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Put Your Wedding Officiant To The Test

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"We were looking for an independent officiant to perform our backyard wedding, and one contender sounded great... until we met with him and discovered that he would wear a bright purple robe, assign us a symbolic animal and ask the nature gods to bless our marriage. We moved on to the next officiant on our list."

There are a great many wonderful wedding officiants out there... and then there are some 'characters.' You might even think you're 'safe' with a religious officiant, but he or she might have some rules and practices that strike you as odd, or even controlling.

The key is to find out what your officiant does before he or she does it at your wedding.

It's a top mistake -- a highly regrettable one -- to hire an officiant based on what a website says and shows. This is the person who will be leading the most important part of your wedding day! You don't want to be standing in front of all your loved ones on your Big Day with your jaw hanging open over a wacky officiant's unexpected... wackiness. And you don't want to be told 'no photos' by an officiant who doesn't like flash photography.

You know to put your wedding coordinator, your caterer, your entertainers, and your photographer to the test -- meeting with them, interviewing them, assessing their vibe and reviewing samples of their work -- before you hire them. The same goes for your officiant.

Here are the top ways to fully investigate the officiant who will lead your wedding, and make it everything you want... with no surprises.

1. Be sure they're legit. Check with the town hall where you will apply for your marriage license to get their list of who is allowed to perform marriage ceremonies. Different townships have different rules, but most view mayors, judges, and town council members as legal officiants. Ask any independent officiant you find for a copy of his or her license to perform ceremonies, and take that to your town hall. Given the growth of the 'online officiant license' industry, it's best to get 100 percent OK from the township in order to avoid finding out you're not really married because the township doesn't recognize their license.

2. Ask your wedding experts for suggestions. A wedding coordinator will certainly have a list of credited, legal officiants for you to consider, and you'd get the benefit of your planner's experiences with that officiant. You'll have it on good authority that a certain officiant is wonderful and great to work with, or that a certain one is 'quirky.'

3. Take a meeting. Don't just book an officiant based on your house of worship's granting you a wedding date through their office, or based on what you see and read on a website. Always schedule an in-person interview, so that you can shake hands, assess the vibe between you, and ask lots of questions. "We rejected a few officiants who gave us the 'this is how I do it' routine, and booked the one who asked us what we wanted," says one recent bride. "We knew we wanted to customize our ceremony, and this officiant was willing to listen to us."

4. Check out the scripts. Most wedding officiants will be able to show you sample scripts of wedding ceremonies they've conducted, as well as lists of suggested readings and songs you might use in your ceremony. These might be in printed book form or as PDFs. Reviewing these gives you an idea of the officiant's style and range of ceremony content. Again, if you get a single script and a scowl, with a 'this is how I do it,' this is likely not the officiant for you.

5. Ask the officiant to read out loud. If the officiant has passed the first few tests, ask him or her to read out loud a small portion of a ceremony script. Some officiants are better public speakers than others. You want to book the officiant who speaks well, not one who delivers in monotone or stumbling, bumbling delivery.

6. Ask what the officiant will wear. Bright purple robes might make you run for the door, but most legitimate officiants will be happy to say, 'a dark suit,' or 'white robes' or show you photos of the ceremonial robe and sash you could expect.

7. Ask if you can customize the ceremony. Some officiants are quite strict about what they will and won't allow -- and some houses of worship require you to choose from their approved song list. So it's not always the officiant's personal fault that a rigid list of what's allowed is in front of you. But still, you want to make sure you can co-create a ceremony you love.

8. Check your gut. Does this officiant make you smile? Do you feel comfortable with this person? Or does he remind you of a scary professor? When you find The One, you just know...

Sharon Naylor is the author of over 35 wedding books, including 1001 Ways to Save Money and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding, www.sharonnaylor.net

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