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Your day, your way!

Pricing Officiant Services

In this economy, couples are sensitive to all pricing. Venue, catering, flowers, photography, limousine, MC/DJ, chairs, linens, officiant, etc. can all add up to a comfortable, pricey or completely unaffordable total. Often, the reality of “unaffordable” comes as a complete surprise only after you incur the cost. A word to the wise bride and groom: if the cost of your wedding is coming out of your pocket, plan it out before committing to contracts. Don’t be pressured into buying right now unless you know know for a fact that the service you really want will be lost if you hesitate. The oldest selling close in the book is “You must act now or this opportunity may not be here tomorrow.” It may not be, but make sure there is not an alternative available from another provider or firm.

Every service is different: different levels of quality, different competencies, different histories and reliability, different abilities. Of course you will leave yourself enough lead time to get this all done, but you must call to decide initially if you want to interview the provider, then conduct a face to face interview (best) or if you are traveling to a destination wedding venue, conduct the interview by phone. Skype and similar phone services allow you to do this easily by setting up the appointment by email and then keeping the appointment by phone or video phone call. I have booked weddings from Norway and Scotland to Illinois and Wisconsin this way because Tampa is a Gulf of Mexico destination wedding venue and a port from which cruises depart. The difference between providers is what will help you decide. You can learn a lot by hearing someone speak and looking them in the eyes. Trust your gut.

Officiant pricing is often an after-thought compared to the other wedding services. Really, many couples just think about being married and not who will marry them. For others, their pastor will officiate, of course. For couples not attached to a church or couples coming to a venue outside their immediate area, the officiant is “merely” the person who will say some words and sign their license to officially say the couple is married under the law. Religious officiants may require that they perform a religious ceremony, so couples who want no mention of god or only minor religious reference need to discover this and stay clear. A Justice of the Peace will marry you outside the court in a civil ceremony, and this will do the job. In Florida and two other states, a notary public can officiate weddings, and many officiate full-time or as a part-time hobby.

If the words said at your wedding ceremony will have meaning to you beyond “just getting married” (the Commitment you say “I do” to, the Vows you make to each other, the Rings you exchange along with your promises, and the tone with which this is all done), then I suggest you check around for officiant pricing and what you will get for that, and carefully check your chosen officiant’s references and testimonials before committing to an officiant. An officiant can make or break your ceremony, and your ceremony is the serious beginning to a lifetime celebration.


Your Dreams Team

If you don’t have a degree in management or don’t work in a well-oiled, productive team, you can still tell what distinguishes a great team from one that isn’t. Good teams are friendly, work well together, always consider the mission first, and plan ahead and can handle the unexpected. This is exactly what you need on your special day.

With your wedding, you leave it to a planner to make sure the team that works for you—photographers, videographers, florists, decorators, chair renters, caterers, day-of coordinators, etc.—works together efficiently, effectively, and nicely. If you do not hire a planner, which many brides do not, you hand-off those duties to your day-of coordinator after you do all the planning, arranging and contracting yourself. Your chosen coordinator may be a dear friend or relative, and they may be limited knowing the intricacies of running a great, important event. If this sounds like your situation, perhaps you should consider hiring a team of professionals who you know work together well and can make your wedding infinitely more successful than throwing together various people who may or may not have worked together before or who may not even like each other.

Only one person other than a professional wedding planner knows more about local wedding vendors and which ones work well with certain other vendors:  your officiant. Unfortunately, officiants are often the last professional you select, so their input at this point is almost worthless. You are stuck with the team you put together piecemeal. Yes, there is the venue you choose, which may have favorite vendors or come up short suggesting them, but so many weddings take place outside of church venues, wedding chapels and fixed event structures that this is probably not an issue for you if you are getting married outside on a beach, in a park, or at your favorite restaurant or country club that does too few weddings to credibly answer your questions.

Suggestions for your hunting down the best vendors:

  • First, find vendors who relate to someone you might trust. We have “vendors we trust” on our website and limit them to several criteria. We trust them. Also, on Wedding Wire we are careful to link to only those vendors we like to do business with and who demonstrate taking care of the client the way we do. There must be mutual respect.
  • Pick personality before skill. Will s/he fit in with your style, ideas, theme, etc. and work well with others? Trust your gut. With weddings, most vendors do not need a lengthy contract that says more what won’t happen than what will. Planners need a clear contract. Photographers should have changed theirs when photography changed, but some have not. You should own your pictures with minimal restrictions. Avoid entangling, restrictive agreements.
  • If you find candidates you like, next choose vendors with proven talent. What evidence do they provide of being able to do what you want really well? Verifiable testimonials, photographs, videos, samples, etc.?
  • Is s/he upbeat, bossy, surly, pleasant? If s/he must command attention, does s/he lead by commanding, barking orders, suggesting, persuading, etc.? Bossy leadership can upset you, your wedding party and your guests. Mom always said you can be as firm as you like but there is no excuse not to be polite.
  • Is s/he flexible, able to handle the unexpected and stay energized but calm under fire, such as with sudden bad weather, upset children, irate parents, overly needy guests? Do you have a bad weather plan, and does everyone know it and who will make the call?
  • What does s/he cost? Is their cost, as part of a package, more or less than their standard fee? Is there an unfair markup?

