What is becoming a wedding officiant like?
January 20, 2013 6:36 AM   Subscribe

My fiance and I are planning to get married next year, and we would like to ask a dear family friend to officiate the wedding. I want to know if there are any drawbacks/difficulties that we may not have thought of.

The wedding will take place in Minnesota, and I have looked up the general process. I know that Family Friend (FF) will need to be ordained, and have located several online sites that seem innocuous* and assert that they will be sufficient for a Minnesota wedding. However, I have some concerns before we go ahead and ask FF to do this. If you are (or are close with) a wedding officiant who was ordained online, I would really appreciate your feedback!

1. FF is a professional in a somewhat public role, where people might google his/her name (think doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc). Is there any sort of official record (online or off) of being ordained through one of these sites?

2. *Re: "innocuous" -- this has two parts:
2.a. We definitely want to be sure that any of these online sites are consistent with our values, and don't involve any wacky anti-gay agenda (we are a heterosexual couple). The few sites we've found seem to be okay (see here, last question on the page), but anything we should look out for in this regard?
2.b. FF is Catholic, although not a conservative one. We want to be sure that we are not asking him/her to do anything that would conflict with his/her beliefs. Again, the sites we have found are fairly bland in terms of their religious ideology -- can you think of anything we might be missing here, or other concerns FF might have about this that we could try to assuage?

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by Bebo to Law & Government (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I will be officiating a wedding in March, and possibly another in November. In preparation for my task, I was ordained online last March through this website. In the months since, I've experienced no ill effects, not noticed my name in odd searches. They don't even spam me with unwanted email.

Conveniently, they list the legal requirements for performing a wedding per state, including your own Minnesota.

Now, they do make their money by selling letters of good standing, wallet cards, printed certifications, one of which will be required by the state as proof of ordination. But the prices are reasonable and the product looks pretty great.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:59 AM on January 20, 2013

Have you looked into whether the state of MN certifies officiants itself? Massachusetts allows any person to become a one-day officiant through an easy state certification process - no ordination needed. We did this with the groom's brother and it worked out great.
posted by walla at 7:12 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

FF is Catholic, although not a conservative one. We want to be sure that we are not asking him/her to do anything that would conflict with his/her beliefs.

The official Catholic church position is that while lay Catholics are allowed to officiate at the civil weddings of non-Catholics, they are not allowed to accept an ordination in another religion, whatever its beliefs, to do so, or indeed for any other reason.

Whether your friend would feel compelled by that I have no idea - most American Catholics don't feel bound to follow all of the church's rules - but it's something to bear in mind when you have the discussion with him.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:19 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The reason we didn't do this in North Carolina eight years ago is because marriages performed by these sorts of demi-religious organization are of questionable legality and we didn't want to mess with it. Be sure that Minnesota unambiguously accepts online ordination.
posted by gerryblog at 7:20 AM on January 20, 2013

I have officiated four weddings as an ordained minister in Universal Life Church. All of my ceremonies have been in Massachusetts and Connecticut, so I can't comment on Minnesota particulars, but prior to my first ceremony, I did order a credential card from the ULC just to have paperwork backup in case any of the relevant city clerks asked for it. Nobody has asked for verification.

to answer your questions:

1. To my knowledge, I am not publically Googlable at all and my ordainment with the ULC has not compromised that. I've been an ordained minister for 13 years and have never received spam or other email from them. The ULC does have a minister registry, but it's totally opt-in.

2. I am/was a Catholic. I was ordained into the ULC without prior consent ... well that sounds a bit harsh ... I was ordained when a girl that I was dating signed me up during a party where I wasn't present. We were in our early 20's, it was a bit hilarious, though I was also a little weirded out by it. Still, some friends later asked us to marry them, which is when I had to decided what that meant to me and my faith.

At that point, it had been such that I still believed in the notional idea of a Creator, and continued to cherish certain virtues of the Church such as mercy, service and compassion; but had grown estranged from much of its dogma. I had also maintained a fondness for ceremony and ritual, so in many ways I made peace with this prospect of doing something for my friends that shared my love for all of those awesome bits that religion had given me without having to accept the weird baggage that I wasn't hot about.

The first ceremony was read off a script that the couple printed for me. Successive ceremonies were written based on a dialogue that I had with the couple, and those, I personally found to be really rewarding.

So, for your friend, I'd certainly have a good talk with them about it, and just let them articulate what their stance with faith and the church are, and if they accept, what their boundaries around the ceremony might be (for me, as an example, I tend to prefer my weddings be simple and basic, and as unCatholic as possible. Convocation/greeting > blessing > vows> ring > kiss and done. I only include readings if the couple specifically want them. I won't read pages from the Bible even if mixed with other readings from the Quran or Winnie the Pooh, even to appease people who have more religiously minded relatives. Any conventions of an actual Mass like Communion or Sharing of Peace are also red lines for me -- though thankfully nobody's asked for that).

