Questions to Ask when Choosing Your Wedding Minister
by Bill Yaccino
So you’re looking for a wedding minister, eh? Not as easy as it sounds, right?
The officiant you choose should match your personal style and the type of wedding ceremony that you’d like to have. For instance, you may not choose the same minister for an informal wedding in the park versus a formal religious ceremony in a church. Your ceremony is the spiritual heart and soul of your wedding day. Yet, many people are uncertain about how to choose an officiant. Some couples are initially intimidated when talking with the person who may be partnering with them on one of the most important days of their life. If you and your fiancé are already members of an established church, then the choice is easy. But if neither of you has an affiliation with a local church, you’ll want to be looking for a minister who can serve you well on your special day. Here are some tips on where to look and what to ask.
How did you find your officiant?
If you receive a referral from a close family member, there may be a strong expectation that you simply accept this person as the one who will tie your knot. Referrals from friends or people you find on your own usually have fewer “strings attached.” In any event, remember that this is your wedding day, and while your families are welcome to share their ideas and opinions, the final decision must rest with the two of you. Thank your family member for the recommendation, tell them your fiancé may also be getting ideas from his or her side of the family, and assure them that the two of you will choose a minister who is best for everyone concerned.
Do you like this minister?
Do you like their voice? Is their voice soothing or shrill? Does he or she speak slowly and clearly? Are they relational and relatable? Remember, the officiant is communicating the special words and significance of your wedding ceremony to every single guest. If the voice is too soft, be sure that amplification is provided. The voice must be able to carry to the last row of guests, and hold their interest.
Is the minister flexible?
Can you write your own vows or add other special touches? Do you want a little humor in the ceremony? Can you use contemporary readings or are they required to be religious or scripture readings? Even if you don’t know up front what kind of wedding ceremony you want, are you confident that your officiant will allow for changes as the wedding day approaches? Will they work with you to develop a ceremony which honors the religious traditions and beliefs of both families while still speaking meaningfully to the two of you? For example, if you were raised Christian and your fiancé is Jewish, is the minister willing to read a passage from the Old Testament instead of a New Testament scripture? Will the minister allow flash photography during the wedding (usually this will help make the pictures look better)?
What is your minister’s background?
The government doesn’t issue licenses to ministers. That’s why pastors in our network are all aligned with a local church that issues their license or ordination to perform sacradotal functions. Ask how many weddings they have performed. This is not always the best indicator as many young pastors are just beginning to serve couples in this way, yet they may be very authentically engaged with the couple and do an outstanding job. Older pastors offer the most experience and warmth, but make sure they are interested in you as a couple, not just going through the motions. What other pastoral work do they engage in?
Are you also looking for a church to attend?
Some people are looking for a lifelong relationship with a minister and a church. Others just want a minister to officiate their wedding. Be clear about your preference, but be open to new relationships that may influence and impact your marriage for many years! If you are looking for a church group and a pastor, ask if you can attend an upcoming service. If not, say so, and see if that works for the minister you are considering.
What if you are living together?
If you and your fiancé are living together, already have children, are expecting a child, or if either of you have been through a divorce, it is important to tell the prospective officiant your situation during your first phone conversation. Some officiants have no problem with this and see it as an opportunity for you to take a step closer to a fully committed relationship. Others may require that you move into separate apartments, or express other expectations. It is better to find this out soon. Consider these factors when deciding if this is the officiant you want. For some people, this is an opportunity to begin fresh and invite the presence of God into their lives – but this is for the two of you to decide.
Is premarital counseling required?
Some couples want counseling, and others do not feel it is necessary. Counseling programs are only as good as your willingness to deeply participate. If you are simply fulfilling an obligation by attending premarital sessions, you will most likely not gain from them. While many do not require it, most of the pastors in our network either offer premarital counseling or will suggest going through the marriage enrichment program offered by Life Innovations called Couple Checkup. This is a wonderful program that is completed online in the privacy of your home. The results may be shared with your pastor or counselor if you desire. Research shows that couples who invest in this type of marriage enrichment are 31% more likely to succeed in their marriage.
How much do we pay our minister?
The ministers in our network will ask for a set fee. In the past, ministers would perform these services for a donation, but that becomes confusing for couples not familiar with church practices. We find it easiest to set a fee based on the area, the complexity of the ceremony, and the amount of time spent with a couple. You can expect fees to range between $300-$600.
How many times do we meet with our minister?
Most ministers will want to meet with you at least once so they can get to know you and you can get to know them. Others require premarital counseling with multiple sessions. Some will offer one or two preparatory meetings and a rehearsal. What do you want? Can the officiant meet your wishes? Will the officiant be available to talk by phone as questions arise? Can you trust them with personal information if you just need someone to talk to about personal matters? If possible, find an officiant who is as helpful as you want him or her to be but not overbearing.
Will the officiant be at the rehearsal?
An experienced officiant at your wedding rehearsal can be very helpful, but he or she may not be available at the scheduled time. If the minister is unable to attend the rehearsal, do they have other arrangements for someone to help organize things? We always suggest that you do not run a rehearsal yourself without some advance practical help! Many banquet facilities also have an assistant there to help. If so, the best way to run a rehearsal is to have the wedding coordinator help walk you all up to the front, then have the officiant rehearse the ceremony itself, and finally have the coordinator direct the recessional march at the end.
Should I invite our minister to the rehearsal dinner or reception?
If the officiant has a long-term pastoral relationship with you or the family, by all means issue an invitation. Otherwise, the decision is entirely yours to make. Many officiants politely decline the invitation, so if you want them to attend, it may be best to ask casually first.
What will our minister wear for the ceremony?
This may seem like a petty question, but it is a good one! Some officiants will wear a suit and tie (gray or black suits are best, because they blend in with any color scheme). Others wear ministerial robes. Ask to see the robe, or at least a picture, to see if it fits in with you style or preferences for your wedding day.
How elaborate will the ceremony preparations be?
A few officiants have only one ceremony they offer. If that is the case, be sure you get to read their ceremony and make sure it harmonizes with what you want said at your wedding. Others have a few simple choices (with the option of you adding some of your own ideas) so you can create the ceremony that most speaks to you. Most of the pastors in our network prefer to sit down and design a customized wedding just for you. Always ask how long they think the ceremony itself will take; this is critically important information for your facility, photographer, caterer, etc. Whatever you want, let the officiant know up front.
Do you feel taken care of?
The original meaning of the word “minister” is “servant.” Is this minister serving your needs on your big day? Are you comfortable in the minister’s presence, or do you always feel like you are hiding things so as not arouse his or her disapproval? Our pastors are eager to serve you and want your wedding day to be a beautiful and meaningful one for everyone.We hope these questions help you feel more comfortable and confident as you seek to find a minister to serve you on this most important of days! Blessings to you both, and may you remember your wedding ceremony as meaningful, fun and personal!