The photographers and videographers we work with and include in the bundles we call “packages” all work that way within our agreed package price, which will always cost less than if you book that vendor on your own. Some brides don’t believe this and try to bypass booking a package, only to find that they face a substantially greater cost trying to buy services a la carte.

Be careful how you seek, find and contract your vendors. There is more to it than vendors by themselves; they must work well together as a team.

Your day, your way!

Be kind. Demand kindness.

You may have watched a variety of bridal shows on television. I am not referring to the bridezilla show that uses actors to highlight how selfish and insensitive some brides can be. I am referring to real bridal situations such as Say Yes to the Dress and other reality shows. This is a warning.

You’ve seen mothers, aunts, sisters, bridesmaids, friends and the odd male ruin the moment or taint forever with arguments and insults the wedding visions of otherwise happy, sometimes emotionally fragile brides. They openly dis the bride, her choices, her vision, and thus ruin an otherwise joyful moment for the very queen of this event.

Everyone knows that the wedding is 95% the bride’s day, including all the preparations for it up to the moment she rides off into the sunset with her loving husband. Why some self-absorbed, mean spirited people can’t be kind, rather than narcissistic and intensely insensitive, is beyond me.

Yes, sometimes parents must control the spending of a carefree daughter. Other parents offer daughters thousands of dollars is she elopes or opts for a smaller, less expensive wedding, but even then, they try to please the bride. In general, however, weddings, funerals and will readings are highly charged and not without selfish detractors.

Advice to the Bride:  before you go into an event such as shopping for your wedding gown or for your bridesmaid’s dresses, purchasing flowers, catering or interviewing a suitable officiant, think it through. Invite along people who know what you like, not what they think you should choose. Invite supportive, understanding friends. If necessary, tell them the rules before you get in the car. If they do not agree, drive away without them. A person who cannot be kind has no place on your support team helping to make your dream come true.

Regarding how people might react to this advice, Mom always said, “Hope for the better. Expect the worst.” Better yet, be careful who you invite to help and how you tell them their role on your team.

Your day, your way!

Wedding Ceremony Programs

The wedding ceremony can be elaborate or simply elegant and without pretense. You can have pretense even without being elaborate, but don’t think that having a nicely decorated, printed program to let your guests know the score or to provide a memory for this important occasion pushes you into the Pretentious Zone. It just shows that you have good taste and a desire to make good taste happen at your wedding. After all, it is your day, so do it your way!

You can find several versions of wedding ceremony programs on the Internet. You can search all you want, but I suggest starting at Microsoft Word™ templates that you can type your information into and modify how you want. If you have Word 2010, you might go here to begin:  Wedding Templates You will also find other free forms you can modify in Word or many of the other word processors you might use.

Originally, wedding programs were used to explain the order and rituals of the ceremony. Nowadays they reflect your individual tastes and creativity. Continue the theme of your wedding with a creative program that reflects your invitations and other niceties.

Who Should Receive Your Wedding Program?

Place your wedding programs in decorative baskets in the entrance to the ceremony, or on the chairs or pews. Ushers can hand out the programs or involve family children to make sure all teenagers and adults receive one.

The Elements of a Great Wedding Program

Generally, a wedding program has four parts:

  1. Introduction:  names of the bride and groom, the day and date of the ceremony, time, location, city and state
  2. Ceremony Order:  segments such as the prelude, processional, welcome, seating, remembrances, commitment, vows, readings, rings, pronouncement and recessional. Listing the musical pieces, selected lyrics, wording of prayers and the performers is a very nice touch, especially for the performers.
  3. Names of People in the Wedding Party:  list everyone by full name and title (Mr., Mrs., Ms, etc.)
  4. Closure (or your special personal note)


Prelude ……………………..       “You Came Along”
Solo …………………………….
   “Love is in the Air”
Lighting of the Candles
Seating of the Mothers
Processional ……………….
      “Canon in D”
Welcome or Invocation
Wedding Message ………
Solo ……………………………..
  “On Bended Knee”
Personal Vows
Exchange of Rings
Lighting the Unity Candle
Pronouncement of Marriage
Solo …………………………….
   “Forever More”
Presentation of the Bride and Groom
Recessional ……………….
       “Ode to Joy”
Announcements:  e.g., The wedding party will join their guests for refreshments in the Oak Room after their photo session.

