Wedding officiants | Professional vs. family

Your wedding officiant can have a major impact on your day. The vows, rings and pronouncement of being officially married are the reasons for the wedding. Many couples ask a friend or family member to officiate their wedding but problems often arise when the ceremony is not performed by a professional. 

At Pepper Sprout Barn, we’d estimate 60% of our weddings are officiated by a family member or a friend. Perhaps they don't know a pastor or officiant, their personal pastor is not available or it’s simply a vendor they procrastinate contacting. The reasons for the shift in not hiring a professional officiant are plentiful but unfortunately so can be the mistakes made by amateurs.

More and more couples enlist the help of a family member. After all, getting ordained online is quick, easy and free. 

It’s an option, we don’t deny and trust us many ceremonies that are officiated by a family member are beautiful and run smoothly but mistakes are common when we have a first-time officiant at the altar. With more and more weddings happening outside a church, the trend to ask a family member to officiate is on the rise.

You ask your dad, brother, uncle or friend to officiate your wedding. Sounds like the perfect plan, right? They get ordained online, you save money and someone you love and adore marries you, what could go wrong? Well, actually a lot can go wrong….here are some thoughts to consider. 

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn, picture by Holly Von Laken

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn, picture by Holly Von Laken

Nerves get the best of people

Think about it, it’s the most important day of YOUR life, they are standing in front of many people they don’t know and they are in charge of the ceremony, the reason you are all there. That’s a BIG responsibility and they have no experience and very little practice under their belt. 

First-time officiants….

talk fast or forget lines.

have a hard time managing it all—notes, the mic, rings, unity ceremony, etc. There is a lot going on.

are not as loud as they think.

are not familiar with music elements or timing of music and transition. 

Sure they can practice in front of a mirror or with a small group of people but that is not the same as years of experience and when the real moment comes, many first-time officiants stumble at some point, some more than others. 

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn, picture by Brooke Miller Photography

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn, picture by Brooke Miller Photography

Online ceremony templates are not perfect so details are missing, leading to mistakes or awkward moments. 

When you google wedding ceremony scripts, you get many options but the free versions are most often outlines, highlighting only the  basic elements you should include in your ceremony such as introduction, prayer, unity ceremony, vows and final pronouncement. After all, they are free so professionals aren’t going to give away their best tips for nothing. Often the online templates do not include the little things, the pieces that make the entire ceremony flow smoothly. We often see the following things not addressed until the night of the rehearsal and once it’s sorted out, the officiant forgets to write it down and at the ceremony, it’s jumbled or forgotten all over again. 

Small details to consider:  

How to hand off the bride to the groom. What question is going to be asked? How is it answered? 

How does the person walking the bride down the aisle, address/greet/recognize the groom? How and when to hand off the bouquet? 

What announcements need to be made at the beginning of the ceremony (think unplugged ceremony) or at the end (reception location or picture information)? 

When do the guests stand, sit? 

Who is released first after the couple and wedding party depart? Where should they go?

Indoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn. Photo by Brian Dean Photography.

Indoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn. Photo by Brian Dean Photography.

We are always going to lobby for hiring a professional wedding officiant. There are many reasons they have the title and get paid to officiate. 

The pros are used to talking in front of people. New faces and crowds do not make them nervous. 

Professionals can help create a beautiful, unique, personal ceremony just for you. You won’t have to rely on a basic template that anyone can find in an online search. 

They have a tried and true system for creating ceremonies. They can share personal collections of verses, prayers, readings that suit your style. They can save you hours of researching online. 

With the ceremony they create for you, there are no missing parts and often they will give you a professional copy of the final script, something that will be a forever keepsake. Imagine your kids reading it one day or incorporating it into their wedding and you have it if you ever renew your vows.

They’ve made mistakes and have learned from them. Years of experience cannot be discounted. Think of that classic saying, “you get what you pay for”. 

Professional wedding officiants know how to navigate changes, bumps and interruptions that come with a wedding day. Crying kids, loud noises outside, a coughing guest are just a few possibilities.

This is their job, since they are not nervous so they don’t speak at warp speed or forget things. We had a new officiant that forgot to announce the couple husband and wife! Hello, that’s what we are all here for! You can’t get that moment back, it’s gone forever. 

Hiring a professional wedding officiant, unplugged ceremony sign. Picture by Sydney Renee Photography.

Hiring a professional wedding officiant, unplugged ceremony sign. Picture by Sydney Renee Photography.

