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    Who Officiates: Friend or Pro?

    howardIt doesn’t surprise me to read that more and more couples have decided not to use clergy as their wedding officiant. Since the last few decades have seen a decrease in membership in houses of worship, it’s no surprise that fewer couples are connected to a clergy person. And how many of us can count judges or ship captains amongst our circle of friends?!

    Most circles of friends, however, do include one particularly outgoing person. Or perhaps it’s a vivacious relative with an engaging personality who knows you well, and therefore might seem appropriate to officiate at your marriage ceremony.

    If you decide to ask a friend or family member to marry you, here are some guidelines on making an informed decision. The goal is to have a memorable wedding for all the right reasons.

    Choosing a friend or family member could potentially involve extra work on your part. An experienced officiant knows the legal requirements, as well as how to fashion a ceremony. On the other hand, a friend or family member will be knowledgeable about you. My ceremonies are always personal—reflecting the couple who is standing in front of me. For example, this fall I married a couple in the Presidio who weren’t at all interested in participating in guiding me in their ceremony preparation. However, through our discussions, I learned how important their pets and their garden mean to them. In turn, I was able to include personalized readings and comments throughout the ceremony.

    Another question to consider when thinking of asking a friend or family member is that, while you may be comfortable with the person, will they be able to instill confidence and substance to the occasion? If you are choosing someone primarily due to their outgoing personality, consider instead having them offer a toast (or roast!) the night before or at your reception. An experienced officiant will give your ceremony the proper gravitas without intentionally (or worse, unintentionally) becoming the center of attention.

    Please be aware that some states/municipalities require registration. Officiants are the ones (at least in California) who are legally required to return the license back to the issuing Recorder’s office for official filing.

    You also might consider discussing with your perspective friend or relative whether they think they might miss out on the celebration since they would be busy planning, or would be too concerned with their role in the ceremony. Additionally, is this the person you want to discuss your vows with or your relationship issues? Wedding ceremonies often heighten relationship issues.

    Experienced officiants will know the legal requirements, as well as other mundane things, such as how to run the rehearsal, how to project and/or use a microphone, and the importance of having anything written in large font and in a binder so the wind won’t make off with the ceremony. With our experience, we can take in stride the inevitable surprises that occur no matter how much planning and preparation was spent prior to the ceremony. We are familiar and comfortable with pauses, as well as emotion, during the ceremony, without getting swept away with them.

    Most officiants do not consider themselves as vendors, however, we are hired to perform a multifaceted service that will set the tone of your ceremony. Ask a friend or hire a professional. Hopefully either will do their upmost to make your ceremony truly yours, with the attention on the two of you, your love and commitment.

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