The Wedding Party

- Parents of the Bride
- Parents of the Groom
- Grandparents of the Bride
- Grandmothers of the Groom
- Maid of Honor
- Matron of Honor
- Bridesmaids
- Junior Bridesmaid
- Honorary Bridesmaid
- Flower Girl
- Best Men
- Groomsmen
- Ring Bearer
- Officiant
- Pianist
- Soloist

Your day, your way!


Rules for Groom and Groomsmen

Rules for Groom and GroomsmenThis deceptively simple title implies that the men in a wedding merely have to follow some rules and everything will be fine. For the average guy in a traditional relationship, this is probably true. For you involved grooms who want to be part of everything, please don’t be put off by what I am about to say, although these rules pertain to you too. This is for most guys. These are my observations after having interviewed and married several hundred couples before their marriage, and some afterwards.

A wedding day is 95% the bride’s day and 5% the groom’s day. I used to say the split was 90% – 10%, but several grooms corrected me on this. It’s about feelings, so I will go with the consensus, which by the way, includes the opinions of many brides. I always have these kinds of discussions out in the open with both bride and groom participating. Yes, roles can be reversed, with brides playing the “wish we could elope” role while the groom insists on a grand wedding event, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

In the interview with the couple, when the time seems right, I say to the groom, “Remember, this is going to be 95% her day and 5% yours. Your 5% means showing up on time, sober, and saying what you are supposed to say, when you are supposed to say it.” Savvy grooms say, “I understand” while their brides nod their heads in agreement and smile that all-knowing smile when they know that one of their trump cards was just played successfully for them. Most couples laugh and some even comment about a parent or friend who implied something similar, or merely smile.   

For Groomsmen – A handful of rules are all the groomsmen need to agree on for their part in making the ceremony orderly, neat and photogenic. Something can always come up in a ceremony anyway, e.g., a ring bearer dropping the rings, a child amusingly distracted wandering down the aisle, a guest oddly adding to the spectacle. My favorite was one flower girl dropping petals and the other picking them up. There is no end to the number of things we humans can do to make a wedding interesting and memorable. Nevertheless, four “don’ts” make up the ceremonial rules for the groomsmen: No chewing gum; no sun glasses; no hands in pockets; no cell phones (turn off, not set to vibrate). Even at a beach wedding in the hot bright sun, sunglasses spoil photographs, although in some wedding parties, when all the groomsmen sport the same ‘cool’ sunglasses, they can look very cool, hip and happy. That’s a good thing.

I often ask the bride and groom if anyone in the wedding party does not handle alcohol well. All I’m asking for is 16-18 minutes of sober fun before the party begins because a wedding ceremony is the serious beginning to a lifelong celebration of love. When I sense the wedding is more of a party from the get-go, I ask that they drink responsibly in the hour before the wedding. Some groomsmen bring beers or a flask to share in the camaraderie in the men’s dressing room, which is fine. Drunks, however, always spoil wedding ceremonies.

For the Groom – One additional suggestion for the groom, which I usually make while we are standing in front of the guests waiting for the bride to walk down the aisle for her grand entrance, is to “tell your bride how beautiful she is today, right now, in front of everyone. If you do, she’ll remember it forever. If you don’t, she’ll remember it forever too.”

Enough rules. Go and have fun. Live like there’s no tomorrow; love like you’ll never be hurt; and dance like there’s nobody watching. – Chinese Wisdom

Your day, your way!


Bell of Truce

You’ve read about many things about weddings in this blog. Most have been non-traditional or at least outside the norm. I’ve tried to help you become aware of alternatives to what people may say are “traditional” for weddings. I do this because, unless you are the royal family of some nation or tribe, there is no “traditional” American wedding ceremony. America is all about breaking tradition by applying modern ingenuity and innovations, and perhaps observing some “traditions” of one’s religion, homeland or culture. It’s all fine. Decisions should be the bride’s choice, and when the couple is entering their marriage as equals, the bride’s and groom’s choice. After all, it is Your day, your way! So how do we deal with things that are not necessarily traditional but used often enough not to be considered original, unique or creative, but are simply “different?” We explain them and then we help you choose.

Commonly, wedding ceremony add-ons happen between the exchanging of rings and the pronouncement. The Irish (or Celtic) Bell of Truce is a different, uncommon and interesting “add-on” that can enhance a wedding ceremony, especially when the couple has a history of cutting up or habitually arguing. In the case of the Bell of Truce, bride and groom participate, making it real fun and not just funny. Ringing the Bell of Truce as a part of the wedding ceremony can bring laughter and joy at that part of the ceremony where a bit of light humor can really work well.

