The 5 Essential Questions to Ask Your First-Time Wedding Officiant

You asked your friend or relative to officiate your wedding ceremony! They’ve never done it before, but they said yes!

You’re so excited! You walk away feeling great.

But how does your first-time officiant feel – that person you love so much and hand-picked for this assignment?

I’m here to tell you: they have a different emotion.

First of all: they feel honoured. No worries there. And they probably told you that when they agreed to officiate your wedding!

But they also feel scared. And lost. That’s the part they didn’t tell you.

How do I know? As someone who trains and coaches first-time, friend-and-relative officiants for a living, I hear from people just like your friend or relative every single day.

“I feel so honoured! And I’m so scared.” It’s the consistent sentiment. Over and over.

I typically write blogs and make videos to and for wedding officiants, not brides and grooms. But today I’m breaking form and writing to you, person-getting-married. Because I want to save you all from that disconnect and those disjointed feelings. You: all chipper and excited; your loved one: honoured but scared and lost.

I know you don’t want your officiant to feel that way.

So here’s the thing: you can walk into the months leading up to your wedding knowing you didn’t dump too much on your inexperienced wedding officiant. And your wedding officiant can feel honoured and appreciated that you understand the amount of work you asked of them.

Here’s the simple solution. Ask your first-timer these 5 questions when they agree to officiate your wedding and you’ll all feel great about the future.

1. Can you apply for a “license to marry?”

There are essentially two kinds of weddings: the civil/legal kind, and the spiritual/community kind. (And when I say “spiritual” I don’t necessarily mean religious. More the sense of the “spirit of everyone who loves you.”)

The civil/legal kind of wedding centres around signing papers and getting your marriage registered with your governing jurisdiction.

The spiritual/community kind of wedding centres around inviting friends and relatives and crafting a ceremony that they can observe and participate in. This ceremony will serve as a milestone and memory for everyone. It will enshrine the commitment you’re making. Everyone near and dear to you (and maybe their pets too!) will come together and celebrate.

These two very different kinds of weddings hit me from left field when I got married. I hadn’t even thought of it ’til then.

Long story short(ish): my wife and I left Canada after university and moved to Korea to teach English there together. We decided to get married in Korea. So we rented a church, asked our minister friend to officiate, and invited our friends and family.

But to register our marriage with the government, we had to go to the Canadian embassy and fill out some papers and get them stamped by the Korean provincial authorities.

So three weeks before our wedding, we made a day of it on a normal Friday. We went into Seoul and got all the stamping and signing done. It wasn’t until we were in the taxi heading back home that we realized: “There’s nothing left to sign or stamp on these papers! It’s, like… done! We’re totally married! But… are we? Our ‘real’ wedding isn’t until the 31st! Or… was all today’s signing the ‘real’ wedding, and the 31st is just a pantomime…?”

See? There are two kinds of weddings.

The “traditional wedding ceremony” – the kind we’d always seen – incorporates both aspects at the same time. The wedding officiant is registered with the government and they’re qualified to register your marriage with the state. So they’re there to sign the papers. And at the same time they lead the ceremony for you and all your guests.

But this does’t necessarily have to be the same person. And it doesn’t need to happen at the same time.

A lot of couples go to the Justice of the Peace with a witness or two and register their marriage at the courthouse. Then, they throw a big wedding and invite everyone they know. (Like my wife and I did accidentally). The “officiant” in this scenario isn’t “official” at all. They’re someone who leads your ceremony for you and your guests – and hopefully they make it unboring and fun!

So decide which fits your situation.

Does your friend or relative need to be able to legally register your ceremony? If yes, ask them if they can please take the necessary steps to become a legal officiant.

In some countries, it won’t be possible for your friend or relative to register your marriage without becoming full-blown clergy or a lawyer. In that case, you’ll have to figure out how to get yourself legally married by someone qualified first. Either you go to the courthouse ahead of your wedding, or you invite a registered officiant to attend your wedding and do the legal bits.

But in many U.S. states, your officiant can go online and get ordained to marry in just minutes. The number they receive when they register as an officiant will qualify them to register your wedding. My friends at American Marriage Ministries in particular are the easiest and best way to get ordained and legal in almost every U.S. state.

Maybe you want a civil ceremony. Maybe yours will be the community kind without all the registering. But if your wedding is the former or both, ask your officiant to please get their license to marry.

2. Can you make time for a wedding ceremony rehearsal?

When you ask someone to do anything, you want to be clear on what that ask entails.

And when you ask a friend or relative to officiate your wedding, they’re going to focus on the ceremony part and the script writing part. One of the most important tasks of officiating a wedding may not even occur to them. (Or to you, for that matter!)

That’s the wedding ceremony rehearsal.

As a professional wedding officiant who’s officiated hundreds of wedding ceremonies over 12 years, I always insist on a wedding ceremony rehearsal.

That’s because over time I noticed: when we skipped the rehearsal, everyone was more stressed and uptight about when they were supposed to walk, where they were supposed to stand, what cues they needed to remember, etc.

On the contrary, when we took 40 minutes to get together the day before to rehearse, the couple and the wedding party and everyone participating in the ceremony felt more relaxed on the wedding day.

This is why I simply insist on it for every couple whose wedding I officiate and it’s what I teach every member of Unboring!Wedding Academy.

