Your wedding: imagine that magical moment when you say “I do” and your life changes forever. Who could be better than your best friend to join you in marriage?
STOP. Are you sure about that?
In recent years, some states have relaxed the rules for who can officiate a wedding, authorizing almost anyone to be “officiant for a day.” Fill out a one-page form, bring it to your town hall, give them a check, and voila! For one day, you’re official. From the government’s perspective, it’s an easy way to generate a little revenue. In Vermont, for $100 any adult can now apply to the Vermont Secretary of State to become a “temporary officiant” at a specific wedding or civil union. In Massachusetts, 20 dollars buys a one-day license.
For couples, it’s an understandable wish. Who knows you better than your sister or best friend? Perhaps — but there’s more to officiating a ceremony than you might realize. Some states have recognized this. In Connecticut, a bill authorizing a one-day license was voted down. In New Hampshire, a similar law was voted down in the House of Representatives. That may not be such a bad thing for couples.
Here are some of the job requirements of a professional Justice of the Peace. Has your friend mastered all of these skills?
- Writing. To create the wedding of your dreams, you need someone who can craft a poetic and romantic ceremony that flows effortlessly and focuses squarely on you as a couple. It’s not as easy as it might seem.
- Creativity. You may know what you want, but not know how to translate that concept within the ceremony. Professional JPs offer wording, traditions, rituals, and readings based on experience and research.
- Public Speaking. The words need to be delivered articulately and with importance, warmth, pacing, and emphasis in just the right spots.
- Experience. Although couples usually want their personalities reflected in the ceremony, they also want it to feel “official.” It’s a balance that takes practice.
- Leadership. A Justice of the Peace leads the ceremony. He or she sets the tone, calms nerves, makes announcements, and answers questions. If there is no wedding planner, the JP may also direct.
- Coaching. If you’re writing your own vows, a JP can help you find the right words and offer feedback on your delivery. If you are keeping your vows a surprise from each other, he or she ensures that they have similar enough tone and length so that they sound beautiful when delivered together.
So, you want to get married and you’re still convinced your friend should do it? Okay, here are two suggestions to help make it the most successful.
- Sign and Submit
In states that don’t offer “officiant for a day,” you will need someone official to sign the marriage license to make it legal. Some JPs might be willing to witness your friend perform the ceremony, and then sign the license and submit it to the town hall.
- Add a ceremony coach to your team.
As your coach, a JP can:
* Meet with you, your spouse-to-be and your officiant-friend to learn about you and your goals for the ceremony
* Write a customized ceremony using that information
* Review and give feedback on your vows
* Coach your officiant during a practice session
* Witness your ceremony
* Sign and submit your license, if needed
That said, I’ve witnessed some ceremonies that have made me wince: posturing couple’s bickering, nervous friend-officiants losing their place and stumbling over their lines, and the bride’s long soliloquy of vows to the groom’s off-the-cuff paragraph.
This long awaited moment in time is one of the most important milestones of your life, one which you won’t forget, and which you might even relive again and again, if you hire a videographer. A desire to have a close friend or family member as your officiant is understandable, but the quality of the ceremony may suffer by choosing an officiant who has little or no experience in writing and performing one. As with all the other wedding professionals you hire, give serious consideration to using a professional officiant for the best result, leaving you feeling confident that things will be beautiful and free to fully enjoy the magic of your special day.
Find your perfect JP at findaJP.com
Cindy Dumont is a Justice of the Peace in North Hampton, New Hampshire.