A bell is blessed, and then presented to the bride and groom by the officiant. At this point, there are variations to what may happen next. The couple can then be asked to give the bell a good hardy ring, while thinking lovely thoughts of each other and, most importantly, of their future together as husband and wife. The bell is then kept at home as a reminder of the couple’s wedding day. When arguments arise, the bell is called into use. One of the quarreling couple should ring the bell and call for a truce. The tinkling sound will remind the couple of their wedding vows and conjure up the happiest memories from their wedding day. A clang is often better than a tinkle.

When I married one of my best friends, a U.S. Marine Colonel of Irish heritage, I gave them a brass ship’s bell for their Bell of Truce and told the bride she would need to ring it with all the fury she could muster if she was to get his attention. I rang it loudly in the wedding, then gave it to the bride to ring, and then the groom. The noise alone could cut through fog (one of the bell’s original purposes), and certainly gets attention. Everyone laughed knowingly.

Another bride and groom (Italian and Irish heritage) had a dainty bell. I instructed the bride to ring it with two hands, saying, “The Bell of Truce is a Celtic custom—a medium of compromise. Keep this bell at home as a reminder of your wedding day. Should a lover’s quarrel ever rise to the heights that only the Italians and Irish can usually achieve, I encourage either of you to get to the bell if you can, as fast as you can, and ring it with all the fury of a Valkyrie on a mission. The sound of this bell will serve to remind you both of your vows and to help you relive your happiest memories as you call a truce. As a sign of unity and serenity, and to get used to the sound, I ask you each to ring your wedding bell of truce now. (The bride rang it first, and shyly.) No, no. Use two hands and ring it with fury!” The guests who knew her thought this a funny, happy thing for her to do, for the bride was normally shy. She exerted herself and rang it loudly. She took to it well and rang that bell gleefully several times during the reception, much to her guests’ joy.

Smile when you think of Your day, your way!

Things Can Happen…and they do!

After so many weddings, we three officiants at A Perfect Witness (Jayne, John and Bob) think we’ve seen it all, and every time one of us mentions this, something new happens. There is no end to the surprises that can befall a wedding ceremony. My mom always said, “Hope for the better and expect the worst.” When planning your wedding, however, I think your thinking should be more like, “We’ve planned for everything. Now let’s see what happens.” Allow yourself some sense of humor and you’ll be able to make some unfortunate and unplanned events seem less horrific. 

Bad Things Can Happen

In some families, parents and grandparents simply want to influence and control everything. Arguments generally begin over customs and traditions, and these are often really differences in religious values. No religion is more at fault than another; it is the generational differences that cause wills to clash. The bride and groom often have discussed religion and arrived at their own decision, which is different than their parents and grandparents. There arguments rarely get solved. If the older generations do not decide to keep their opinions to themselves after they have made their wishes clear to the bride and groom, it is often enough to sour the entire event.

Facing insurmountable arguments about a church wedding or a beach wedding, with all the attendant bickering that would not end, the bride told her mother and grandmother to have their own wedding and eloped with the groom. Their decision and actions surprised few, if any, of their friends, who gave them lots of love and support. In discussing this with the bride and groom, I helped them discover that this was all good, and was the first time the bride ever stood up for what she wanted. Mom had declared, “I will never forgive you.” Grandma told the mom to “Get over it. She made the right decision. I was hoping all along that she’d stand up for what she wanted,” which revealed where resolution might be made.

At one of my very first weddings, the bride was already exercising her will in many areas. Mom brought a table, cloth, three candles and a lighter, placing them next to me seconds before the ceremony was to begin. The bride knew nothing of this, and when she saw the setup, threw a hissy fit right then and there. When the bride composed herself and stood before me with her groom, she whispered to me, “Just ignore the candles and my mother.” I did. I had to leave right away, so I do not know the final outcome, but by the way the groom reacted, I’d guess the bride won.

The Best Laid Plans…

Rain on a wedding day is both a blessing and a curse. A good beach wedding will have a rain plan. If you plan ahead, you can reserve a pavilion where everyone can meet for the ceremony. Sometimes, a beach wedding just goes on, especially here in Tampa Bay when the rain is warm. Lightening, however, demands getting off the beach immediately. A new beach hotel (5 stars) and one of the first five weddings there, called for some finesse. Everyone was seated on the beach and the processional was about to start. I was at the arch when the first clap of thunder followed a spider web lightening display that left the out of town guests awestruck. I instructed the guests how to smoothly get off the beach without trampling the old people, and they were all just under cover when the clouds opened. 45 minutes later, a ballroom was ready and everyone walked in, glad to be moving forward. The ceremony was good, yet there remained a palpable tension. As I got to the point where I would normally pronounce the couple husband and wife, I closed my book and said, “You endured a lot today, and you look very anxious. In fact, looking at you right now, I am reminded of a very famous line from the movie When Harry Met Sally.” A hush fell over the audience, then one middle-aged woman laughed a laugh everyone knew was from her naughty thought. I lowered my glasses on the bridge of my nose and said, “Probably not the line you’re thinking of.” More laughter. “I’m thinking of that famous line, ‘When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.’ So, without further delay, I pronounce you husband and wife.” Cheers and laughter filled the room, and everyone was back on track again.