And if the rehearsal is crucial for an experienced, professional officiant, how much more is it crucial for a first-timer?

When you’re asking your friend or relative to officiate your wedding for the first time, make sure you ask them if they can be ready to set some time aside the day before for your wedding rehearsal.

They don’t necessarily have to run it – if you have a wedding planner. That said, no one will be more qualified to run the rehearsal than your officiant when the script is done. They wrote it, after all! And if they watch my video on how to run a rehearsal, they’ll know how to handle your wedding rehearsal like a pro.

I always recommend that the wedding officiant run the rehearsal. Don’t worry. They’ll be able to do it when the time comes.

3. Can you give us an overview of the wedding ceremony script process?

As you’ve figured out by now, your friend or relative will have no idea how to map out all the steps to crafting your ceremony, writing your wedding script, and getting to your wedding day. At least not at first.

That doesn’t disqualify them in any way! They’ll figure it out.

What you want as they pull it all together, though, is to have a sense of what is happening and where they are in the process. It’s your wedding, after all.

I say this because as someone who offers an emergency coaching package, I help first-timers who only started prepping the ceremony a few days before the wedding. And trust me, that situation is less than ideal.

It means that two days before the wedding, the last-minute officiant is emailing the couple with all sorts of questions about logistics and preferences and asking how the couple feel about certain parts of the script, etc.

You don’t want that. You want to know that your ceremony is coming together in a timely fashion, and you want to know how it’s going.

So ask your officiant, “As you figure things out and you’re working on our ceremony, can you please give us an overview of what you’re working on now, and what’s coming next?”

In order to guide you, they just need to be a couple of steps ahead of you and keeping you in the loop.

4. Can we plan the wedding ceremony together?

There is a crime that too many wedding officiants – pros and first-timers – commit on a regular basis.

It’s this:

  • they put something in the ceremony that the couple doesn’t want, or!
  • they leave something out of the ceremony that the couple does want.

My mantra: as the wedding officiant, never surprise your couple!

(The exception to that is the love story. I keep that a secret until I read it in the ceremony. But that’s a whole other topic. Every word and element that I speak in the ceremony besides my officiant speech is known and agreed-on by the couple ahead of time.)

It’s your wedding ceremony, and as the officiant, we need to be facilitating your vision of everything you want to happen.

When you ask the special person to officiate your wedding, you’re asking them to create it and bring it into the world. And as the person getting married, you want to meet them halfway and help them create the exact ceremony you want.

So how does your officiant create the exact ceremony you want? You all meet in the middle by sitting down together for a wedding ceremony planning session.

This step is so important that I wrote a whole book called Wedding Zero To Ceremony Hero about how to talk through the ceremony and plan it together.

What does this ceremony planning meeting look like? Simply put, you’re going to outline the ceremony (traditionally 10 parts), and then brainstorm together every word said and every action taken at each part.

So for example, if Part 1 is officiant opening remarks, think it all through together: how does the officiant take the front? Is there a mic or no mic? What does the officiant say here? Can guests take photos or not? Do you want them to tell guests to silence their phones? What is the cue to start the processional?

Part 2: processional. What song starts playing? Who is playing it? Who is coming in first and where to they stand or sit, then second, then third, etc.?

And on you go from there… for each of the 10 parts.

By the end, your officiant will have all the data they need. They can go home and start crafting a great wedding ceremony script! And they won’t feel abandoned by you or left to figure it out on their own.

Most importantly: none of you will be wondering all the way to the wedding day if the ceremony will be what you actually want.

Because you all worked on it together.

5. Can we buy you a wedding ceremony training course?

My primary client – the person I eat, breathe, and sleep to help – is the friend or relative who’s been asked to officiate a wedding and never done it before.

When I start helping them, they start telling me how they feel.

It always goes something like this:

“I’m honoured that my friends asked me to officiate their wedding. But I’m scared and lost about where to start. I’m not sure my couple understands how much work this is? I mean, I don’t have a clue what to do. But I want them to have the best ceremony ever! Anyway, I’m not going to bother them with questions or tell them that I feel this way.”

So, on behalf of that special loved one who you asked to officiated I’m telling you: they’re honoured, scared, lost, and they’d love some help.

You don’t want your officiant to have any negative feelings. But you can’t step in and save them. You have your hands full planning your whole wedding day. It’s not like you wanna start learning how to officiate a wedding and coaching your officiant!

There’s a simple solution to how you’re all feeling. When you ask your loved one to officiate, gift them with a wedding officiant training course.

Which is why you’ll ask them Question #5:

“Will you accept a gift from us that teaches you how to be the very best officiant, how to write and tell our love story, and how to blow us and all our guests away?”

I don’t know a person alive who would turn that down. Because, of all the clients that do find me because their couple gifted them my training, they’re excited and ecstatic and eager that their couple believed in them enough to invest in making them the best.

You can get your 50%-off invite to my world-famous online program Unboring!Wedding Academy right here. And yes! At checkout there’s an option to buy it as a gift for your officiant and give them full free access – on you.

Asking your first-timer if they’ll accept the gift of learning how to be a wedding officiant is a gift to everyone: to you, to your officiant, and to everyone at the wedding.

Because just like that, your loved one will know how to handle those other 4 questions you asked and anything else that gets thrown at them along the way to your perfect day.