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    Money Considerations When Assessing Officients

    howardWhile I don’t think of myself as a vendor, officiants are grouped as such by companies that sell in the wedding market. I laughed to myself when I opened an e-mail that started:

    “Everyone secretly agrees that great food and cocktails are the best part of a wedding. As you sit through the ceremony, your mind almost always wanders over to the reception and tries to guess just what might land on your plate. The best wedding cuisine beautifully represents the bride & groom and allows their guests to experience some of the things they love in a tasty way!”

    I had never read anything that so blatantly stated that the ceremony pales in comparison with the party. I immediately thought: What about couples who get married, but who don’t have lavish (or even simple) receptions? My mind also flashed on the title of the book “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning.”

    The e-mail reminded me that the wedding industry is just that: an industry. I have always recognized that my participation was not based on what I could get from the people I worked with: my fee, aka honorarium. As I wrote in my website, it’s my soul that gets filled by this work, not my wallet.

    Money is often an important consideration when planning an event. However, I suggest to people who contact me that it is more important to feel a good connection with an officiant rather than base selection primarily on fee. As Elizabeth River wrote in her column last month, “Your wedding is so important that you want to be sure you feel right about the person who is to marry you.”

    In addition to the connection you feel, there are questions you can ask a potential officiant. Your needs and the provided services can influence how much the officiant will charge. These, in turn, can be assessed during the Q&A. For example: How much time, if any, will the officiant spend with you to customize your ceremony? Is a rehearsal included? Is the officiant comfortable enough with strangers so as to have your guests feel warm and welcomed, or will the officiant come across as formal, cold or distant?

    I let people know that I don’t want money to get in the way of our working together if we all feel there is a good fit. I will be upfront stating a typical range of fees. We are fortunate in that San Francisco City Hall is an architectural marvel, and it is one of the least expensive venues. It costs $76 to get married in City Hall. However, the ceremony cannot be changed at all, and only six guests are allowed (including children and photographer).

    Officiants in the Bay Area typically charge from $250 to $1,800. I suggest you ask for references. When I meet a couple who are considering me for their wedding, I explain that I see our first meeting like a first date. We are getting to know one another to see how well we all get along. If you are comfortable with me in my living room as we are discussing your wedding plans, then you will most likely feel comfortable with me standing in front of you as you recite your vows.

    Life cycle events can be significant markers in our lives. I am not advocating that a good officiant is the most important element. I am advocating that a good officiant can enhance the experience so that the love and joy a couple brings to a wedding can shine through. Then go eat, drink and dance the night away!

    Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit