How to Have Your Friend Officiate Your Wedding (Legally!) in a Pennsylvania Self-Uniting Ceremony

Life-cycle celebrant Alisa Tongg shares the details.

friend officiants

Thanks to self-uniting licenses, a friend officiant can preside over your wedding. Life-cycle celebrant Alisa Tongg suggests your friend should dress with confidence, like what you see here. Photography by Redfield Photography

Self-uniting, or Quaker, weddings were popular in Pennsylvania before the pandemic. After all, they are a unique way to say your “I do’s,” with you and your partner, plus two witnesses, to help you celebrate your way. (Read all about Quaker weddings here.) But in light of the impact of the coronavirus on the size of wedding ceremonies, the approach has continued to attract duos hoping to still get married despite the new regulations and requirements. It allows for a smaller group and more choice in outdoor locations (think: your backyard rather than a church). The best part? A friend or family member can serve as your officiant — and one of your two witnesses. Here, life-cycle celebrant Alisa Tongg, who leads an online masterclass on this very topic, gives you a lesson.

Philadelphia Wedding: Does our friend need to get ordained online? Not in Pennsylvania. You need a self-uniting marriage license. It requires the signature of both parties entering into the contract and two adult witnesses, who can include your friend officiant. If you’re getting married in New Jersey or Delaware, apply for the regular license from whichever jurisdiction your ceremony is in. In these states, your friend will need to get ordained online.

PW: What legal statements are needed? Technically, only the public declaration that you two understand what marriage is and are both consenting. The officiant asks this question, and then each partner responds with “I do.” But a moving ceremony will bring in other parts of your life.

PW: So when it comes to the script, what’s key? An inclusive ceremony should run 20 to 25 minutes and start with a welcome, then include a joining of families, a love-story message, remembrances of those who have died, readings, vows and ring exchange, signing of the marriage certificate, blessing and pronouncement.

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PW: How do we make sure our friend sounds genuine? This is the biggest challenge. Hours are often wasted looking through sample scripts and cobbling together awkward official-sounding parts because people assume that the officiant needs to convey spiritual authority. The result is a script that sounds inauthentic. My master class gives friend officiants my couple’s questionnaire and an inclusive starter ceremony. I always send a draft of the script for approval. I suggest your friend do the same.

PW: What is the appropriate attire? Ask him or her to put together an outfit that will complement the wedding party and the design of the celebration. I read from a three-ring binder with folders on both sides. Don’t use a cell phone or stapled-together paper.

PW: Day of, how can our friend ensure a seamless event? Have him (or her) check in with the venue coordinator upon arrival. Ask your friend to include an unplugged announcement in the welcome, so your photographers arent battling with iPads in the aisle; to include a three-sentence personal introduction; and to tell people to be seated after the bride enters.

friend officiants

A friend officiant should bring personality to the script.

PW: What if someone faints or there’s another unforeseen scenario? After the situation has been handled, the officiant should go back a sentence or two to create momentum. Everyone wants to move on. Be emotionally intelligent.

PW: Any other nuances? Your officiant should take the mic and move slightly to the side to ensure good photos of the first kiss.

PW: What are the last steps? Before cocktails, your friend needs to finish filling in the details on the license and then, on the next business day, return it to the issuing courthouse by mail.

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