Surprising as it may seem when you're neck-deep in wedding planning, many recently-engaged couples are unaware of the concept of a non-denominational wedding officiant. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your only options are a religious officiant from your house of worship or a quick, secular wedding by a Justice of the Peace. Non-denominational officiants can help you craft a marriage ceremony that is personal, meaningful, and takes place entirely on your own terms.
Regina Brown has been an ordained minister over eight years, and just started officiating weddings eight months ago. She was amazed at how few of the ministers she knew were out in the field, helping people. Regina explains, "There are people who believe in God but aren’t attending a church right now–and they're getting married." She thinks it's important for ministers to be involved in their local communities and to be available for people who may not be attending religious services, but who still want a minister for their wedding.
When Regina tells people she's a non-denominational wedding officiant, she often gets a confused look. "They ask me if I'm a planner. I have to explain that I don’t plan the wedding; I am the one who performs the ceremony. I attend a church, but I am not on staff at one. However, as an ordained minister, I can perform all ceremonies and services as a pastor. I'm available to the larger community." Regina wants couples to realize there are options outside of a church and the City Hall. "Couples get their marriage license and they're left to figure it out on their own from there," she says. "There are plenty of independent officiants. I wish I could rent a billboard to get the word out."
For couples who just want a quick, legal marriage, a Justice of the Peace is still a viable option. However, be aware that you'll have to have your wedding on the Justice of the Peace's schedule instead of your own. Most Justices of the Peace only perform weddings during the work week, which means weekends and evening weddings are out, as well as holiday weddings. Some Justices of the Peace perform weddings as seldom as two days a week.
What happens if you're a secular couple who wants a personalized wedding without all the administrative regulations and scheduling hurdles? You can find an independent officiant in any denomination (or lack thereof). Non-denominational officiants can be especially helpful for interfaith couples who don’t want to have their ceremony solely in one spouse's house of worship.
An independent officiant can help you tailor your marriage ceremony to reflect your wishes exactly. For example, Regina is a Christian minister who marries couples in churches, hotels, parks, museums, private back yards, or any creative location. She has even performed one wedding that took place at midnight on Thanksgiving Eve. You can have a small, intimate ceremony with the minimum of two witnesses, or you can bring 1,000 people to the middle of the desert. With an independent officiant, you're not restricted to a single type of venue. As long as you have a wedding license, you can get married anywhere and at any time you wish. Judges can also travel to your location and perform a legal marriage ceremony, but you'd have to convince the judge to come to you. With a wedding officiant, marrying couples is their full-time job.
With an independent officiant, you get a more personal ceremony for only a modest increase in cost over a City Hall wedding. You can schedule multiple appointments with your officiant in order to craft personalized vows that reflect your specific relationship and commitment to each other. You can work in private jokes and meaningful poems or songs. Your ceremony can be written to the exact length you desire, and can be as intimate or as light-hearted as you wish. Plus, for couples getting married for the first time who haven’t attended many weddings before, an officiant can be instrumental in planning the logistics. Where does the groom stand? Where do you put the rings? If you don't have a wedding planner, your officiant can offer assistance.
A personal officiant is more than a resource for your wedding day. For many couples, it helps to know that they have someone they can contact if any questions arise along the way. Regina, like many officiants, offers pre- and post-marriage mentoring. "If a couple has a long engagement and starts having second thoughts, they can call me. I can help them decide if they just have pre-wedding jitters or if it's something they need to take a closer look at. The important thing is, they have someone they can call." With a personal officiant, you have someone who's directly invested in your marriage and wants to see you succeed.
Ambassador Regina Brown is an ordained minister who performs traditional, non-traditional, non-denominational, civil, and vow renewal ceremonies in the Tucson, Arizona area.