Cydney and Jeffry's wedding at Onondaga Golf & Country Club, Fayetteville, NY. July 2019. Photo by DJ Peter Naughton
Peter was great to work with. His play list kept our guests on the dance floor until the very end of the night!
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Peter's Pointers: Choosing a Wedding Officiant - Friend or Pro?

Choosing a Wedding Officiant - Friend or Pro? | by Wedding DJ Peter Naughton

More and more often, couples are skipping church and getting married right at their reception venue.  Among the advantages, you can choose your own officiant.  Are professional officiants really worth the money, or are you just as well having a friend or relative get ordained online?  Your decision can have a major impact on your marriage.  I'll explain in this edition of Peter's Pointers for Wedding Planning.

Ceremony and Reception at One Location: Why?

If the concept of skipping church sounds odd, here are some common reasons.

  • Not that religious
  • Different religions, neither wants to convert to the other
  • Convenience
    • No need for dozens (or hundreds) of guests to travel from church to reception
    • No need for limo service to transport the wedding party
    • If your wedding and reception are at a hotel, guests who stay there don't even need to leave the building
    • Less stress: Fewer contracts to file, fewer checks to write, fewer moving parts to potentially complicate or delay your schedule

Some couples still have a "two-location" wedding, but get married on a beach or in a park or some other non-church location.  They still need to find an officiant.

Professional or Friend: What's the difference?

You're probably aware that literally anyone can go online, fill out an application, and -- voila! -- they're "ordained." At least one ministry ordains people for free.  It's almost a no-brainer, right?  Why call a bunch of professional officiants, only to learn the first 10 aren't available for your date and the rest all charge $200-300?

By contrast, you know your friends and relatives will be at your wedding. And if they can get ordained for free, why not?  What could possibly go wrong?

To be frank, quite a few things -- and the first one is really serious.

Your Marriage Might Not Be Legal

I'll cut right to the chase: online ordinations are not legally recognized in New York State.

Surprised?  So am I... I've been DJ'ing weddings for almost a decade now, and only learned this recently!

Marie April Gismondi of the Church of Ancient Ways writes on her website, "Even though the state will issue a Certificate of Marriage, the marriage can be later questioned in a court of law and can be deemed invalid with a ULC or online officiant."  Although her blog post is titled "Legality of Online Ordinations on Long Island," you're likely aware Long Island is part of New York State, so the same laws apply here in Central New York.

Gismondi elaborates on her post,

If you want to be legally married in front of family and friends, then hire someone who is legal to marry you. If you have [already] been married by someone ordained online, go down to Town Hall and get legally married.

Although neither Gismondi nor I are lawyers, her research on the topic includes proper references to law journals along with her direct interactions with town clerks in her area. Even when you search for officiants who are available for hire, you need to make sure they are legit.  Gismondi's blog includes some insight on what kinds of questions to ask, or "red flags" to look for on an officiant's website, to determine if they are legally-recognized by New York State.  In the end, if you aren't completely sure, check with the clerk of the city or town where you live.

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What if There's an Unexpected Glitch?

Celia Milton is a wedding celebrant based in New Jersey, but known nationwide for her contributions to various wedding forum discussions.  She recently shared the following item, which she typically emails to prospective couples when they request a quote.  She also gives out copies at wedding expos:


You’re planning your wedding and like every couple you’re thinking about the ugly B WORD....yes, budget. Everything is more expensive than you could ever imagine.

Relax! Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat as necessary!!

Really, the ONLY thing you need (besides each other, of course) is a great officiant. But it seems like a natural place to save money.

“Anyone can get ordained....why don’t we ask Uncle Phil or your wacky college roommate Kate? They know us, they’ll make it so personal!”

Rethink that. Here’s why. Essentially, you’ll give yourself another job, because neither you or your friend know how to do this. It sounds like a great idea when you ask, but as your wedding day draws close? It becomes less fun and more, well, job-like.....