Some believe rain on a wedding day represents the bride’s old boyfriends crying after her. I like to think that works both ways. In many cultures, marriage is referred to as tying the knot, and the Hindus point out that a wet knot is harder to untie. Regardless of your own cultural superstitions, it’s too late now to Scotch Guard.

Make it Your day, your way! and be prepared for anything. Ask your officiant how s/he can help you deal with known and unknown contingencies. You’ll be glad you did.

Tradition? Create your own!

Some brides and grooms like tradition. Besides pleasing themselves by following traditions, it pleases parents and grandparents with whom a younger couple has a bond. If tradition is what you want, then tradition is certainly what you should have in your wedding ceremony, if only something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Many couples, however, want their wedding to incorporate innovations that symbolize a different idea of unity or tradition, or to create something yet unheard of to “make it (their wedding) their own.” This is what I’m talking about here.

Serious parts of a wedding lend themselves less handily to non-traditional approaches, but there are still opportunities to innovate in the Welcome, Exchange, Commitment, Standard Vows, Personal Vows, Rings, Personal Choice Ceremony, Pronouncement, and the Kiss. I left out named religious parts because the various sects prescribe them and they’re generally not subject to change. In the Welcome, I like to mention loved ones who cannot be with us today for any reason, so they are remembered and, if living, may read a copy of the ceremony to know they were with the bride and groom in spirit. In The Exchange, where the officiant asks the question Who presents bride to be married to groom and the groom traditionally takes the bride’s father’s place, anyone can do the honors—mother and father, mother alone, grandparent, children, even a best friend. This person presents the bride for marriage; modern brides generally do not care to be given away. You can ask the officiant to skip the question altogether and the bride’s escort just joins the couple’s hands and sits down. Brides also can walk down the aisle alone.

The Commitment is when the officiant asks the bride and groom each the same question, Do you…? and the response is I do. Skip this to avoid redundancy with the vows and go straight to the vows. Add your own personal thoughts in a clever way, as one couple did when he noted your good housekeeping and my good cooking and she noted your good cooking and my good housekeeping. A delightful chuckle rippled through the audience, some knowing the truth of it and others reacting pleasantly to the unique commitment.

Do you wish to skip the standard repeat after me vows? Create your own standard and have your officiant lead you each through them, or simply discard standard vows and go straight to your own personal vows. Nothing dictates what you must say. I advise you, however, to hear the counsel of your officiant as s/he notes that vows are the most serious part of the ceremony, and whatever you vow, it should be serious, permanent and from the depth of your hearts. You may come back many times after your wedding to review the vows you solemnly pledge. Personal Vows, if said after you speak Standard Vows, present an empty canvas upon which you can colorfully express the full range of emotions your love for one another evokes. You have plenty of room to paint your love in rich hues, underline the seriousness with which you hold your marriage, and unveil something you find humorous about your partner, if only the s/he can always make you smile. Personally, I would never fool with the ring ceremony except to note the beauty in meaning and the pleasing aesthetics of the rings, which the officiant should be speaking in the words s/he writes for you.

Less serious aspects of a wedding offer the greatest opportunities to innovate:  Personal Choice Ceremony, Pronouncement, and the Kiss. The Personal Choice Ceremony (Unity Candles, Unity Sand, Wishing Stones, Celtic Bell of Truce, readings by family or friends, etc.) can range from freestyle and carefree to elaborate and acted out carefully with friends. A pirate theme may invoke pirate language and customs (Avast, me hearties! I’ll cut the tongue from the lips of any who objects to this here conjugation. Arrrggghhhhh!) Use a cell phone to call a friend and to depict thoughtful hesitation for the bride pressed to answer Do you take this man…? Plant a tree of life instead of pouring sand as the basis of your marriage. Let your imagination run wild, but not amok. And last, the Kiss. You may kiss the bride is so traditional compared to your officiant saying, Please begin your celebration with a memorable kiss. I’ve ended so many weddings with this invitation that it has become a tradition with me. But it is not unchangeable. Use your own best judgment and enlist your officiant’s help. Make it

Your day, your way!

Love and Marriage

People always believe they are in love at the moment they become engaged and at the moment the officiant pronounces them husband and wife. Often they are right, and their strong, almost intoxicating belief carries them for many years. Yet our divorce statistics are all too sobering:  the marriage rate keeps falling (down to 7.5 per 1,000 in 2005), and the divorce rate has also been falling slightly to 3.6 per 1,000, the lowest rates since the peak in 1981 (5.3 per 1,000). This still means that slightly less than half of the couples who marry will divorce.

