How To Officiate A Wedding

Back in 2016, my husband Anthony was asked to officiate our friends’ wedding back in Michigan. Anthony, being the people-pleasing awesome guy he is, said absolutely. But here’s the thing: he didn’t know how to officiate a wedding.

And then, realizing the gravity of which he had just agreed, he began slowly panicking about what he was going to say and how he would handle this huge responsibility. I can’t tell you how many hours he spent at the kitchen table pouring over his words making sure they were just right.

It’s a big job. You’re marrying two people – who you likely love and want to be in their good favor post-wedding. So this isn’t the time to just wing it. You really gotta think about it.

As a wedding photographer, I’ve seen a lot of weddings. And I’ve seen a lot of friends officiate weddings. The good, the bad, the really bad – yup: I’ve seen it all.

Because I’ve seen a wide range, I wanted to write an article on how to do this successfully.

I’m here to help you! I want you to succeed! I want your friends to be buying you drinks for life because you did such a kickass job! You’re welcome.

How to Officiate a Wedding

kukahiko estate wedding

First, you have to prep:

  1. Get ordained online. And make sure it’s in the state you’re marrying the couple! Every state has different rules about this – including who files the paperwork and if there has to be a witness. Be sure you know your state’s rules!
  2. Get to know the couple. And I don’t mean sending them a questionnaire. Take them out for beers or coffee or ice cream. Whatever they like most. Talk about life. Make them talk about each other. Let yourself feel.

Then, once you’ve gotten to know them, it’s time to get down to business.

Writing your ceremony

This is the tricky part. You need to have a script. Ipad, notepad, scribbled on your hand (10/10 don’t recommend) – whatever it is, you need to be reading from something otherwise you’re going to forget.

Since you’re here trying to figure out the basics, I’ll give you an outline:

PROCESSIONAL
Your coordinator can help you with this. But typically you begin with VIPs (grandma, siblings, etc) being escorted to their seats. The last one to come in should be the groom (or whoever is waiting at the top of the aisle) who is walking his mother to her seat.

WELCOME
Minister will welcome and thank everyone for sharing this day with you and state why we are here. TELL EVERYONE THAT THEY MAY BE SEATED.

REMEMBRANCE
We can also acknowledge those who could not be here today—those who have passed and those who could not make the trip due to illness or distance.  A candle can be lit, roses placed in memory, a lei draped over the back of an empty “reserved” chair.

PARENTS CEREMONY
Some couples choose to involve their parents in their ceremony by thanking them for all their love and support and asking for their blessing.  In Hawaii, a typical lei ceremony for the parents is appropriate.

MINISTER’S MESSAGE
Reflect on the couple. Use quotes from one another. Talk about THEM – who they are and why they make one another stronger.
The use allegory to connect the couple to something larger than themselves can be powerful here
a. If they are religious, use a story from the bible that emphasizes the power of love and the bond between two people. You can find lots of examples HERE
b. If they are non-religious – find some element of nature to illustrate their love. Because I’m located in Maui, referencing the ocean and the mountains is a great spot to start.

READING
Usually poetry, verses or readings about love that a family member or friend reads.

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE
If they’ve written their own vows – invite one to start (I would suggest clearing this with them first). Be sure that they have give you their vows before the wedding so they’re not carrying them up to the alter.

If they decide on the repeat-after-me route, you can use THIS TEMPLATE

For the ring ceremony, speak of the symbolism of the rings (this site has some really great passages about rings and their history). Rings should be exchanged after vows are read.

RITUAL REPRESENTING YOUR UNION OR FAMILY BLENDING
This is totally optional, but a nice way to acknowledge the blending of your family. Some common ways are a unity candle, sand ceremony, stone casting, handfasting, children recognition or vows. ]

PRONOUNCEMENT
In front of family and friends, you have proclaimed your love for one another. And we now recognize you as husband and wife (or “as married”).

And now, by the power vested in me by the state of __________, it is my great honor to pronounce you as husband and wife.

Invite them for a first kiss.

RECESSIONAL
The bridal party follows the couple out in reverse order, followed by parents, minister, and the rest of the guests.

candlelit ceremony at steeple house kapalua

Dos and Don’ts for the ceremony

  1. DO tell everyone to sit down. I’m not kidding you – if you don’t tell them to sit they won’t sit.
  2. DO stand to the side. This does two things: first, it means the couple looks at you toward the crowd instead of turning their faces away from everyone to look at you. Second, it allows your photographer to get some great shots that you aren’t in!
  3. DO move aside for the vows and first kiss. If you want to stand behind the couple, go ahead. But please for the love of Pete get out of there for the vows and first kiss. The last thing the couple needs is your mug behind them when they’re saying sweet sentiments to one another or sharing their first kiss.
  4. DO ask them to angle their hands toward the audience during the ring exchange. Everyone can see and your photographer will likely high-five you afterward.
  5. DO color coordinate with the wedding party – but don’t match. You’re not part of the wedding party – you’re the officiant. Know the color scheme but don’t get the same suit and the groomsmen or dress as the bridesmaids.
  6. DON’T talk about yourself. This ain’t about you. You can talk about meeting them both – that’s fine. But remember: you aren’t the best man/maid of honor. You’re the officiant. Know your place.
  7. DON’T share inappropriate stories. Again, it isn’t about you: it’s about them. Remember your audience. Memaw doesn’t want to hear about that time her grandson got hammered and danced on top of a bar. Keep it professional and light.


So that’s it! I hope this helps answer your question How to officiate a wedding!  It’s a huge responsibility and you’re going to knock it out of the park!

If you have anything I may have forgotten, shoot me an email here or drop it in the comments below!

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