When it comes to your wedding ceremony, you want everything to be absolutely perfect. Donna Forsythe from Bethlehem, Pa, a local Lehigh Valley celebrant/officiant has provided some important insight and “food for thought” about having a friend or family member officiate your wedding, and things that could go wrong. Like we said, we just want your day to be absolutely perfect!
Written by Donna Forsythe
As a Humanist Wedding Celebrant, I’ve met with hundreds of couples to help them create the perfect ceremony for their wedding day. One question I always ask, is to have them tell me about a wedding they’ve been to that was wonderful and what they loved about it – as well as a wedding they’ve been to that they didn’t quite enjoy – and why. When it comes to the latter, time and time again, couples will describe attending a wedding that was officiated by a friend or family member of the couple and will detail one or more events which made the ceremony possibly the worst part of the day. So why do couples choose having a friend or family member officiate their weddings?
I know that couples often have the best intentions when it comes to asking a friend or family member (I will be referring to them as F/FM) to officiate their weddings. They want it to be personal. They feel that a F/FM will make it truly special because they know the couple. And they may also think – ‘How hard can it be to have someone read a ceremony? We want something short and sweet. Uncle Joe will be great!’ It may also be one part of the wedding day where the couple feels they can save a few dollars.
There have been numerous articles written on the downfalls of having a F/FM officiate. Read here for an article from Brides outlining the top regrets from couples who have wished they hired a professional. And Engaged and Ready recently posted an article giving additional words of caution.
I wondered, though, who would best be able to give feedback on this issue? I realized that the wedding professionals who are typically present during the ceremony would have a unique perspective. They will have seen dozens – if not hundreds of weddings. So, they will certainly be in a position of authority to comment on what problems they encounter.
I reached out to my local wedding professionals from the Philadelphia region through the Poconos of Pennsylvania, and asked what common problems they witness when a F/FM officiates a wedding. I heard from venue coordinators, event planners, photographers, videographers, DJs, and musicians – and holy wow – did they have a lot to say!
Their comments fit into several general categories. I have bulleted the responses below.
- An event planner said she often encounters a total lack of preparedness.
- A DJ shared that he witnesses lots of ‘giggling’ and a lack of sincerity. He states that he often hears them joke for the pronouncement, “By the power vested in me by the Internet…”
- A few venue coordinators shared that often a F/FM will show up just before the ceremony starts. Or even worse, arrive late to the ceremony.
- Some stated that they’ve experienced the F/FM not showing up at all, or cancelling at the last minute. This leaves the couple in a panic.
- Several planners and venue coordinators said their experience is that the F/FM will wait until a few days before the wedding to start writing the ceremony – not leaving enough time to fix or make edits.
- They also mentioned that the F/FMs rarely ask the couple questions in preparation.
And – they said that couples are left to their own devices when it comes to writing their vows. They say that it is usually obvious that they have not had anyone to assist them.
Photography: One Thousand Words Photography
- Numerous wedding pros said they have witnessed entire ceremonies where the guests were never told to sit down. Often these weddings are taking place outside in the heat, and guests are standing for a half hour – uncomfortable.
- One venue coordinator said there is also a problem with the F/FM not telling the guests to stand for the bride’s entrance. He said some stand, others are sitting, and it’s a confused mess that looks horrible in the photos.
- Many photographers and venue coordinators mentioned that the F/FM did not step out of the way for the ‘kiss’ photo.
- A planner said she has witnessed numerous weddings where the F/FM never checked to make sure that somebody had the wedding rings.
- Several mentioned that the F/FMs don’t always understand the responsibility that comes with conducting the ceremony with regard to follow-up and the legal paperwork involved. She has seen several times, where a couple was never actually married because their license did not get filed at the courthouse!
- One planner said that she often sees the F/FM not knowing where to stand when others are participating in the ceremony. For example, when there is a reader, or during a special ceremonial element like a Wine Box Ceremony.
- She also mentioned that the F/FMs don’t think to turn the microphone around when it’s time for the couple’s vows so the guests can hear them.
- A wedding planner said that some F/FMs are too emotionally invested in the couple and break down during the ceremony.
- She also said that some are just plain bad public speakers. Actually, MANY of the wedding professional emphasized that F/FMs are often not cut out for public speaking.
- And…she mentioned that some F/FMs have panic attacks, not realizing how difficult it can be to speak in front of a large group of people.
- A videographer shared that it is usually obvious who the F/FM is closest to. Most of the stories and comments are focused on that one person during the ceremony.
- They also mentioned that the F/FM will treat the ceremony like it’s a speech at the reception rather than an official, sacred, and binding ceremony.
- Many shared that F/FMs will use a script they found on the internet and did not infuse anything personal about the couple.
- A venue coordinator said a mistake she often sees is the F/FM not wanting to run through the script before the ceremony because they want the couple to “be surprised”. This one never ends well, she stated.
- A few people mentioned that they’ve seen the F/FM not sticking to the script and attempting to ‘break the ice’ with a few jokes or comments that typically make the bride and groom uncomfortable.
- A DJ said that the F/FMs often think they will be fine without a microphone. They don’t realize that in order to project for everyone to hear, they have to shout. No one wants to listen to a half hour of shouting!
- Since most F/FMs are not public speakers, may wedding professionals said they see them rushing through the ceremony. And whether it’s nerves or that they want to get it over with for an early start to cocktail hour, either way, it ruins the entire feel of the ceremony.
- Several venue coordinators shared that the F/FMs have no idea how to run a rehearsal. They, in turn, have to step in and make sure everyone knows what they are doing.
- Planners and coordinators also mentioned that the F/FM will often ‘goof off’ during the rehearsal and not take it seriously. They will act as if they are part of the wedding party, and not the person actually in charge of running the rehearsal. This makes the rehearsal take longer and causes problems and additional work for the venue coordinators.
Couples certainly don’t realize that when they ask a F/FM to officiate their wedding, it will put an extra burden on all of the other wedding professionals they’ve hired. Each professional has to take more time out of their schedule to ensure things will go smoothly. One photographer had an analogy he shared with regard to couples thinking about having a F/FM either officiate, do photos, etc. He said, ‘Your grandmother may make an amazing Thanksgiving dinner, but do you want her catering your reception?’
My advice to couples who are contemplating having a F/FM officiate, is to instead, consider allowing that friend to enjoy your wedding, and simply be a friend. Let your cousin have the day off to celebrate your union as your cousin. The best thing you can do for your peace of mind on that day, is to surround yourselves with the most competent ‘team’ of wedding professionals. They will ensure your wedding day runs smoothly so you can relax and enjoy every minute!
More planning tips and advice: When to Book Your Team of Wedding Vendors/Pros, Pampering Your Wedding Party Before The Big Day, Top Nine Wedding Makeup FAQ’s, 13 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Wedding.