Only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents—the lowest figure in the Western world. About 44% of custodial mothers and 56% of custodial fathers are either separated or divorced. In 2002, the latest year for accurate numbers, 7.8 million Americans paid $40 billion in child and/or spousal support. 84% were males. The new census may yield better numbers, but how fast can these sad statistics change?

So why, on a wedding officiant site, would I announce these sobering data? Because for you it does not need to be this way. You have choices to make, and if you make the right ones, you can maximize your love and your marriage. You can defy the statistics.

Love is the child of freedom, never that of domination. (Erich Fromm) Love, and be patient with yourself to let love in. If you find yourself thinking about your love and what you are getting out of it, think again. Consider what love you are giving to better understand what you are getting. The love you take is equal to the love you make. (Beatles)

Love is wanting what you have, not having what you want. (Jaci in Alaska — an on-line love story)

I love you, not for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. (Roy Croft)

Love is not a matter of counting the years; it’s making the years count. (Wolfman Jack Smith)

Love creates an “us” without destroying a “me”. (Unknown)

Marriage is a partnership and must be nurtured. The most successful partnerships are those that average out to be a 50:50 relationship. Here’s how:  A couple who would be partners understands that they each, as individuals, brings unique skills to the marriage. No decisions can be effective if two partners can’t agree, so they divvy up decision-making so that each, according to their skills, “owns” 51% of certain decisions. If Mary is a banker and George is skilled at woodworking, then Mary may own a 51% stake in money questions and George may own 51% in how to fix the house decisions, and so on. The marriage averages out to be 50:50, but no single decision ends in a tie when one of them owns 51% of the vote. Of course, they discuss each issue openly and honestly, but there will be no ties in making the decision. Will it work for you? Give it an honest try and see.

Your day, your way!

Let’s All Get Stones

Symbolism is something that brides and grooms often want in their ceremony. We’ve discussed the symbolism of Unity Candles. Incorporating a symbolic event in the context of your beach venue can be Unity Sand. Pouring two colors of sand into one beaker to show unity by electing to marry is perfect symbolism and fun. Stones offer a versatile symbolism too, and are easily distributed among your guests for their participation.

If you go to a crafts store you will usually find small bags of polished stones available at very reasonable prices. They are relatively inexpensive, so purchase more stones than you think you will need.

Blessing Stones are the common name for stones you use at a wedding. Commonly, you hand a stone to each guest before the ceremony. Assign a helper to carry a basket of stones and give one to each guest. This is a nice way to have children participate. The officiant says at the top of the ceremony, “When you all arrived, I hope each of you received a stone. If you did not get one, please raise your hand and _____ will bring one to you. At the end of the ceremony, you are invited to throw your stone into the sea and bless this union you are about to witness.”

The child who helps is recognized, which feels good. When the ceremony ends and the newlyweds exit, they walk to the shore’s edge, everyone following, and guests throw the stones into the water all at once. Another cheer rings out. At one of my own ceremonies, a bridesmaid tried to throw her stone too hard; the projectile took off like a wild pitch and beaned the bride. For that and another reason, I prefer the following method.

Buy extra stones and separate ones that have a flat surface that you can write on with a fine point indelible ink pen, such as a Sharpie. Buy one Sharpie for each 5-8 guests. Hand the stones to the guests, give them a pen and tell them there is one pen for every 6 stones. Ask them to write their wish for the couple on their stone and pass the pen. The officiant reiterates the instructions at the top of the ceremony, adding that their stones with their wishes should be returned to the basket as they leave. The newlyweds keep the basket and can have fun for years reading all the good wishes for their married success that their guests wrote on their wedding day.

Your day, your way!

Unity Sand

Use a table or a friend to hold the main vessel.

Unity Candles are excellent indoors symbols for demonstrating the union you vow your marriage to be, but their symbolism has a downside, too. Candles burn out, blow out and do not depict a lasting effect. They are ceremonial (in the present) only. After the ceremony, all that remains is the candelabra or candle sticks. A second popular symbol that shows the unity of a marriage is pouring Unity Sand.

Unity Sand works well outdoors, on the beach or anywhere. You are left with a vessel of your choice, usually a vase. Some couples buy and engrave special wedding vessels for this ceremony, but anything will do, from Aunt Bessie’s antique crystal vase to Mason jars with flip-lock tops. The vessel you chose can make your guests marvel and add fun to your ceremony. Let the tone of your relationship determine what type vessel will contain your uniquely poured Unity Sand. Make sure that the officiant writes the ceremony to reflect your feelings and attitudes, because the personal aspect of Unity Sand can be as important, although in tone less serious, than your vows.

The bride and groom each gleefully pour their individually colored sand into the larger vessel, as they create their piece of “art.” Choose your individual colors well. One groom who was passionate about his college football team delighted at pouring his team’s color into the vase while the bride poured her alma mater’s colors. I pointed out this “rivalry” and finally commented, “Look how well blue and orange are suited to each other, in a bowl (game) and in their marriage.” It was written just that way in the printed copy of the ceremony that we give to each couple.

