Who Should Officiate at Your Ceremony?

This is the third of four guest posts by Rev. Judith Johnson author of The Wedding Ceremony Planner. Rev. Johnson also writes a weekly column about spirituality for The Huffington Post.

This used to be a really easy question to answer because most people were affiliated with a particular religion and married within their faith tradition. Ordained as an interfaith minister in 1985, I’ve been amazed by how fast things are changing in this regard.

The following three big trends have resulted in the selection of a wedding officiant being far more complex these days.

  • The Spiritual But Not ReligiousAccording to a 2009 Newsweek poll, 30% of Americans now self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.”  This number has doubled in size in the last decade and is projected to continue to grow at a rapid pace.  Most of these individuals describe themselves as deeply spiritual but choose not to be affiliated with any particular religious tradition.  Many have a very eclectic approach, drawing inspiration and understanding of God and the universe from nature as well as a blending of Eastern and Western religious traditions. 
  • Increasing Tolerance of Differences:  People used to raise their eyebrows when one spouse was Catholic and the other a Protestant.  Now, it is not uncommon for marriage partners to come from dramatically different cultures, religious and spiritual traditions, age cohorts, or to have children before marriage.  Same sex marriages are now being recognized in some states.  There are fewer and fewer rules that now restrict matters of the heart.
  • Greater Variety and Complexity of Families:  Where once we had siblings, parents, and grandparents, we now also have ex-spouses, step-parents, step-grandparents, and step-children, and unique blends of cultures and beliefs all mixed together at a wedding celebration.

 Along with these changes, new options and consideration for wedding officiants have emerged as well.  For example,

  • Online OrdinationsIn a matter of minutes anyone can receive an ordination certificate to preside over a wedding. If you want to have a friend or relative get ordained online to officiate at your ceremony – be careful.  Check the laws of the state where your ceremony will take place to see if they recognize these ordinations.  You might also want to consider that a seasoned officiant has learned the in’s and out’s of advising the couple on the logistics of their ceremony as well as the design of the text and the ritual itself. (Alan- In Canada, to legally perform a wedding, one must be provincially licensed).
  • Interfaith and Ecumenical Ministers: Both of these terms suggest a worldwide or universal scope.  However, an interfaith minister typically focuses on religious tolerance and inclusivity that is inclusive of the world’s religions.  For example, I am an interfaith minister and I serve all regardless of race, creed, color, situation, circumstance, or environment.  An ecumenical minister tends to be inclusive of Christian denominations.  Since most interfaith and ecumenical ministers are not affiliated with a specific congregation of individuals, they are harder to locate.  The best resources for them are referrals from other vendors such as location coordinators or area wedding websites that provide vendor listings by category.
  • Having Co-Officiants:  Some couples choose to have their different perspectives represented by each choosing an officiant.  This can result in a beautiful blending of traditions or unexpected challenges if the two have difficulty coordinating their efforts and honoring each other’s tradition.  It is also important to find out what requirements each officiant has about who they will or will not marry.  Each religious tradition has its own rules and each priest, minister, or rabbi has his or her own preferences.

Above all else, be thoughtful and careful in selecting the officiant who is right for you.  Be as honest as possible about who you are and who you aren’t.  If someone rejects you because they don’t share your beliefs, don’t take it personally and keep looking for just the right match.  Find someone who is happy for you, is on your wavelength, and gives you confidence that they will help you create a wedding ceremony that exceeds your biggest dreams.  You deserve that!

Reverend Judith Johnson, PhD is an interfaith minister, ordained in 1985, and author of The Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day – the bestselling guide to wedding ceremony design.  If you have any questions or topics you would like her to address in a future blog, feel free to contact her at: judithjohnson@hvc.rr.com .