Getting a Friend to Officiate

Nobody loves you or knows you better than those people who love you and know you. When you make the decision to dedicate yourself to your best friend forever-and-ever, you envision an atmosphere of perfect love and perfect trust. At the risk of losing business, I pose the following question: What could possibly feel safer and more loving during those most revered moments than seeing a familiar face?

You see it on TV all the time- remember when Joey officiated Monica and Chandler's wedding on Friends? But it's becoming more and more common in real life, too. If this is something you are planning to do but aren't sure where to start, I can help. Here's my quick and dirty advice for having a friend or family member officiate your wedding day:

Officiating for friends is still my favorite part of the job. Here I am with Bri & John in Red Top Mountain State Park, Georgia. 

Officiating for friends is still my favorite part of the job. Here I am with Bri & John in Red Top Mountain State Park, Georgia. 

GETTING ORDAINED

The most non-negotiable thing, obviously, is going to be your officiant's ordainment. Your friend must be ordained and their ordainment must be considered legal wherever you are planning to conduct the ceremony. Also if officiants need to be registered in that geographical area, that has to happen in advance. The Universal Life Church has a great website for checking out the various laws, rules, and red tape in your state.

https://getordained.org/state-marriage-laws

You probably hear from people all the time that it's free to get ordained online, and really it's true! The part I cannot help you with, however, is with whom, or through which church your officiant decides to get ordained. This decision is ultimately personal. The Universal Life Church does a fantastic job of integrating all faiths. Myself, an Atheist, opted to get my ordainment through the Church of Spiritual Humanism.

Depending on the state you're getting married in, your officiant may or may not need to obtain what's called a "Letter of Good Standing" from the church they were ordained through. For a small fee, the church will send a document on official letterhead (possibly notarized) stating that your officiant is a minister in good standing with their organization, and is approved by the church to conduct church matters.

FILLING OUT THE LICENSE

This gets its own section because, while not difficult, it can be fiddly, and there are a few points I'd like to make regarding it.

Be sure you bring three things with you to the ceremony: a proper envelope (security print on the inside is a nice touch, as you'll be sending social security numbers through the mail), stamps, and a good pen (USE BLACK INK.)

When you get the marriage license, take time to give it a good look over and understand what information you'll need your officiant to fill in. Licenses look different and require different information in every state, so take your time! Even here in New York there are different licenses- one for New York City, and one for the rest of the state- and they're completely different! The officiant will always sign, the witnesses will always sign, sometimes the license will ask for the residential addresses of the officiant or witnesses, sometimes the bride and groom have to sign, sometimes you need to fill in the county or location of the ceremony, etc. If it would help to go over the license with your officiant prior to the ceremony time, please do! Always better safe than sorry.

Once the license is properly, thoroughly filled out (good job!) your officiant will need to mail it back to the city or town clerk that it came from. There is usually a very tight timeframe in which to do this (where I come from it's five days). That's why I said to bring the envelope and stamps to the wedding, because you'll want your officiant to mail that sucker on their way home. It took me six years of officiating and madly dashing for the mail box on day five every time before I realized I should really keep stamps and envelopes in my car.

BUILDING A CEREMONY

I will start in the most important place: don't leave anything out.

I attended a wedding once where the officiant was a friend of the couple, and she, my hand to god, forgot to do the ring exchange. I, being an officiant, was only kind of horrified. The couple kissed and then kind of looked at one another and then looked at her and were like, "Uh... the rings?"

Before anything else, make sure the ceremony has the following things:

Ring exchange!
Vows!
I Do's!
The kiss!

Everything else is gravy, all the preamble, the readings, the unity thingies, postamble, it's just dressing for those four items above. Don't forget to do them! That being said, I know, and you know, that you want the dressing. A ceremony is a reflection of a couple's spiritual center, even if they aren't particularly spiritual.

It can feel a little crazy not knowing where to begin, not knowing how to go about writing a ceremony script. Where do you even start? Your best bet is to search online for basic examples of ceremony scripts (specifying 'religious' or 'secular' or 'modern' etc.), readings, and unity rituals. Then, start piecing together the parts you like. Remember not to make it too long- twenty minutes tops is a great rule of thumb.

See a written draft of the ceremony at least a month ahead of time. Whether you work to write it together, or your friend is writing it all themselves, you're going to want to see that script and know exactly what is being said. You want no surprises.