Everyone's got a bit of a different stance, but I'd certainly say that Catholics, as dogmatic as we can be, can be a complicated and not straightforward lot. So certainly talk with your friend and be ok with them saying 'no', but don't be surprised if they find it to be a delightful prospect ... especially if considering their individual nuances around faith. Also, if your friend feels conflicted (especially in light of the advice given above with regards to heresy), they may want to consider having a talk with their favorite priest in a confessional booth (after all, that should be the ideal application of a confessional -- when you're thinking of a sin but haven't committed one yet)
posted by bl1nk at 7:33 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

though on re-read, if your friend considers themselves a "practicing" rather than a "lapsed" Catholic this may be a bridge too far for them and you may want to look into other ways of involving them that don't involve ordination.
posted by bl1nk at 7:36 AM on January 20, 2013

The place I got my mail-order ordination from never shared my info with anyone. However, one day I walked into a meeting at work and was greeted with, "Good morning, Reverend!" Turned out another member of the committee was a friend of the couple whose wedding I'd officiated at the previous weekend. I got ribbed about that for months. No ill effects on my career, though.
posted by Ery at 8:14 AM on January 20, 2013

FF is a professional in a somewhat public role, where people might google his/her name (think doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc). Is there any sort of official record (online or off) of being ordained through one of these sites?

I worked for a judge who got ordained through one of those sites for the same reason, to perform a marriage. (In my state, judges are not empowered to marry. Anyone may officiate one wedding per calendar year, but this was to be his second. Hence, he needed to be ordained.) To my knowledge, the ordainment affected his life by allowing him to perform that wedding, period, the end. No collateral consequences.

Congratulations on your engagement, and good luck with your wedding.
posted by cribcage at 8:21 AM on January 20, 2013

We had a friend officiate our wedding. I think it's important to note that it's a good solid day's work (more, if you do a rehearsal) which involves public performance. The going rate for a non-religious officiant in our area was $800/day, and while we couldn't afford to pay our friend that, we did get him a nice gift.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2013

You want him to officiate the wedding, but does he have to marry you? You could get the official marriage done at a Justice of the Peace/Courthouse/wherever the day before, have the wedding with FF as the officiant, and go through the motions. No extra paperwork for FF, no databases to worry about.
posted by China Grover at 8:41 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding China Grover. I officiated the wedding ceremony of two very close friends in Maryland. We looked into the details of having me legally appointed to perform the ceremony, but in the end decided that a city hall wedding for legal purposes, followed by the ceremony that I conducted, would be the most convenient and legally acceptable option. For the couple and everyone in the congregation, the wedding I performed was the "real" one, and the city hall thing was just some paperwork that needed to be done.

Keep in mind that ordinations from groups like the ULC are specifically forbidden for marriage purposes in some places, New York City being high on that list.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:26 AM on January 20, 2013

I'm also ULC-ordiained, and I've married 5 couples, all in California, ranging from my BFF to a mere acquaintance. I've absolutely loved doing it, the ULC hasn't ever sent me a single email or letter, I haven't ever seen this in any Google result nor been asked about it by anyone who didn't know already. So, zero effect on my professionally.

I think the biggest tip I'd give you is the one hitch I encountered when I did the ceremony for the acquaintance: The rest of her family didn't really understand that I wasn't a "real" minister, in the sense that they kept turning to me and asking how I'd like things to be done, what the order should be, etc. When I perform anybody's wedding I'm there to do whatever THEY want, not impose my own order on things. So be sure that's clear for your wedding.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:36 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am an officiant registered through the Universal Life Church. I have performed about 10 weddings, including one in Minnesota.

As far as the state is concerned, the officiant and/or his or her denomination is fairly meaningless. It's a paperwork matter, that's all. I always insist that the bride(s) and/or groom(s) get all the necessary info and details about the papers to be signed, the fees to be paid, and the submission of same. It's all usually online, typically via a state/county/municipal Board of Marriages (or whatever it's called).

Here's a useful link.

I am an atheist, so I always make sure that the engaged folks are OK with there being no religious/God references in the ceremony. If they want religious references, I wish them well but tell them that I'm not their man. This has never been an issue, precisely because I always make it a point to discuss it early on.

When I write what I jokingly call "the sermon," I typically use Google Docs and share it with them, once I have a decent draft. Then we go back and forth and make edits; I always defer to their desires on this. It's their ceremony, and I feel that the contents of the sermon should not be a surprise to them. In designing the sermon, together we come up with the order of events: processional, music, introduction, etc.

Mostly, my advice would be to make sure to familiarize yourselves (you, your fiancé, and FF) with ALL of the logistical and paperwork-ical codes and fees and restrictions. That, really, is the most important part.

I am pretty familiar with this whole process, and really enjoy it. I've only ever performed the weddings of friend, and am always flattered when someone asks me to perform this service.

I'd be happy to give you some more details - go ahead and MeMail me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:42 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Dad has been a Universal Life Minister for 45 years! He's officiated a a bazillion weddings from backyards, to the Plaza Hotel in NYC. We're Jewish, so there's no real issue with the religious angle.

You can register and print the certificate on the web.

In Florida, Maine and South Carolina, a Notary Public can officiate at a wedding. FWIW.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:43 AM on January 21, 2013

Can he do it through the state? I'm a Florida notary, it gives me legal authority to officiate weddings (I have done a few times already). Wondering if Minnesota has the same figure. It is simple to do it and doesn't have any religious connotation in it.
posted by 3dd at 9:27 AM on January 21, 2013

Also an officiant via Universal Life Church. Like the others have mentioned regarding their experiences, this has not been a problem for my private, professional, public or internet life. Nor has the source of my ordination proved to be a legal problem for the couples I have wed.

ULC is purposely bland on religious issues - the ideal behind that is inclusion. Wikipedia on ULC.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:24 PM on January 22, 2013

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