Wedding officiants are the least expensive wedding vendor 

Trust us, the few hundred dollars that the professionals charge or the donation you make to their church will by far be worth the money when your ceremony is flawless, you are legally married and all proper documents are filled out and sent out on time! Not to mention all the time they will save you from researching, typing, planning and coordinating with family to make sure it all comes together. 

As it is with most parts of wedding planning, if you involve too many opinions, the vision is no longer yours. Do you really want that for your wedding ceremony? Working with a professional wedding officiant will ensure that the details of your ceremony are a true reflection of your love and style. 

Don’t forget that a professional wedding officiant provides services before & after the wedding too. They give you info on how to obtain a marriage license in your state, they send the license off for you after the wedding so you are legally wed and they provide you information on how to legally change your name. Again, hours of time saved from research you do not have to do on your own. Think of the online rabbit holes you can avoid by hiring a professional officiant! 

If you don’t know of a professional wedding officiant, ask your venue. They will very likely have a list of names they can provide. Our favorite is Your Wedding, Your Way. Patty Burgess and her team perform weddings across the state of Georgia and will travel to neighboring states too! 

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn, picture by Morgan Corbett Photography

Outdoor wedding ceremony at Pepper Sprout Barn, picture by Morgan Corbett Photography

Do you have your heart set on a family member officiating your wedding? If so, we have tips below to create your own ceremony. 

We’ve seen a lot go wrong with newbie officiants. Are they life and death mistakes? No, but they are mistakes that could’ve been easily avoided with a few tips. So here they are…

Write down every step of the ceremony. EVERY STEP, even the most minute, such as “please stand” or “you may be seated”. Think of the ceremony as a playwright or script. Even an actor is told when to sit or stand. Why? Because when you are nervous you forget the little things first! 

Insert where songs go, insert intros to guest readers, exchange of vows, etc. Every little detail will help the ceremony run smoothly. No awkward silences or forgotten moments. 

Incorporate others when drafting your ceremony. By this we mean, talk to your parents about how they want to answer questions, make sure anyone doing a reading is comfortable with doing so and your selection, listen to the music you want to use and solicit the advice of your DJ or musician if you have concerns or need suggestions. There may be one person officiating but the ceremony involves many people. 

Introduce the officiant to your songs BEFORE your wedding day. That way they are familiar with the songs and how long they are estimated to run. 

Tell everyone to STAND! Nothing worse than people sitting in their seats as the bride walks down the aisle. Kills us every time. 

Let guests be seated. No one wants to stand the entire ceremony. Heels hurt! After the couple is together and the first prayer or introduction has been made, tell everyone to sit. We can’t help but giggle when they are half way through the ceremony and guests are still standing. Often we’ll see people start to bob. They want to sit but they don’t want to be the first. So awkward. Not to mention, it makes the photographer’s job harder when people are standing or sitting at the wrong time.

Don’t leave writing your until the last minute! It’s not as easy as the professionals make it look so if you insist on asking your a friend or family member, don't wait until the last minute to prepare your ceremony, do it months in advance so you have time to change things, catch mistakes, practice and maybe even consult with a professional so they can review your plan before it’s too late.

Outdoor wedding ceremony, September wedding, Pepper Sprout Barn. Picture by Sea Salt Photography.

Outdoor wedding ceremony, September wedding, Pepper Sprout Barn. Picture by Sea Salt Photography.

We get it, you want family to be a part of the ceremony!

You can do that and still have a professional wedding officiant. You can ask them to do a reading, say a prayer, sing a song, be a member of the wedding party but remember the ceremony is what makes it official, the vows are legally binding, do you really want to risk it? 

We don't deny having someone you love marry you is a touching moment but we see mistakes happen every time and they can be avoided. It’s your wedding ceremony, it really should be perfect. After all, all eyes & ears are on you! The memorable moments should be the touching words, emotional elements not the burst of laughter or awkward silences stemming from the mistakes or nerves of your first-time officiant. 

Above all else, we want your day to be perfect so if you opt for a family member to officiate we hope that these tips will help your ceremony run smoothly. We want it to be a happy memory for all the right reasons. 

Bonus tip: no matter who officiates your wedding, if you are having the ceremony outside be sure to mic your officiant. Everyone is there to hear your vows being shared, it’s so frustrating to guests if they cannot hear the ceremony. People hate missing out on what is being said. 

Do you plan to ask a family member to officiate? If so and you have more questions, comment below and we’ll be happy to share our thoughts to help your day be perfect!