Of course, if you and your officiant aren't sure you trust yourselves to write the ceremony, or simply don't want to try, many professional officiants offer ceremony writing services. I, for example, will ask you all the same questions I ask my wedding clients, write a ceremony from scratch that your officiant can then perform for you, as well as offering myself to your officiant for any advice they need about getting ordained, filling out the license, being ready for anything, and even just assuaging their performance anxiety. Because believe me, I've been there!

PERFORMANCE ANXIETY

Wait, you just said my officiant might have performance anxiety. I don't want that.

It's okay. There's something about a wedding that makes everyone nervous. Even my heart still flutters around the moment I step up to the altar. If your officiant is feeling nervous, remember to tell them to focus on you, because ultimately, the couple standing at the altar are the only two people that ceremony is for, even if there is an entire congregation listening in. Your officiant knows you and loves you, and so they should consider the altar space sacred ground that you all get to stand safely in. The congregation is outside of that space, and don't require acknowledgement or engagement unless the officiant is comfortable. Tell your officiant to imagine they're reading you a bed time story. The story is for you, the moment is for you, and there's nothing to be afraid of.

Do a rehearsal. Don't think you need one? Do it anyway. For a first timer this is an imperative and it's going to let you guys sleep easy knowing that no one is going to be on their toes on ceremony day. For a new officiant, the rehearsal is equivalent to a Xanax when it comes to calming nerves, walking through the space, knowing where they have to be and when, who they should check in with when they arrive for the ceremony, where the DJ will be set up in case they need a microphone, who will have the rings, the list goes on!

An extra bonus thing you can do (which I love to do,) is to fill out the license at the rehearsal. This takes the pressure off your officiant on ceremony day, as they won't have to chase you and the witnesses around a crowded party atmosphere! Just write the date in as the correct ceremony date (not the rehearsal date) and be sure that the officiant mails it on the ceremony day.

THAT'S IT

Really, ultimately, that's it. Your friend or family member is bestowing on you a great gift, a beautiful favor. Given the right preparation and knowledge, everything should go just fine- and if it doesn't go just fine, (if, say, your officiant forgets the ring exchange?) Well, laugh about it and move on. You only get one wedding day, and regardless of the mishaps that mis-happen, it's going to be one amazing party that you remember for the rest of your life. And once those rings are on your fingers, you'll forget that anyone ever forgot to ask you to put them there in the first place.

Wishing you all the love in the world,
Ali H.

Handfastings 101

I've done well over a hundred ceremonies in the time I've been working as an officiant, and I feel like I'm coming up on a thousand handfastings. They are truly having a moment right now! In the endless search for the perfect ceremony wording, I'm digging deep into some research about what appears to be everyone's favorite unity ritual.

CLARIFY, PLEASE

Handfastings? Why knot?

I'm so sorry I said that, but that is the question I'm answering. Maybe you've seen it at someone else's wedding. Maybe you've seen it floating around Pinterest as a suggestion to you. Maybe your even officiant suggested it, but,

Why would you want to handfast? What is a handfasting in the first place?

Glad you asked. A handfasting is the symbolic act of being tied. To one another. You clasp hands, and your officiant uses a cord to gently knot your hands together, and they then read a blessing over you. And that's it! (Really!)

"The ritual of handfasting is one that goes back many generations and spans many different cultures. It is the symbolic binding of a couple to one another, and is the origin of the phrase 'tying the knot'."

In a ceremony, I introduce the ritual in this way, giving a brief explanation of the ritual to eliminate confusion from the get-go. Another great way to do this is to write out an explanation in your programs so that when that portion of the ceremony happens, your guests can follow right along. 'Today, Sam & Jamie have chosen to celebrate their union through the ritual of the handfasting, which is...' etc.

THE HISTORY

The claim is that handfastings date back to the time of the "Ancient Celts", but it doesn't date back nearly so far. The earliest we see mention of handfasting is in 16th century Scotland- that's only 400 years ago! During this time, the handfasting was the betrothal (or engagement) itself- a promise that you are entering into a contract to marry that individual. That engagement could then be broken at the end of that period without repercussion. Or, the couple could gladly go forward with their marriage after all. Consider it a test run, a probationary period.