The end result of Unity Sand shows a unique pattern of two colored sands co-mingling. This one vessel becomes a constant reminder that bride and groom each dedicate themselves to the union and unity in their marriage, and acknowledges that each acts as an individual in their harmony as one. Common goals unite. Different goals untie.

The only two complaints I have ever heard about Unity Sand is that Unity Candles and Unity Sand are trite and commonplace in weddings and that sand is no foundation upon which to build a marriage. All true for couples who feel this way, and not at all true for couples who want to symbolize their bond with Unity Sand. Both views are correct.

Next, we will explain other symbolic ceremonies you can use to symbolize the unity you wish to hold to in your marriage, and non-traditional alternatives that may suit you better. After all, it’s

Your day, your way!

Unity Candle

Marriage is the union of two people who bring out the very best in each other. They know that as good as they are as individuals, that together they are even better. When brides and grooms want to symbolize their union in their wedding ceremony, one way is by lighting a Unity Candle.

Two regular candles and one larger Unity Candle sit in an array on a table near where the couple will exchange vows. When the mothers of the bride and groom enter just before the ceremony begins, they each light one regular candle before they sit. These candles burn during the ceremony.

After the Exchange of Rings and before pronouncing the couple, the officiant announces that they’ve chosen to symbolize their union by lighting the Unity Candle. As the officiant explains the symbolism to the guests, the bride and groom walk behind the table so everyone can see what they are doing. The bride & groom each takes a lit candle to simultaneously light the Unity Candle. If the timing is perfect, the bride and groom return to stand before the officiant just as s/he finishes explaining the symbolism with more beautiful thoughts.

In the past, when religious influence on marriage was much greater, the officiant would tell the bride and groom to extinguish their individual candles after they lighted the Unity Candle. Today, modern couples believe that their unity is strengthened by keeping themselves strong, and the officiant says something like Do not extinguish your individual candles. Remember, you are individuals choosing to unite in marriage. As a braid of strands is stronger and more flexible than a single strand, the bond of your marriage will strengthen with your unique weave. This modern approach may broach a potential argument between generations, but the decision is entirely up to the bride and groom because it characterizes their unique marriage.

  • Candles do not work well outside in any breeze. Why risk the bad omen of extinguished candles?
  • Provide a lighter that is easy for the mothers to operate.
  • Accommodate three or more mothers with a candle for each.
  • If the bride and groom have children, you may include them in the Unity Candle ceremony instead of mothers, or with the mothers to emphasize family and generations.

Many brides and grooms prefer to show that their marriage will grow and strengthen over time, not blow out or burn down. Unity Candles are not how they want to portray their marriage. I will explore other symbolism that shows marriage unity in future blog spots.

Your day, your way!

Florida Marriage License Q&A

Q. Who may Issue a Marriage License?

A. Every marriage license shall be issued by a county judge or clerk of the Circuit Court under his hand and seal. The county judge or clerk of the circuit court shall issue such license, upon application for the license, if there appears to be no impediments to the marriage.

Q. What is needed to get a marriage license? 

A. All that is required for single adults to obtain a marriage license is for them to come in person to the Clerk’s office, bring their driver license or other acceptable identification card and be prepared to pay the fee. A recent change in the law also requires both applicants to provide either their Social Security number, naturalization number, immigration number or passport number.

Q, Do I have to pay the marriage license fee in cash? 

A. No. Payment may be made by cashier’s check, certified check, money order, or credit card. Please refer to Fees & Charges on your County Court’s home page for the cost of a marriage license.

Q. Do both parties have to be present at the clerk’s office to apply for a license? 

A. Yes. However, exceptions can be made only when there is good cause in extreme circumstances.

Q. Are we required to have a blood test to apply for a license? 

A. No. Blood tests for marriages in Florida are no longer required.

Q. How long is the marriage license valid

A. Florida marriage licenses are valid for 60 days from date of issuance. The marriage license form must be returned to the Clerk’s Office for recording within 10 days after the marriage is performed. 

Q. Do I need my divorce papers or spouse’s death certificate in order to apply for a marriage license? 

A. No. You do not need the documents, but the application does require you to note when and how your last marriage ended (divorce, annulment or death).

Q. How long does it usually take to get a certified copy of our marriage record? 

A. Certified copies are normally received within 14 days after the completed marriage certificate is returned to the clerk’s office for recording in the county’s official records.

Q. Do one or both of the marriage license applicants have to be American citizens

A. No. There is no citizenship requirement.

Q. What are the age restrictions for obtaining a marriage license? 

A. To obtain a license without parental consent, both the male and female must be at least 18 years of age. The 18-year minimum age does not apply for individuals who have been married previously. The age requirement can be waived by a county judge for applicants who can prove they are parents or expectant parents.

