how to become a wedding officiate

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

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how to become an officiate

How to Become a Wedding Officiate

How to Become an Officiant

Performing a wedding ceremony is a big honor with significant responsibilities. While online ordination is on the rise, knowing where to start can be tricky. Luckily, many non-denominational churches and nonprofit organizations offer free ordination and all of the materials you might need to run a rehearsal, deliver a polished ceremony, and follow through with the legalities.

“We hope that most folks take their role as an officiant seriously and we are here to support them with free ordination and a variety of supplemental resources,” says Natasha Anakotta of American Marriage Ministries. “If you need a step-by-step guidebook on officiating, cut-and-paste wedding vows, or info on worldwide wedding customs and traditions, we have it.”

MEET THE EXPERT

Natasha Anakotta is the Outreach and Operations Manager of American Marriage Ministries (AMM), a non-denominational church. AMM promotes marriage equality and celebrates individuality by offering free and legal online ordination to perform a marriage in the United States to ensure that every couple has access to a wedding officiant who shares their worldviews, beliefs, and values.

Read on for everything you need to know about getting ordained, plus professional wedding officiant tips and etiquette to remember.

Steps to Getting Ordained

The timeline and procedure will vary depending on the organization. Your ordination could take one day to register online, or it could be longer if your ordination service requires training or coursework before they’ll ordain you. Look for a reputable one that offers basic, fast, and free ordination online but has additional offerings and support staff to answer your questions.

Step 1: Always start with research.

You can’t perform a legal marriage unless you are authorized by the state to do so. Every state has different descriptions, classifications, and laws that regulate who can perform a wedding ceremony. Becoming ordained with a legitimate organization, recognized in all fifty states, is the best way to meet those regulations. Here are essential questions to consider:

  1. Is the church/organization founded upon principles with which you agree?
  2. Is the organization transparent about how they operate?
  3. Is the organization recognized in the state where you’re performing marriage?

Step 2: Submit your application.

Once you have decided where you would like to get ordained online, you will likely apply by filling out a form. Here is a link to a sample application. Following your acceptance, a printable credential or Minister ID number will be sent to you. And just like that, you are now ordained.

Step 3: Register with the state if required.

Check the state and county statutes where the ceremony is taking place to see if you have to register as the officiant before the ceremony. In most states, you can perform marriage as soon as you are ordained. Still, some will require ministers to register with a government office before the ceremony, which means you may have to send away for specific documentation and credentials. Find a current directory of all the states and their minister registration policies here.How to Perform and Officiate a Wedding Ceremony

Tips and Etiquette for First-Time Officiants

Ask the couple what to wear.

Each wedding is different in terms of style and level of formality. If they say, “wear what you want,” think about your attire in the context of your role as the wedding ceremony officiant, not as a wedding guest. Avoid wearing prints and opt for neutral colors. To minimize distractions, make sure your hair won’t blow into your eyes and avoid flashy jewelry or a smartwatch.

Take the time to prepare.

Read up on ceremony protocol, the standard order of service, vows, musical cues, how to move around in the ceremony space, and how to fill out and file a marriage license. If you need help, go back to the ordination organization for assistance. Meet with the couple to find out what they envision for the ceremony. Prepare the script, practice your presentation, and create an order of procession for the rehearsal.

If you’re uncomfortable running the rehearsal, ask the planner or on-site coordinator who will also be at the ceremony to run it.  

Be on your A-game.

Make several copies of the ceremony script to bring with you. Don’t forget to bring the marriage license as well! Arrive at least an hour early to check-in with the couple, go over music cues, make sure the wedding space has everything you need (small table, bible, candles, lighters, etc.), do a soundcheck, and make sure the rings are ready.

Just before the processional begins, tell everyone to take their seats and to silence their phones. When you ask guests to rise for the bride, don’t forget to instruct them to be seated afterward. During the ceremony, don’t read from a tablet or phone. Use a printed booklet or binder and look up at the couple (and the guests!) as much as possible. When it’s time for the couple to kiss, step back and out of the way.

Remember your after-ceremony tasks.

Sign and complete the marriage license with the couple and witness(es), if required, immediately following the ceremony. File the completed marriage license according to the instructions provided. If it’s the couple’s responsibility, make sure they follow through and file on time.

How to Become an Officiant

It’s easier than ever to become an officiant, whether you’ve just been asked to preside over a friend’s wedding or are looking to become a professional officiant. Many couples choose friends or officiants that provide interfaith and intercultural options for their wedding ceremonies. Before you begin, there are important state requirements you should know about in order to officiate.

