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How To Guide: Officiating Your First Wedding Ceremony

How To Guide: Officiating Your First Wedding Ceremony

You have been asked, “Will you marry us?”…you said yes.

Now, it is time to figure out how you are going to officiate your first marriage ceremony. Follow the ten steps below and you will deliver an inspired wedding day to remember.

Step ONE: Get Ordained 


Becoming a minister online is a practice that dates back decades, celebrities do it, your friends do it, and if you are reading this, it is likely you will do it. There is no shortage of religious organizations that provide online ordination services. So how do you pick? There are several things to consider when choosing where to apply for ordination. 

  1. Religious affiliation and fit. Does the organization that will ordain you as a minister fit your belief and value system?

  2. Support. What resources are available to coach you through this process? Do they have sample ceremonies and other information that will be helpful to get you ready to be at the center of someone's big day?

  3. Federal Recognition. Are they a federally recognized 501(c)3 religious organization?

Step TWO: State Marriage Laws


Marriage laws vary from state-to-state and sometimes by county. It is important that you do your homework to ensure you are complying with the laws of the state where the couple will be married. Officiant licensing and marriage licenses are most often administered and processed through the county clerk or recorders office in the county that the wedding will take place. For more details on marriage licensing, click here.

Step THREE: Meet With the Couple


Undoubtably, what matters most during this process is fulfilling the happy couple's vision and dream for their wedding day. The best way to ensure you are creating a ceremony that will make those dreams come true is to get inside their heads.

  1. Homework. Have each of them fill out a couples questionnaire before you meet with them. Ask them to be sure to do the questionnaires individually and not to share them with each other. These responses give you amazing insight into their story and wishes for the future that you can use to guide your ceremony script.

  2. Vibe. When you meet with them ask questions that uncover the experience and feel of their ceremony. Things for discovery;

    • Formality. Would they like to be referenced by their full names, ie Mike vs. Michael. Do they have a preference on your clothing choice on the wedding day?

    • Family Dynamics. Is there anything you should know about the expectations of their parents, grandparents, ie family traditions, religious preferences?

  3. Wedding Party. How many people will there be in their wedding party. Will they include their dog, flower girls etc. Wedding party make-up can create more complications that you should be aware of or it can simply things.

  4. Rehearsal. Do they want you to run the wedding rehearsal?

  5. Ceremony. Are they comfortable with you writing the ceremony and then asking for their feedback after you have a solid first draft? Do they want to write their own vows? What is their expectation for ceremony length? There is a big difference between 5 minutes and 20 minutes, you should know that well ahead time.

Step FOUR: Write The Ceremony


This is one of the best parts of officiating a wedding, writing the ceremony script. Embrace the creative process and remember you don't have to get it right on the first try, this is an iterative process. Click Here for a complete how-to on writing your first marriage ceremony script.

Things to consider as you begin to write:

  1. Find A Theme. Identify a common idea that you can pull throughout the script, the easiest places to look for themes are: nature, travel, and hobbies.

  2. Frame. Create an outline for the pieces of the ceremony you would like to include. A typical ceremony will include the following: (procession), giving away the bride or groom, words of welcome/charge to the couple, exchange of vows (I dos), exchange of rings, blessing of marriage, pronouncement of marriage, the kiss, introduction of the couple, (recession)

  3. Borrowing. Do not be afraid to borrow ceremony parts and pieces from other ceremony samples you find online. As long as they have been woven together thoughtfully and honor the vision of the couple, it does not matter how you sourced their ceremony master piece.

  4. Time It. If the couple has given a ceremony length you are shooting for, read it aloud and time yourself to ensure you meet their expectations.

  5. Approval. Send the couple a copy of the ceremony for edits and approval.

Step FIVE: Practice


There is no such thing as too early or too often when it comes to rehearsing the ceremony. The more you have practiced, the more present you can be on the big day. Be an engaged story teller, not a reader. Pay special attention to the following:

  1. Volume. You may or may not mic'd up, be ready either way.

  2. Tone and Tempo. As you read aloud, note your tone and cadence. A monotone speech is always a disaster. Also note how fast you are talking, most of us can do with a few deep breathes and pauses..slow it down.

