One of my favorite movie wedding scenes features the wonderfully funny Rowan Atkinson as an officiant-in-training flubbing the vows during Lydia and Bernard’s nuptials in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Maybe you’ve enjoyed this humorous bit too?
On a more profound note, it does show how important a dedicated and detailed wedding officiant is to the smooth running of a wedding ceremony!
With that in mind, we created this ultimate guide to assist wedding officiants everywhere.
Here is your wedding officiant checklist!
What Your Wedding Officiant Checklist Covers
- Marketing your services
- Legal requirements for the couple and the officiant
- Meeting with couples and planning their ceremony
- How to memorize a script
- Rehearsal and wedding day timeline
Everything on your checklist is vital to your service as a professional officiant. It’s confirmation of what you need to know, what requirements you must meet, and everyone you should check in with on the day of a wedding.
First, how to let everyone in on who you are!
Marketing Yourself as a Wedding Officiant
Social media and online sites are the preferred way to market your services as a wedding officiant, mainly if you live in resort or beach destinations where couples may be looking for you online.
Here are some affordable and elegant ways for couples and clients to find you.
Wedding Officiant Marketing Templates
This creative and easily editable template has you covered!
It’s affordable to use on your website, social media pages, and Google, or to print and distribute flyers locally.
Personalized Officiant Notebook
As you meet with a couple and take notes to use in your ceremony script, this attractive notebook becomes a keepsake you can give the couple after their wedding.
It’s tremendously thoughtful, and they will remember you with word-of-mouth compliments to others searching for a great officiant.
A Marketing Strategy for All Wedding Professionals
The goal of a wedding officiant is to unite two people in true love, but even at its heart, conducting a wedding ceremony is still a business!
This digital download contains your marketing strategy to succeed as an officiant every month of the year—it’s the best six bucks you’ll spend!
Legal Requirements for an Officiant and the Couple
It’s becoming popular for couples to ask friends or loved ones to become ordained to officiate a wedding ceremony.
According to the American Marriage Ministries website, it’s a joyful but time-consuming process that you already know as an ordained officiant.
Most officiants spend approximately one year getting ordained and registered and receiving their credentials and various legal documents to be considered “official.” But were you aware that each state’s legal requirements for wedding ceremonies vary?
What’s Legally Required of an Officiant in Each State
Here’s a great link to a website you’ll want to keep handy: Marriage Laws by State.
On this site, you simply click on a state to obtain all the information you need to officiate a wedding in that part of the country legally.
As an example, we clicked on the state of Ohio to see what is required of a wedding officiant:
- They must be age 18 or over.
- They don’t need to be Ohio residents.
- They require two documents: their Ordination Credential (online ordinations recognized) and a Letter of Good Standing.
- Officiants of all faiths can perform weddings in Ohio with the proper licensing. You can get this license by providing the Secretary of State with a copy of your credentials or your letter of good standing.
- A town/city mayor or court judge can officiate weddings in Ohio.
- It’s the officiant’s responsibility to get the marriage license to the court clerk within 30 days of a wedding ceremony. A valid marriage license includes the officiant’s name, religion or ministry name, and home address.
Again, you need to know the specific marriage laws and officiant registration rules for each state, so always check the website link to be sure!
What’s Legally Required of Couples in Each State
The Marriage Laws by State website also gives clear information on what is legally required of couples seeking to get married.
Click on the website and select the state where the couple is marrying to confirm:
- Who should pick up the license and consent to the marriage
- If witnesses are required
- If marriages by proxy are allowed (or not)
- Where the license is valid and for how long
- Cost of license
- What ID is needed to obtain a marriage license
- If blood tests are required
- If there is a mandatory waiting period
- Minimum age to marry and distance of kin
- If state residency is required
Although your primary duty as an officiant is to validate the marriage license, it’s a good idea to remind the couple about any other documentation they might require, such as a permit for an outdoor wedding in a park or beach.
Meeting With Couples to Plan Their Ceremony
It’s an exciting time if this is your first wedding as an ordained officiant! When you meet with a couple for the first time, they’ll be looking at you for guidance, so we include these links to make their wedding planning that much more straightforward:
- Wedding Timeline Template: Your 12-Month Planning Checklist
- What to Put on a Wedding Program: A Complete Guide
- How To Write A Beautiful Wedding Speech & Vows (this article includes a link to a fantastic Wedding Pioneer podcast on beautiful wedding speeches and vows!).
Depending on whether their ceremony is secular or faith-based will help you determine what the couple wants to express with their vows and the order of service.
Here are a few important points to discuss with the couple to make their wedding day dreams a reality:
What Tone Do You Take?
