You might also just use the notes app on your phone or a physical notepad. Whatever works!
In the months leading up to the wedding, make lots of notes! Write down old memories or stories that pop up. When you’re spending time with the couple make observations about the way they treat each other and what seems unique about their relationship. You might also consider reaching out to their parents, siblings, or other close friends to ask what characteristics define their relationship or get additional stories, favorite memories, or anecdotes for your sermon. Watch great wedding speeches on YouTube or some popular wedding movies and make notes about what you like/don’t like, words or phrases that move you, etc.
Don’t think too much about what you’re tossing into this document, just consider it research. When you sit down to actually write your sermon you’ll be glad you have this little backlog of info.
This is probably my best tip: finalize your sermon the day before the wedding, and then use the audio recording app on your phone to record yourself delivering it. You might need to do this a time or two to get it right but try to perform it exactly as you want to do it on the day of the ceremony. The speed, the delivery, any dramatic pauses or room for laughter.
Then get a pair of headphones, keep them with you, and make a goal of listening to your sermon 5, 10, or 20 times before the big show.
For me, the day of the wedding was pretty slow. I reported to the venue at 11 AM to get my hair done but didn’t have much else to do until the ceremony began that evening. I was glad to have headphones and a recording of my speech that I could simply listen to over and over like a podcast. I naturally talk fast, especially when I’m nervous, so hearing myself slowly reading the speech repeatedly was key to having good delivery in the moment. Although I used notecards, I had basically memorized simply by listening to it and that helped a lot with feeling confident and easing my nerves as the ceremony approached.
There ya have it! I hope this post is helpful and that you knock it out of the park on the big day!
The ultimate guide for clearing the clutter, defining your personal style, and dressing your best with less.
Learn the basics of proper hydration, learn how to eat your water, and explore 20+ of my favorite recipes.
Thinking of creating your own customized planner? This eBook will walk you through the entire process.