Wedding: It’s Official!

How to find the right person to declare you Husband and Wife

It was almost official as Jennifer and Andrew gazed into each other’s eyes during their wedding ceremony and heard, through a blur of headiness and happiness, their minister proclaim “Jennifer and Robert, husband and wife.” Um, that would be Jennifer and Andrew. Oops.

It was almost official as Jennifer and Andrew gazed into each other’s eyes during their wedding ceremony and heard, through a blur of headiness and happiness, their minister proclaim “Jennifer and Robert, husband and wife.” Um, that would be Jennifer and Andrew. Oops.

We’ve all seen the officiant role played for laughs at the movies (notably, Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral). But, though they’re human and must be forgiven a flubbed line, officiants do help to set the tone of the Big Day, and who will marry you is as important as the crystal detail on your slingbacks. So we talked to officiants, planners and brides to answer eight questions about selecting the perfect person to lead the way. (Hint: Don’t leave it to a frantic last-minute Google search!)

So, where should I even begin?

If your dream officiant doesn’t leap to mind, start by asking friends and family or your wedding coordinator for suggestions. If you want a religious ceremony, consider a place of worship near your newlywed digs. If you’re leaning toward nondenominational, make a short list of elements — from glass-breaking to writing your own vows — that you’ll definitely want to incorporate into the ceremony.

What if I want a religious ceremony but when it comes to my religion, I’m a bit, er, lapsed?

“As people get married, we see it as an opportunity for a reconnection to the church,” says Father John Denny, recently of St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Villanova, who has married more than 150 couples. Most experts we asked made similarly reassuring statements suggesting that you’ll find more of a “welcoming back into the fold” than
finger-wagging and wrist-slapping. “Nonpracticing couples will be pleasantly surprised,” Denny says.

What if I want a religious ceremony at a destination wedding?

You’ll be making decisions from afar, so Lynda Barness, owner of I Do Wedding Consulting in Philadelphia, suggests trying to get recommendations from a local source when possible. If you’re Catholic, coordinate with your hometown priest to make sure your paperwork is in order. (You’ll need to send certification of PreCana completion to that little Caribbean church.) If you can’t make a planning visit months ahead of time, arrive several days early so you can meet with your officiant before the Big Day.

What if I want to honor my religious and cultural heritage, but I don’t want to follow every tradition to a tee?

Most nondenominational officiants (many have websites and are easy to find online, like at are comfortable conducting services that thoughtfully incorporate rituals special to the bride and groom. When interviewing officiants, ask whether they’re familiar with your specific religious customs.

When planning her wedding to John Bryndza in Valley Forge last year, Hiral Patel found flexibility with an Indian priest who offers a ceremony celebrating the religious parts of an Indian wedding, while minimizing the cultural aspects — in order to cut down on what can be a lengthy event. “It was also important to me that he was willing to stop and explain all of the steps in English, so that all of our guests would understand everything that was happening and feel a part of the day,” says Patel.

What about having two officiants perform the ceremony?

Having two officiants work together to conduct the ceremony is a way to blend the bride and groom’s different backgrounds. When Jessica Merlin got married last year in White Haven, she and her now-
husband knew they wanted to incorporate both of their faiths into the ceremony. The couple asked his Protestant minister and her Jewish friend, “a great public speaker,” to lead the ceremony. After coordinating via e-mails and conference calls, they had an event that was a blend of traditions, including New Testament readings as well as a liberal interpretation of the seven
Jewish wedding blessings, which Merlin prepared herself.

If one of you is Catholic, two officiants might also be a way for you to have your dream outdoor wedding. There is a stipulation that Catholic weddings be held inside a church, but a non-Catholic officiant (say, his minister) can preside over the sky-topped ceremony, while your Catholic priest can attend to say a blessing.

I’ve heard you can have your best friend do the job. How does that work?

It is possible in the tri-state area — your friend just has to be ordained as a minister, which is not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, one of the most popular methods is online ordination, which can be done through Universal Life Church ( Once registered as a minister of the faith, your friend is free to perform your ceremony and to sign your marriage license.

We want to set our own tone. Do we have to use an officiant?

Thanks to Quaker traditions, the state of Pennsylvania does offer a self-uniting license (call the Marriage License Bureau at 215-686-2233 for more information). When you apply for it, make sure to ask for this specific type of document. You don’t have to be Quaker to get it — but you’ll need two witnesses to sign after the ceremony.

What if I want to go the quick-and-easy route and get married at City Hall?

If you’re so smitten that even local government can’t dampen your romance, then you can get married at Philadelphia’s City Hall. But if you think you’re getting out of all the planning legwork by going “civic chic,” think again. Here’s how it works:
After you’ve obtained your marriage license, you need to line up outside Room 415 (and there is a line) on the day they open the appointment book (around the second Tuesday of each month) to schedule for the following month. Civil ceremonies are performed on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and the schedule fills quickly. You won’t know your assigned judge until the Big Day, but you can bring up to 12 guests and take photos. The ceremony takes about 10 minutes, and it’s free. Contact the Marriage License Bureau (see number above) for more information.

Take time with your officiant-to-be, religious or not, to discuss the ceremony and its significance. Whether you’re aiming for laid-back or traditional (or something in between), your officiant will be the one to utter that most profound of pronouncements. And hopefully get your names right when he (or she) does.