As the officiant, your voice and words establish the mood during the wedding ceremony.
Of course, you’ll be expected to adhere to more formality if it’s a religious service, but since many couples choose a modern tone, you can adjust your officiating style to suit.
What Should You Wear?
The couple expects you to lead as their wedding officiant, but when it comes to a dress code, it’s equally important for you to blend into their surroundings, so be specific about what (or what not) to wear.
Get Firm Details About Their Planning
It’s a great idea to go over the legal requirements mentioned above and specific information on the location and timing of the wedding and the ceremony dress rehearsal.
Sometimes it’s hard to schedule in-person meetings, so offer the couple a video chat or even phone call when there are other demands on their time and places for them to be.
The First Draft of Your Ceremony Script
After your initial meeting with the bridal couple, it’s time to get creative with your officiant ceremony script.
As a new officiant, you should give yourself ample time to draft a ceremony script (we suggest at least six months before the wedding to review your draft script with the couple).
The couple should welcome you to contact their parents and wedding party members to collect anecdotes about them to include in your script. These tidbits often provide the right amount of gentle humor and personality that makes the ceremony memorable.
Most wedding ceremonies, both secular and faith-based, will include the following talk points, so use these to flesh out your draft script for the wedding day:
- First, an introduction of the couple after the bride walks down the aisle.
- Introduction to any readings in a faith-based ceremony or comments from family and the wedding party in a secular service.
- Announcement of the exchange of vows.
- Announcement of the exchange of rings.
- Pronouncement of the marriage.
Now on to the one thing that gets couples or officiants a bit nervous: how do you memorize vows or your ceremony script? Let’s talk about this!
Wedding Officiant Checklist on How to Memorize a Script
After you present your draft script to the couple and receive any amendments, it’s time to polish up your script and begin to rehearse.
For this reason, we recommend you give yourself at least six months to have the couple-approved script ready to polish.
The best method to memorize a wedding ceremony script is the same way used by actors, writers, or politicians. You have to practice your timing, rehearse your words, and repeat!
Here is your wedding officiant checklist for script memorization:
- Record yourself on a handheld device as you practice reading your script. Get a feeling for the running time of what you’re saying in minutes and seconds.
- Jot down when (minutes/seconds) you can do a “line break” to breathe, introduce a new point, or slow down a bit.
- Try speeding up to see if any words or phrases get hard to speak. Practicing these sections alone is a great idea, so it sounds more natural on the day.
- In addition to recording your practice sessions, practice in front of the bathroom mirror. Choose specific times in the script where you’ll speak directly to the couple and the guests.
- The more you practice, the more you’ll know your script by heart.
Approximately four weeks before the wedding, meet with the couple once more and read through your script.
Ask them to make any final changes to what you’re saying, and remind them of how you practiced your part so they can practice and hopefully memorize their vows too.
Rehearsal and Wedding Day Timeline and Tips
As a wedding officiant, you’ll be stepping into your official duties during the wedding rehearsal (most often, the night before the wedding).
Here are tips to make the dress rehearsal go smoothly:
- First, confirm who is bringing and presenting the wedding rings.
- Then, if the ceremony includes rituals like a unity candle, have a lighting source on hand for the couple to practice.
- Run through the entire wedding. It doesn’t have to be in “real-time,” but make sure to go over every step of the ceremony.
- Ask to see the marriage license and ensure the couple has met their legal obligations.
Okay, we’re almost at the finish line! The wedding day is finally here, and no two weddings are the same.
Wedding Day Schedule
Here is your wedding day officiant schedule and some tips in case something unexpected occurs:
- Allow yourself at least 90 minutes before the ceremony to be dressed for success and ready to go! Trust us, the time will fly by.
- Once you’re comfortable at the ceremony location, try to get a moment with the bride and groom (separately or together). Check in with them both, and confirm with them once more who has the rings.
- Meet the wedding photographer, videographer, and wedding planner if the couple chooses one. Ask them if they have any special requests (we’ll get into some next).
- It can be hard to capture the bride walking down the aisle through a standing crowd, so the people taking pictures and video may have a specific time for you to request that everyone be seated.
- As the officiant, you’re leading the couple, and they’ll be nervous! You’ll probably sense some hesitation, so verbally reminding them of cues during the ceremony is a great idea.
- Awkward moments happen every day at weddings! So when something unexpected happens (the unity candle won’t light, or the groom’s bowtie is so tight he can’t speak,) it’s okay to pause and find a solution.
Finding a backup lighter or giving the bridal couple a moment to adjust their formal wear will get the ceremony back on track and take the spotlight off the awkwardness. Of course, your couple will appreciate you coming to their rescue!