We're going to discuss the process of getting ordained to legally perform marriages, as well as how to officate a marriage ceremony once you've become an officially licensed wedding officiant. Basically, the before and after. If you've never performed a wedding before, or you only intend to do it one time, you needn't be afraid. Getting ordained and presiding over the actual ceremony is easier than you think.
Part 1 of 2: How to Become Ordained
Once upon a time you had to be ordained by a church to be allowed to legally marry two people. Then the law shifted and allowed state officials to legally marry others. Somewhere along the way ship captains got involved. Then the Internet came along and suddenly, within a few minutes, anybody could become ordained and legally certified to marry others.
It's no wonder that so many people want to be wedding officiants. Who doesn't love the idea of being able to be the one to join two people he or she cares deeply about together into a marriage? It is one of the most special things you can do! So how do you do it?
Most of the time there is more to the process than simply getting ordained through a website. Sure, there are a lot of churches out there that are happy to help people ordain themselves quickly and relatively painlessly. The Universal Life Church is perhaps the most famous of these. Still, even though that ordinance is perfectly legal, it doesn't yet mean that you can marry someone. After getting ordained you are going to need to register yourself with your city and with your state. That way, when you sign your friends' marriage license it can be filed properly.
In some places you do not have to be ordained to perform a marriage ceremony. In Massachusetts, for example, you simply need to petition and get permission from your local government for permission to marry someone else. In other states, you have the option of acquiring a license to be able to perform civil unions. This is good for people who want to perform marriage ceremonies but who might be hesitant to join a religious organization to do so.
The most important thing you need to do if you want to be a wedding officiant is check out the laws in your local area. Every state (sometimes even individual towns within those states) will have different legal requirements that wedding officiants have to meet. Make sure you understand these thoroughly. Sometimes you will even be able to find instructions on how to become legally certified in your town or city to marry others. Follow those instructions exactly!
Once upon a time the only way to get married was to have a priest, minister, pastor, or rabbi (or other church leaders) perform the ceremony. Then the door opened for judges and justices of the peace. Nobody really knows where the ship captains came in. Now, thanks to the relaxing of most local laws, anybody can become legally ordained or certified to be a wedding officiant! Whether denominational or nondenominational. Just make sure you follow the local laws where the ceremony is supposed to take place and you should be fine.
Part 2 of 2: How to Officate a Wedding
Congratulations! You have officially become a wedding officiant! You've gotten ordained, filed all of the necessary paperwork with your city and state and now—you get to perform weddings! It's great! Now what?
It's okay if you feel a little bit panicked about performing a marriage ceremony. Even the most experienced wedding officiants can get a little bit nervous. After all, every ceremony is different. Every couple getting married is different. How do you make sure that you are doing it right?
Make sure you ask lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to officiating a wedding ceremony. Ask the couple what they want you to wear. Ask them how serious they would like you to be. Ask if there are any family issues or sensitivities you need to be watching for during the ceremony.
The good news is that, most of the time; the couple will have a good idea about the kind of ceremony they want to have performed for them on their special day. They will have definite opinions about vows, different sections of the ceremony, speakers, music, etc. They may even know exactly what it is that they want you to say. All you have to do is listen to what they want and give it to them. In terms of the words spoken during the ceremony, these days pretty much anything goes.
The better news is that, when you and the couple are still having trouble putting the ceremony together, there are a lot of different resources you can use for inspiration. You can find a ton of books on wedding planning and ceremonies that will have sample ceremonies at your local library. There are even more websites that you can visit when you need some help. You could also talk to other officiants in your area and ask for pointers or tips. Don't worry, you'll figure it out!
But—after you've gotten the ceremony squared away, how do you make sure that when you're done talking and helping the happy couple exchange vows and have pronounced them married to all of their friends and loved ones… how do you make sure it sticks?
The most important thing that you need to do (and the most important thing that you need to do) is familiarize yourself with the local laws concerning legally cementing a marriage. Every state is different. Every city is different. Contact your local records office or courthouse to see what it is that you have to do after you have performed the ceremony. You will usually be able to pick up or download some information with instructions. All you have to do is follow them.
Officiating someone's wedding ceremony is one of the most important things that you can do. There is a lot of pressure to get it right. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of having to be absolutely perfect. Try to remember, though, that at the end of the day what matters is that the happy couple gets the ceremony they want and that it is legally binding. If you can help that happen, you've done your job!