Your ceremony might be short and sweet, but it has a lot of moving parts, from beginning to end! Ask yourself;

  • Does your FRIEND even want to be doing this, or did they just say YES to be polite? We get dozens of calls every year (usually at the last minute) to fill in for friendors who panic. Not only is the ceremony compromised, but the friendship is stressed too.
  • Can your friend write an inspiring, entertaining, engaging ceremony that includes all the legal language necessary?
  • Public speaking is the NUMBER TWO fear (after death). Can your friend actually deliver your ceremony with both charisma and gravity? Will it be fun for your guests to hear?
  • Can your friend troubleshoot on the fly? A groomsmen faints, a unity candle goes missing, the rings roll into the pond, the DJ doesn’t show up, the three year old flower girl has a nuclear meltdown on the aisle. Does your friend have even the first clue as to what to do when things go “unexpected”?
  • Does your friend understand how to complete the paperwork so that at the end of the day your marriage is legal? Do they know how to spot and deal with mistakes on the license that’s created by the issuing clerk? Will they remember to file it?
  • Can your friend seamlessly coordinate ceremony cues with your photographer, videographers and musicians? Can they work with your guest readers or people taking part in rituals like hand-fastings or sand pourings?

The honest answer to most of these questions is ‘no’. You are spending a lot of money, time and emotion on your wedding day. Don’t leave this element to chance.

Another item to consider: what if YOU forget to file for a marriage license, or you forget to bring it to the ceremony?  Legally, without a certificate on-site, you can't have a wedding.  You can still have a "commitment ceremony" so there's still something for all your guests to see, but will your friend/relative know what wording needs to change?

Yes, there's a lot more to being an officiant than just standing up and reading a script.

See more of Peter's Pointers for Wedding Planning

People Can Tell the Difference

After several years of providing ceremony sound, it's become pretty easy for me to tell if the officiant is a fully-fledged pro or a friend.  Any guests who've been to their fair share of weddings can probably tell pretty quickly as well.

A professional officiant dresses and acts the part.  Pros often help get people in place before the ceremony.  They're ready to go on-time, usually at least a few minutes early.  They know the groom might be nervous, so they say something comforting or crack a joke (quietly, before the mic goes on).

By contrast, "friendors" usually are only focused on their own part -- standing up front and reading a script.  They sometimes stand up there waaaaay before anyone else, or they're nowhere to be seen until just a minute before things get started.  They often leave others to make sure the wedding party is lined-up properly and ready to go.

During the ceremony, a pro vendor will speak clearly, with proper annunciation, so that everyone can hear.  They know their part well enough to make occasional eye contact with the couple and with the guests.  Friendors, on the other hand, will often be nervous. This can cause them to speak faster than normal, which leads to words being mumbled and jumbled.  People who aren't experienced with public speaking often have that "flat" tone of voice, where if you were to close your eyes, you'd know they were definitely reading a script.  True professionals can read a script in a way that doesn't sound like reading, but as if they are talking to you.  It's a lesson I learned well during my radio career.

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Don't Just Take My Word For It...

Here are several other articles that reinforce why it's better for everyone involved, to hire a professional officiant rather than asking a friend or relative.

Of course, I'll still work with any couple regardless of your choice of officiant.  You know your own friends and family better than I do.  Many couples have friends or family who are excellent public speakers, and can perform just as well as a professional officiant.  But remember, you may still need to schedule a separate "legal" ceremony before or after the one you host in front of your invited guests.

My sincere thanks again to Marie April Gismondi and Celia Milton for allowing me to borrow from their works in this article.

Choosing a Wedding Officiant - Friend or Pro? | by Wedding DJ Peter Naughton


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See more of Peter's Pointers for Wedding Planning


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Since 2011, Syracuse Wedding DJ Peter Naughton has been serving Central New York along with the occasional road trip to the Southern Tier or the Thousand Islands.  One price covers everything you need for an unforgettable celebration with Peter's stress-free wedding package!
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