Juliana Hague, 29, and Ronnie Comeau, 28, met on April Fool’s Day in 2012. Ronnie was her instructor in guide school at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Four and a half years later, they were married on a beautiful fall day at Foundation for the Carolinas.
Like many couples who don’t belong to a church, Juliana and Ronnie didn’t know who should officiate their ceremony. A recently married friend helped lead Juliana, a Charlotte native, to Rev. Diana Collins, an ordained minister since 2007.
Now, Juliana says that choosing the right person to guide them through their vows was one of the most important decisions they made. Here are five characteristics you want in your wedding officiant:
1. Understands that this is your wedding
Juliana and Ronnie met with Collins at a coffee shop. There, Collins reminded the couple that the wedding was theirs to plan in any way they want. “That made me feel comfortable,” Juliana says. “She didn’t have any expectations about what our wedding would look like.”
2. Honors and respects your beliefs and wishes
Engaged couples bring family traditions, cultural expectations, and individual preferences to wedding planning. The best officiants will accommodate special or sensitive requests. Couples should also look for someone who honors and respects where the couple stands on spiritual matters. “A lot of couples are somewhere in between,” Collins says. “They don’t want the church services. They want God invited to the ceremony, but they don’t want a lot of prayers.”
3. Makes you feel calm and safe
On the wedding day, everyone is excited and anxiety can run high. The officiant should have a calming effect. And the better he or she knows the couple, the more support the officiant can offer. Pamela Hailey, a nondenominational officiant since 2015 who often works with same-sex weddings, invites prospective couples to her home for a meal so they can get to know one another. “This gives us time to relax and co-create the very best wedding experience,” says Hailey.
4. Provides guidance
While there’s a certain flow to a wedding ceremony, there are ways to customize it to express a couple’s personality and style. Collins asks couples to complete an eight-page booklet that walks them through the typical elements in a ceremony, but gives options to rearrange and customize with poems, prayers, or new traditions. Juliana, for instance, wanted to incorporate both sets of parents—each married more than 30 years—in the wedding ceremony. “She (Collins) made sure to include them,” Juliana says. “All four of them gave us away, instead of just my Dad giving me away.”
5. Offers optional services
Most officiants charge between $100 and $500, whether as a fee or as a suggested donation. But many also offer additional services, such as premarital coaching and rehearsal coordination. Rev. Collins uses an assessment with couples to discuss topics such as communications skills, conflict resolution skills and financial management. “Coaching helps develop simple but powerful skills to navigate potential challenges,” says Collins.