  3. The "Eyes" Have It. Work on your eye contact with the couple and the wedding guests.

Step SIX: Costume and Props


Assuming you have asked the couple if they have any preference on your attire (color, formality, dress or pants, tie etc), make sure you have your wedding day outfit nailed down. Equal in importance to the couple's thoughts on your outfit, you need to feel comfortable and ready to run the show. The biggest thing to remember is that you WILL be in most of the ceremony photos, make sure your choice is appropriate and that it is fairly neutral as to not steal the show. All eyes should be on the couple, not on your clothing choice. 

The next big question, how will you be holding and referencing your wedding script during the ceremony?


  • iPad with a simple case

  • Portfolio, preferably black

  • Journal, book or bible, with script written or typed and pasted to the inside

Whatever you choose if your ceremony is outside be sure the script is secure and will not blow away in a gust of wind. If your ceremony is typed you should do the following:

  • Use font that is bigger than normal and easy to read

  • Have sentence and paragraph returns set up to give clues when to pause and help you find your place as you glance down

Step SEVEN: Remind Your People


The happy couple have a lot on their plate, in addition to emotions running high they are being pulled in a million directions. Help them out and remind them of the following:

  1. The License. Direct them to the appropriate place to secure their marriage license, within the appropriate them frame. Send them the link to the county recorder or clerk they need to visit. You do not need to go with them.

  2. Vows. If they are writing their own vows, check in with them individually and see if they need help. You can also ask if they want you to hold those vows for them during the ceremony and hand them to them at the appropriate time.

  3. The License. Who will have it? What is their preference for the signing of the marriage license? Do they want to do it during, right after, or before the ceremony. All of these options are acceptable, it should really be up to them. Be sure you have a nice blue or black pen with you.

Step EIGHT: Rehearsal


Verify rehearsal expectations, do they want you there, do they expect you to run it? There is a big difference between attending the rehearsal and running one, know what they expect and prepare. If you are running a rehearsal, some important pieces of the puzzle:

  1. Which Side? Looking out at the wedding guests, the groom stands to your left and the bride on your right.

  2. What Order? The processional can take many forms and will differ based on wedding party composition, family and size. The traditional processional order is as follows:

    • Officiant> Father of the Groom & Mother of Bride> Bridesmaid and Groomsmen> Best Man & Maid/Matron of Honor> Flower Children & Ring Bearer> Mother of the Groom and the Groom> Father & Bride

  3. Your Team. Get to know the photographer, musicians and what role they need you play. They may want you to cue them or they may cue you. The photographer may ask you step aside during a certain part of the ceremony, find all this out ahead of time.

  4. Marriage License. You can sign the marriage license at the rehearsal or if the couple would like to do it the "day of" you can offer to keep the license and bring it to the ceremony.

Step NINE: The Big Day


Whether you have been prepping for the ceremony for months or weeks, the day of the wedding you will be nervous. That is OK, that means you care, so give yourself a break. Here is your day of check list:

  1. Practicing Close to Game Time. Do not rehearse the script too close to the ceremony time. This will amplify nerves and cause you to start overthinking. Stop looking at the script AT LEAST 2-3 hours ahead.

  2. Timing. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready and to arrive to the ceremony site early. Plan on being there at least 45 minutes prior to the ceremony, the wedding party may have some last minutes questions.

  3. Say No Thank You. Opt-Out of any ceremony pre-party. Drinking and public speaking never end well.

  4. Say Hello. If you have not had a chance to meet important family members or the musician or photographer, make a point to introduce yourself if they are not busy or focused on other important wedding day tasks.

  5. Don't Forget. Your script, a pen, and if you have offered to keep the marriage license, bring it.

  6. Smile and Relax. You have got this! They chose you, because you are the right person for the job.

Step TEN: Wrap It Up


Before you get too deep into the post ceremony celebration be sure to do or consider the following:

  1. Sign The Marriage License. Be sure to fill out the marriage license completely and get all the required signatures. Click here for more information on completing the marriage license.

  2. Return The Marriage License. Be sure there is an agreed upon plan for who will return the license, if it is not you be sure to have a conversation with the person tasked with it to ensure it will happen.

  3. Script As A Gift. When you get home be sure to send a nicely formatted copy of the wedding ceremony script to the happy couple. Wedding days are very emotional and charged with nervous energy and excitement. It is highly likely that the couple only really heard a quarter to maybe half of the ceremony.

You did it. You have officiated a wedding ceremony. You were at the intersection of the happy couple's past and future. You were there for the promises and helped lay the foundation of their hopes and dreams. You have the best job in the world!