While officiating a friend's ceremony is a special honor, it can also prove to be a little (ok, a lot!) overwhelming. After all, good friends don't automatically make solid officiants. Before you start losing sleep over the thought of ruining your friends' wedding day, take a deep breath. "Your friends asked you to officiate for a reason," reassures Jessie Blum, a civil celebrant in Rutherford, New Jersey.
Do your research.
Start by meeting with the couple (for your sake and theirs) two to three months before the wedding. Have them talk in depth about their vision and sentimental expectations for the day. Typically, a ceremony entails a welcome, a reading or two, an address from the officiant, a ritual, the declaration of intent, the vows and exchange of rings, the pronouncement, and, of course, the kiss. That's the template that you and the couple can customize and personalize to your liking (some ceremonies last 20 minutes, others finish up in 45, but you'll want to be conscious of time).
After understanding the order of events and the general direction the couple wants to take, put pen to paper. But, not anything goes. Here, a few pointers about what you absolutely should and should NOT mention when you have all eyes on you:
"Past relationships, embarrassing stories, and anything that would make your ceremony feel more like a roast are off limits," Blum answers. "Also, avoid giving a wedding speech. The traditional toasts are the time for those stories, not the ceremony," Blum explains.
Although withholding choice words and tidbits from their college days is important, focus on what to include. You're obviously a person of great significance to the couple, or else they wouldn't have asked you to be right by their side as they vow their eternal love to one another. You have insight into their special bond, and they trust you will develop a ceremony that focuses on them and expresses their deepest wishes as a married couple.
"Look to your friend and fiancé's relationship for inspiration," says Blum. "You want the ceremony to be unique to the couple," she continues. "Ask them to tell you their favorite relationship stories. Use those as a jumping-off point, and don't be afraid to offer advice that applies to them."
For example, after welcoming everyone, you can describe how the couple met and fell in love, "and then talk about the meaning of marriage," suggests Blum.
In addition to planning what to say, just be there for them. Put the couple at ease and inspire confidence.
Don't forget the most important part.
Also, a technical note: be sure to register with the county clerk. Otherwise, the couple's marriage will not be legal and what a disappointment that would be! While most states allow family or friends to officiate a wedding as long as they are "ordained" (yes, online counts), others such as Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Tennessee do not recognize marriages performed by ministers who lack a regularly established church or congregation. That's why the county clerk or the local marriage-license bureau is a good place to double check. They'll also explain the paperwork you have to file.