I frequent the Weddingbee message boards, and one of the frequent questions I find myself answering over there is “Where do you find a wedding officiant?”

Sometimes I think the Wedding Industrial Complex has forgotten about the wedding officiant.  I’ve met with couples who have been planning their wedding for 18 months – but didn’t think to hire an officiant until three weeks before.  Many couples worry about who is going to marry them if they don’t get married in a church or a temple, or if they are non-religious or don’t want a minister or a rabbi.  The WIC tells brides that they need to match their bridesmaid’s dresses to their shoes exactly, that you need monogrammed napkins and signature drinks – but tells you nothing about customizing or personalizing your wedding ceremony, which is one of the most important parts of the entire day – otherwise, it’s really just a party.

Here’s the thing:  wedding officiants and Celebrants are out there!  And we want to perform your wedding ceremony – exactly how you want it to be!  My weddings have NO requirements when it comes to their structure or content.  Sure, I’ll guide you in certain directions, based on my past experiences on what works, but you can basically choose exactly what you’d like to include in your wedding.  It’s always personal, and truly reflects the people being married.

And I’m not alone in doing this – there are Celebrants all over the United States (and a few scattered across other countries, too!) who want to work with you to create a beautiful wedding ceremony.  You just need to find them!  And we really do all that we can so you don’t feel like you’re being married by a wedding vendor or professional – we try to make it feel like you’re being married by a friend (well, at least, I do).  A friend who knows a lot about wedding traditions and the ins and outs of ceremony, that is.

So here are some tips when you begin your officiant search:

The best time to start looking for an officiant is when you decide WHERE your ceremony is going to be. Not only is it a peace of mind to know that you can be confident in your ceremony being as beautiful as your venue, but we also book up around four to twelve months before the wedding.  We may not be available or able to put together a great ceremony on very short notice (but it can be done!)

Start by Googling “wedding officiant in [your state]” to find some jumping off points. You can also check out websites like WeddingWire that have reviews from real brides (i.e., we can’t edit the responses) or TheKnot to see who is out there, too.

Schedule a meeting or phone call before signing a contract. There are some wedding pro’s that I think is OK for just one person to check out – but try your best to BOTH be at the phone call or meeting.  All Celebrants offer a no-obligation meeting, and I think it’s important to click and have a real connection with the person who is marrying you.  [Personal note: my fiance and I met with a few officiants for our wedding.  I spoke on the phone with one who I had a good connection with, but my fiance did not connect with her at all at the meeting – I was ready to hire her over the phone.  Meetings are important.]

Ask good questions at your meeting! I find that I almost always answer all of my couple’s questions in my initial wedding spiel, but here are some good questions to ask:

Are you legal to solemnize marriages in my state?
How do we get our wedding license?  Who files it?
Can we customize the ceremony?  Can we write our own vows?
Do you have a PA system you can bring, or a preference for amplification?
What do you wear?
Can we see the ceremony before hand?
How long are your typical wedding ceremonies?  How long do you think our wedding will be?
Do you prefer to communicate via email or phone?
Is a rehearsal included in the fee?  Do you recommend a rehearsal?  Do you attend the rehearsal?
How early do you arrive on the day of the ceremony?
Do you stay for the reception or the rehearsal dinner?
Do you have a backup?  What happens if you can’t make it to the wedding?
If we forget to get the license, will you still perform the ceremony?
Do you provide props for the ceremonies (handfasting, unity candle, etc)?

I think you should walk out of your meeting with your wedding officiant excited about your wedding and your ceremony, with a clear picture of the ceremony in your head.  A good officiant should be able to offer you assistance with your vows (either suggestions if you don’t plan on writing them, or editing if you do), reading suggestions, and help with rituals you may want to include.

I hope this helps with the daunting task of finding a wedding officiant who is right for you.  Have you found your wedding officiant yet?  How did you feel after meeting him or her?