Couples Are Loving This Alternative Wedding Option

Choosing the right officiant for your wedding is a big decision. These days, more and more couples are opting to ask a close friend or family member to get ordained so they can officiate the ceremony. After all, what's more personal and heartfelt than being married by your sister, or your partner's best friend? We talked to several amateur officiants (plus one pro) to get their takes — and tips — on this popular new tradition.
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Photo: Courtesy of Felipe Sanchez of Petruzzo Photography.
“When my close friends asked if I would officiate their wedding, it was a huge honor," says photographer William Petruzzo, who officiated his friends' Maryland ceremony on May 3, 2014. "My favorite part...was the unique perspective on all the wedding energy that was happening around and through me. The bated breath between ‘By the power invested in me...’ and ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’ has never felt so wonderfully tense and palpable."
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Photo: Courtesy of Felipe Sanchez of Petruzzo Photography.
What's Petruzzo's key tip? “Don't forget to exchange the rings! We rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed, and no one once thought about the ring exchanging," he notes. "I guess we were all taking it for granted. I nearly had the bride and groom walk back down the aisle without the rings on... The bride remembered them and whispered ‘Rings!’... Luckily, I had them in my pocket, and we recovered without anyone noticing. We all had a good laugh about it later.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Felipe Sanchez of Petruzzo Photography.
"I can see the personality in weddings that are officiated by someone whom the couple cares about," Petruzzo adds. "There's a different electricity about it...a whole new dimension of meaning.

"If your friend is asking you to officiate, they're probably not looking for a pro who knows how to do it perfectly. Instead, you need to do it like you. It's a good idea to look up how to officiate a wedding, but don't treat it like a rule book.

"Also, remember, ‘I love you’ is not a vow. ‘I will work day and night to keep our love alive and honest’ is a vow. If they're writing their own vows, make sure they're actually writing vows.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Sasithon Photography.
"When we first asked my uncle to be our officiant, he confessed that while he was truly honored, he had a major fear of public speaking," says newlywed Jess Laird, who was married in Brooklyn in August. "Who knew!? He asked for a little time to think it over, and after a few weeks said he would be thrilled... I wrote our wedding ceremony myself, and when my uncle and I finally got on the phone to read through it, I could tell he was still really nervous.

"[After phoning] our maid of honor and best man, we told my uncle that the two of them could join him under the chuppah and take on some of the reading. He was so relieved, and it showed on the big day. Plus, having the three of them conduct the ceremony together was incredibly special. For us, 'the more the merrier' couldn't have proven to be more true."
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Photo: Courtesy of Matt D'Souza.
Amateur officiant Matt D'Souza performed the wedding ceremony for his wife's cousin. "I told them I would love to do it. I meant it completely, but never thought they would take me up on it," he says. "To do a good job and not be a nervous wreck, you should do a few dry runs with the couple. I loved announcing they were married!

"If you’re not getting married in a religious venue that necessitates having a spiritual leader do the ceremony, definitely have a friend do it. It’s cheap, memorable, and fun. Just make sure you know the relevant laws of the state you are performing the marriage in," D'Souza adds.
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Photo: Courtesy of Veridical Photography.
“When my younger sibling, Mark, passed away in 2012, I tried connecting with their friends in an attempt to know my sibling better. Two of those people were Jordan and Michael," explains Michael C. Aguhar. "I came to know my sibling in new ways, and in the process came to know the friends they loved."