Method1Learning the Requirements in Your Area

  1. 1Decide if you need to become ordained online or if you can simply apply for a temporary officiant license. Several states offer a license that is good for one day and you can apply directly to the county clerk’s office.[1] Notary publics are allowed to officiate weddings in some states without additional ordination. Check to see what is allowed in your state.
    • If you are planning to start an officiating business, you’re required to actually become an officiant or hire one
  2. 2Research the laws for the state where you’ll be officiating. While each state differs and laws change, many states expect that you’re over 18 and have completed an officiant program. Residency requirements vary, but all states require that you are part of an organization with the authority to officiate.[3]
    • Some states have more stringent rules, such as:
      • You must be a minister in an organized church in the same state.
      • You have to provide a letter of good standing from the organization you represent.
      • You must be a resident of the same state.[4]
  3. 3Determine if the county where the marriage license is being issued will require you to register. Registration rules can vary widely from county to county, with some counties always, sometimes, or never requiring officiants to file or provide documentation. There are also states that don’t require official registration, but ordination documents must be presented if requested.[5]
    • Registration is mandatory in:
      • the District of Columbia
      • Hawaii
      • Massachusetts
      • Ohio
      • West Virginia
      • Louisiana
      • Minnesota
      • Nevada
      • Oklahoma
      • Virginia
      • Connecticut
      • New York City
    • Note that sometimes registration is required for non-residents of the state, whereas residents don’t have to file.[6]
  4. 4Register with the county clerk’s office, if required. You’ll submit an application that usually contains a letter of good standing from someone within your congregation or community and your ordination credentials. You may also be required to pay a small application fee.
    • If you become ordained online, you may want to pay for an officiant package that includes your printed, signed, and sealed officiant certification. Many programs even offer to include the letter of good standing and provide extra information to the county clerk.
  5. 5Submit your registration application. You’ll typically need to wait a few days before your application is processed. If it is accepted, then you are allowed to begin officiating.

Method2Becoming Ordained

  1. 1Research programs and organizations online. Find an organization with a philosophy or principles that match your own. The site should be professional and offer certification.
    • If you are looking to create a professional officiating business, taking online officiating courses will bolster your credibility and allow you to confidently answer questions from clients.
  2. 2Compare several organizations before you request ordination or take an online course. Call them and speak to someone directly. If you leave a message, see how long it takes for them to call you back. This will give you an indication of their availability when you need help.
    • Consider the time it will take to become an officiant. While most online programs offer instant authorization, others can take time to officially process your request. Be aware of any time delay if you need to officiate on short notice.
  3. 3Fill out the online request form for the organization you’ve picked. These are usually straightforward and ask you to confirm that you’ll uphold the organization’s values and principles. Pay any required fees.
    • Print any certification documents once you’ve been approved. Get a hard copy of your credentials–one that has an original signature and a seal. Make sure your credentials are official legal documents (not just a xeroxed copy or an email) so you can present it to couples. This will further validate your professionalism.

Method3Starting a Professional Officiant Business

  1. 1Decide what to call your business. Once you’ve become an officiant, you can simply go by your name and credentials, or you can create a professional business name. This can be descriptive about your location or romantic. If you create a business name, check to make sure no other officiants in the area currently use the same name.
    • You’ll need to register your business and begin keeping track of business expenses and income. Consider working with an accountant.
  2. 2Make a business website. You should purchase your domain name and make sure your site is easy to navigate. Include pages about what services you offer, information about yourself, contact information, and positive references.
    • You should also set up a professional email account that you can list on your website. This is a good way to separate your work and personal correspondence and shows professionalism.
  3. 3Create professional letterhead and business cards. This can be done inexpensively through online printing, and some online ordination services offer this product. You should also make a brochure to provide to potential clients. Pack it full of tips, sample vows and a bio about yourself that is warm and welcoming.
    • Don’t print your business materials on cheap paper or use low-quality printers. Clients will be looking for quality, and professional materials will lend credibility.
  4. 4Advertise online and in local publications. Money well spent on advertising will bring dividends your way. Place ads in newspapers, on community boards at the library, and other public places. Work with a wedding planner or event coordinator who can then refer couples to you.
    • Attend wedding and event shows that feature informative booths. Be prepared with business information for prospective clients.
  5. 5Officiate for free when you start out. Offer to officiate for friends and family in order to get some experience. Keep information and reviews to put in a portfolio which you can show clients. Start your fee structure a little below the going rate in your area. Once you have performed a few weddings, you will have letters of recommendation to include in your brochure or portfolio and you can gradually raise your fees.
    • Consider offering discounts to veterans and the disabled. You will feel good about your decision, and others will benefit and thank you for it.

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