For the First Time Officiant: How to Start Writing a Custom Wedding Ceremony
Having two people you love ask you to officiate a wedding ceremony is, for most of us, a once-in-a-lifetime honor. But once the thrill wears off, you're likely to realize that writing a wedding ceremony may not be as simple as it sounds. "It's much more than the 20 minutes of ceremony time," says Diane Smith-Hoban, executive director of Journeys of the Heart, a non-denominational organization of ceremony officiants in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. "Using words, creativity, and flow to create the details takes a lot of careful thought and planning." Start with these four guidelines to put together a script that's personal, memorable, and emotional, she says. "A well-prepared and delivered ceremony will almost always include laughter and tears and joy—all the emotions of love."
Do: Include the couple.
Before you start writing, it's essential to sit down with the couple and talk about what they want for their ceremony. "The ceremony is the heart and soul of the day and the entire reason for it, and it sets the tone for the celebration, so it is critical that it be just as the couple wishes," says Smith-Hoban. "The couple should be intimately involved in deciding every word that will be said and how all the details of the ceremony will unfold." Key topics you should discuss include how long the couple wants the ceremony to be, whether they want any other friends or family members to participate, if they want to reference any religious backgrounds, and which traditions they hope to include, from exchanging rings to using traditional or custom vows.
Don't: Say "I"
The officiant may be the one with the microphone, but the guests didn't RSVP yes to hear you talk about yourself. "People like to center themselves," says Smith-Hoban, "so be sure, if you are using a friend instead of a professional, they can check their ego at the door." She suggests amateur officiants stay focused on the couple by avoiding the word "I" when writing their ceremony—especially if you're heading toward a story like "I remember when Sue brought Fred home for the first time—we thought, Yuck!" or "I've seen Joe with a lot of girls before Jen." Attempts at this kind of humor rarely pay off. "There is never a good reason to include mean-spirited jokes," says Smith-Hoban. "If your officiant wants to include things like this, they do not have your best interest at heart."
Do: Practice, practice, practice.
While writing, Smith-Hoban recommends using a word count to time converter to get a sense of how long your script will take to read—but that doesn't mean you don't need to practice it. Even if you don't plan to memorize the ceremony, read it out loud until you can perform it confidently (and tweak the wording as you go, since text can read differently out loud than it does in your head). You'll have some practical jobs to prepare for, too, says Smith-Hoban: An officiant's responsibilities often include knowing where (and how) to stand during the ceremony—especially so you don't photobomb essential photo opportunities; directing the bridal party; indicating when guests should stand or sit; positioning the couple during the ceremony; using the microphone; and remembering the musical cues.
Don't: Surprise them.
After you've finished writing the ceremony, set aside time to go over with the couple, giving them time to request changes. Once they've approved it, don't add in anything you haven't discussed—no inside jokes about his ex-girlfriend or her bachelorette party shenanigans, no comments on his unpaid parking tickets or her messy closet. "Nothing is worse than a cringey moment during a beautiful ceremony when someone says something that they think is funny but rather is silly, awkward, or even painful for the couple," says Smith-Hoban. "The ceremony is about a couple's love for one another and their decision to move forward in a committed, shared life, together forever. A good rule is, if it does not shine a light on the couple and their love, it does not belong in the ceremony."