Neopagans and reconstructionists have brought handfasting back into the fold as a modern marriage ritual, and with this has come the idea that the traditional length of the engagement period was that of a year and a day. There is, however, no current evidence to support this.

When you break down the meaning behind the handfasting, it winds up looking no different than the modern ring exchange itself. There's nothing inherently magical or mystical about it! It's simply an act which symbolizes a binding; your binding to one another.
 

THE CORD

During this part of the ceremony, I like to introduce the cord itself, because it's an integral part of what's going on. My favorite cord I've ever worked with was from Allie & Matthew's medieval-inspired wedding at Santarella in Tyringham, Mass. The introduction went like this:

"This cord came all the way to us from a good friend in France, and was crafted especially for the bride and groom. It is made of Irish wool, studded with gemstones and charms to protect and bind them, and was imbued with good intentions and happy wishes for their future together."

When I talk about the cord, there's truly an element of mysticism to it- the idea that whomever made the cord was able to imbue that cord with something, and in turn, the cord is able to imbue the couple with something. If you believe in anything, (really, anything, God, energy, spirits, angels, doesn't matter,) you could probably manage to believe that the good vibes (or "blessings") anyone imparts on anything could be transferred back out of it. This is an imperative aspect of the handfasting cord, in my opinion.

Who makes the cord is a personal matter entirely. Many brides like to make it themselves, or have a close friend or family member, especially a mother or aunt, make it for them. Many clients ask me to craft it, which I'm always excited for, and do so with love! Many will buy one outright. (Check out all of the gorgeous artisans on Etsy for a beautiful selection!)

When I make a handfasting cord, I choose ribbons, strings of tiny pearls, lengths of lace, or wool or silk yarns, and I braid them together, typically in the couple's wedding colors. Ones my clients have had made have been handspun wool, lengths of cloth with the ends embroidered, ribbons that have been braided, tablet woven yarns, even kumihimo. I did a handfasting once where they had chosen six separate ribbons, each with its own significant spiritual meaning, and we added them one at a time to the mix. My handfasting cord that I made for my wedding never got used, but it was sumptuous, heavy with glass beads. I wanted it to be heavy- in my opinion, it felt more serious that way.

Many of my couples have added charms to the ends of their handfasting cords. Gemstones symbolizing the birthstones of yourselves or your children, or stones chosen for their magical or medicinal meanings, charms of your initials, hearts for love, birds for happiness, any relevant religious symbols, that elusive "something blue" every bride is supposed to have with her? The options are endless!

THE BLESSING

What I love about how traditionally ambiguous the modern handfasting is, is that you can apply any blessing, wording, or readings to it and it still holds its shape. Once I have introduced the handfasting and I have gently tied the couple's hands in place, I tend to default to reading the Blessing of the Hands by Rev. Daniel L. Harris, which goes like this:

These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever.

These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.

These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other.

These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind.

These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.

These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children.

These are the hands that will help you to hold your family as one.

These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it.

And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.


I choose this because of its relevance, but equally perfect would be something advisory, such as Wilferd Arlan Peterson's Art of a Good Marriage, or something deeply beautiful and striking, such as Pablo Neruda's Your Hands. More than once I've also used song lyrics from the couple's favorite song, and that makes it all the more meaningful to them.
 

NOW WHAT?

I get this question a lot. There are a few options of what to do with yourself once you're all tied up! Because I always script my handfasting for after the ring exchange, there's no immediate need to unravel. You won't really need your hands again for the rest of the ceremony!

Many of my couples love to keep their "inside" hands (the ones they'll be holding as they walk back down the aisle) tied, and they slip their "outside" hands out of the knot so that they can stand side-by-side easily, and any bouquets that have been handed off can be reacquired with that free hand.

This is, of course, only one choice. The bride may choose to wear the handfasting cord on one wrist much like a bangle for the duration of the ceremony and the recessional. The couple may choose to ditch the cord entirely, in which case I hang onto it for them, or place it back on the altar table, if there is one. I did a wedding once with a Hawaiian theme, where the groom wore the handfasting cord around his neck, beside his lei, with the ends draped down, and it looked lovely!

Ultimately, each stage of the handfasting can be done entirely "up to you", and I encourage you to make whatever decisions regarding it that feel best. As always, your officiant is always there to help you work out the kinks and give you advice, so don't be afraid to ask!

Wishing you all the love in the world,
Ali H.