Your wedding is one of the greatest celebrations in your life — perhaps the greatest of all. It’s a day when you are joining with the one you love for the rest of your life. You are declaring your love and pledging your loyalty in front of your family and friends, telling them that you have found the one you love. It’s a great, important day.
Who, then, will guide you through your ceremony and sign your marriage license? You have several options. If one of you is a member of a worship organization or denomination, ask your pastor, minister, rabbi, or priest (or similar official of any religious organization) — all seminary-trained clergy. For those who do not have a regular place of worship but want to get married in such a place, some religious venues accommodate weddings for nonmembers, though they may require that the couple have certain beliefs (e.g., belief in God or something larger than themselves). Many seminary-trained clergy will perform a ceremony at your venue; it doesn’t have to be a place of worship.
For those who want a nondenominational ceremony, there are four options of people to officiate at your ceremony and sign the marriage license:
Provided these officiants have the right credentialing, they are all qualified to sign a marriage license and turn it in to the county.
When determining which kind of wedding officiant you want for your wedding, interview at least two to three of each kind to find the person who best suits you and your needs. “Ask hard questions and get a sense of personality and how an officiant does the work,” suggests Annemarie Juhlian, nondenominational minister and wedding officiant. She suggests these questions, “Does your officiant resonate with you? Does he or she express delight and excitement to know you better and to be a part of your wedding day? Does this person promptly get back to you via email or phone, and are they flexible, accommodating, creative and thoughtful?” To make a decision, Juhlian suggests, “Go with your gut. Go with an officiant who leaves you with the feeling of ‘this person has our back.’”
These questions apply to whomever you meet, no matter their official position. It is important to find the right person to conduct your ceremony.
While meeting with potential officiants, ask them about their fees, so you know how much to budget.
Trained clergy are uniquely qualified
“We get specialized training in doing ceremonies and counseling,” says the Rev. Dr. Tammy Stampfli, the United Churches of Olympia. “Our weddings are faith-based: we believe in something larger than ourselves that people connect with in a spiritual way.”
Stampfli requests that the couple meet with her three times before the wedding rehearsal. She gives them a personality test so they can gain understanding about themselves. She asks the couple what topics they want to discuss, and then she advises them. “Premarital counseling is important; it gives you tools on how to better your relationship,” she says.
“It’s an honor to be part of someone’s life transition,” says Stampfli. “It’s great to be a part of a community of faith and have your community there for you.”
Life-Cycle Celebrants specialize in designing unique ceremonies
Life-Cycle Celebrants are educated and trained by the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. They study for eight months to two years to gain their certification. Celebrants officiate at every life event, including weddings and commitments, funerals and memorials, baby namings, adoptions and house blessings. They are educated in the history, creation and performance of ceremonies that enable couples to incorporate personally significant symbols, rituals and traditions.
They serve all faiths and cultures. “We are experts in blending multiple world views and finding the common threads that link all humanity together,” says Pamela Torres, certified Life-Cycle Celebrant.
“Being nondenominational and ‘interfaithful’ in our approach translates to celebrants’ not having a dogmatic approach nor formulaic elements we must follow,” says Danna Schmidt, Life-Cycle Celebrant.
“We have a more thoughtful and methodical approach to the ceremonial design, most especially because we are well-steeped in the anthropological aspects, mechanics and artful accouterments of a well-ordered ceremony,” says Schmidt.
“As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, my job is to dig below the surface and discover and then shine a light on their unique love and what is important to them,” says Pam Torres. “This process is a collaboration. With expert guidance, the ceremony is truly the fusion of their love story [and the] values and intentions that surround their choice to be married.” Rather than provide a list of options for the ceremony, the Life-Cycle Celebrant learns from the bride and groom what holds the most value in their lives and what symbols and themes they have in common.
“Oftentimes I have couples who want something simple, but then through working with them, they ended up infusing several rituals in their ceremony,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt sends her couples a questionnaire. “It becomes a form of premarital discussions,” says Schmidt. Sometimes answering the questions is the couple’s favorite part of their time together as a couple.
“I am all about new and different,” Schmidt says about her job. “I love that there are no two couples that are the same and no love stories that are the same. I’m a ritual freak, so I can conceive unique rituals. I’m a wordsmith, too, so I utilize my lyrical writing skills — so perfect for ceremony.”
Nontraditional officiants have a license and certificate they have received online. They may be ordained ministers of a religious organization that has no regular worship services. These officiants have varying amounts of experience.
“Marriage is a big deal, and taking this lifetime step takes enormous consideration, courage and heart,” says Juhlian.
“I’m best suited for a couple who wants a ceremony that is real. I’m less about fluff and more about what is true. Given this, I love weaving together words and rituals within a ceremony that authentically celebrate a couple’s purpose, mission, beliefs and traditions. Family and friends love, embrace and remember a ceremony that has nuances of humor and grace.”
Justices, commissioners, judges and others
Justices, judges and commissioners have varying degrees of experience conducting nondenominational weddings.
Friend or family celebrant
To legally perform wedding ceremonies, family members or friends can get credentialing and a certificate online for a nominal fee.
If you ask a family member or friend to perform the ceremony, there are things to consider. “When you are the best friend, you are part of the couple’s family system,” says Stampfli. “You don’t provide any perspective because you are part of their lives.” She says if the couple gets premarital counseling with a therapist, perhaps a best friend could officiate.
Another concern about having a friend or family member officiate is that the person may have little or no experience in leading a wedding rehearsal or conducting a wedding ceremony. If the wedding is small and casual, there’s less to conduct, but if it’s a medium to large wedding, the inexperience will show.
Applying for a marriage license
Couples may apply for a marriage license with the county auditor of the Washington county in which they plan to be married. There is a three-day waiting period, and the license is valid for 60 days. There are rules regarding returning the signed license: when, where, who and how. Check with the county for rules and regulations.
For information about the Celebrant Foundation & Institute
To receive credentialing from the Seattle-based Universal Life Church Monastery
Professionals quoted in this article
Rev. Dr. Tammy Stampfli, The United Churches of Olympia
Danna Schmidt, Life-Cycle Celebrant, Waypoint Ceremonies
Pamela Torres, Life-Cycle Celebrant
Annemarie Juhlian, Seattle wedding officiant and celebrant
Choose someone who is:
America’s changing religious landscape
Source: The American Religious Identification Survey 2001
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