This past July, Aguhar officiated Jordan and Michael's wedding in Chicago. "The full spectrum of equal rights for LGBT communities is a challenging road to travel," he explains. "Same-sex marriage in Illinois was hard-fought and hard-won. Although the work continues for many marginalized LGBT people, I was proud to celebrate this one victory with Jordan and Michael. On a personal level, it was a way for me to show my thanks for their willingness to accept me into their life. On another level, it was a way for me to acknowledge the deep love Jordan and Michael have for one another... It was an opportunity for us to make a broader statement about the validity of this union between two people."
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Photo: Courtesy of Veridical Photography.
"I had several favorite parts of being an officiant," Aguhar continues. "The first is being intimately involved in the ceremony and working with the couple to create the structure and wording. The second is the moment when the ceremony starts: Friends and family turn toward the back as the procession makes its way forward... I have the perfect view of their faces as they approach me...and their tears of utter joy and happiness...the way they sometimes struggle with the vows, because words are never enough to explain our love for another person. And, most of all, the look each person gives their partner is filled with such magic and beauty that I feel privileged to witness it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Veridical Photography.
"The most important lesson I learned," adds Aguhar, "is that the couple (and their friends and family) are looking to you for stability, comfort, and guidance. It's important to stay calm throughout the process and to work with the couple to ensure the ceremony goes well.

"This is a collaborative process. Creating the structure of the ceremony with the couple is important and also helps to identify their priorities, their family traditions, and their values. It's an opportunity to personalize their wedding day while making it intimate and unique... Pick an officiant you know and trust — someone who knows you, your partner, and the love you have for one another. Pick someone...who is reliable, who won't freeze in the moment...someone who will do well but also won't outshine or seize the moment away from the couple."
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Photo: Courtesy of Katherine O'Brien Photography.
"In 2004, I read an article in The New York Times about a growing need for officiants to serve non-religious couples, mixed-religious couples, and couples who wanted more of a choice in who marries them," says Austin-based professional wedding officiant Spike Gillespie, who has officiated nearly 1,000 ceremonies. "At that point, I'd already been a public speaker and professional writer for decades, so the idea leapt at me... Some friends volunteered to be my guinea pigs, and I loved performing their wedding so much, I thought, That's it; I'm in."

Gillespie's advice? "Don't pick someone fake. Do ask questions. If it doesn't feel like a good fit, then just find someone else. I think sometimes people meet potential officiants (and other vendors) and get that feeling like, 'I walked into the store, so I have to buy something.' Every year, I get quite a few calls from couples who've met with officiants or ministers [who have] no flexibility, so they are worried I'll be the same way. I'm not. I know the top reason people like working with me is that I'm extremely flexible; I give couples total control over the ceremony. I'm happy to guide them and offer samples, but I encourage them to be as creative as they'd like."
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Photo: Courtesy of Katherine O'Brien Photography.
Gillespie has stuck it out so long as an officiant because, "corny but true: I love the love. I love it. I know that the couples I marry are going to face all sorts of bumps along the way — hardships, illness, arguments, financial troubles, and even (for more than 50% of them) divorce. But, in that moment when they are getting married, they are really focused on the things they love about each other. That feels great. I also love being of service to others. It's what I'm supposed to be doing.

"I encourage my couples to remember that, whatever happens, we are going to have a wedding. If they forget the license or the rings or even the dress. If the drunk, holy-rolling uncle is going to show up and be an ass. If the cake melts in the heat. If it pours rain and you had planned for everything to be outside. No matter; we are going to make it happen... Overall, weddings are like a hyper-concentrated version of day-to-day life: You make plans, you hope it all goes off perfectly, but sometimes you have to adapt and go with changes."
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Photo: Courtesy of: Katherine O'Brien Photography.
Gillespie's advice: "Ask an officiant what's the backup plan if he or she falls ill the day of. And, I'd make sure that you can see a copy of the full script (which you should have a hand in writing) so that there are no surprise sermons, which apparently still happen sometimes. Finally...if you spend a little more on your officiant, it could be that you're getting more for your money. In my case, that's true: I don't just show up and play the role of robo-officiant. My fee includes multiple meetings, getting to know a couple, really listening, hand-holding as necessary, and showing up early to just put folks at ease." More from Lover.ly:
Wedding Readings From Children's Books
These GIFs Show You Exactly How To Assemble Your Wedding Invitations
How To Write Your Own Wedding Vows
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