Q. Can an individual who is younger than 16 get a marriage license from the Clerk’s Office with parental permission? 

A. No. With or without parental permission, a marriage license to anyone under age 16 can only be issued by a county judge.

Q. Is the signature of just one parent sufficient to qualify as parental permission for a minor to marry? 

A. No. Permission of one parent is only sufficient if that parent has sole legal custody of the minor or if the other parent is deceased.

Q. How long does it take to get a license? 

A. The license is issued immediately when the application is filed. The process normally takes no more than 15 minutes. However, there is a three-day waiting period before the license becomes valid for use, if both parties are Florida residents and both parties have not completed a state sanctioned marriage preparation course.

Q. Is there a waiting period before our ceremony can be performed? 

A. For Florida residents who file certification that they both have completed a state sanctioned marriage preparation course within the past 12 months, there is no waiting period. For Florida residents who have not both taken the course, there is a three-day waiting period between issuance of the license and the time it becomes valid for use. (Note: The parties may have taken the course separately. They are not required to have taken it together, but both must have taken it in order to qualify for the discounted fee and no-waiting period.)

Q. Does the waiting period apply to nonresidents of Florida? 

A. No. If either party is a nonresident of this state, no waiting period is required.

Q. Can there be exceptions to the waiting period requirement? 

A. The law provides for waiving the three-day waiting period if the parties declare there is a specific “hardship” in their situation.

Q. Who may perform Marriages?

A. All regularly ordained ministers of the gospel or elders in communion with some church, or other ordained clergy, and all judicial officers, clerks of the circuit courts, and notaries public of this state may solemnize the rights of matrimonial contract, under the regulations prescribed by law.

Q. When must a license be filed?

A. A license must be certified and filed with the Clerk’s office within 10 days of the ceremony.

Q. Can people obtain licenses to marry partners of their own gender

A. No. Florida law specifies that one applicant must be male and the other female.

Although the marriage license application does not specifically ask about possible relationship of the parties, Florida law prohibits close blood relations from legally marrying. These include such relationships as parent-child; brother-sister, uncle-niece, aunt-nephew. The nearest degree of relations who may legally marry in the state of Florida is first cousins.

Your day, your way!

Love is enough

When you have nothing left but love, then for the first time, you become aware that love is enough. I cannot recall where or when I first heard this poignant thought, but it stuck with me ever since. It is the truth reflected in every marriage vow—that promise to love and accept and to stand with your partner in sickness and in health, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, as long as you both shall live. This last line used to be “until death do us part,” which has become too negative for young couples nowadays. I offer to say “forever” because forever is how strongly they will love each other. This is the commitment that couples in love prefer to make. Love forever is the crazy glue of life.

You have dreamed of your special day in your own special way since the idea of getting and being married first fired your imagination. Some brides think about their wedding celebration; some think of their marriage. That’s simply the way life is. Everyone’s thoughts about marrying conjure differently, just as everyone’s feelings about their budget has different values. Everything you want in your wedding and marriage is uniquely your own. When you come right down to it, however, everyone has the same fundamental feeling about marriage going in:  love.

We’ve married couples from all walks of life, nationalities, religious or spiritual persuasions and levels of maturity and caring. Couples come to us for something more personal than the county clerk provides, less costly than a full-blown beach wedding and less formal than a church or large formal venue requires. Whatever they themselves may want, at some point in their thought process they realize that they may be setting up too humbly or more extravagantly than their families or friends expect. It’s only natural to second guess yourself. It’s often part of the event planning process to ask how much is too much, how far is too far? We help these couples regain their balanced perspective by reviewing with them why they are marrying and the future they are uniting to share. When they settle on a perspective or a standard they can be comfortable with, we proceed. It pays to speak calmly and frankly with an experienced third party who is not related or a close friend.

Some couples elect to marry secretly now and announce to the world later, and some couples are already secretly married and want to celebrate publically now. Some prefer to share this unique moment quietly with only their closest friends, while others elect a large wedding with all the trimmings and social extravagances. Still others decide to skip the hassle, save the money, and elope. Whatever moves you, there are many ways to tie the knot. The choice is absolutely yours to make.

But when you take away all the trimmings and hoopla from any wedding, all you have is love. All you need is love. Love is enough.

Your day, your way!

Humour in Wedding Ceremonies

When we interview couples who want to plan their wedding and find the right officiant for them, the conversation often begins with something like, “We went to a friend’s wedding recently and the minister told jokes the whole time. It was rude and our friend was upset. And he wasn’t even funny!” Some couples begin with “We read how you like humour in a wedding ceremony, which is one of the reasons we wanted to meet you. We want humour. Tasteful humour.” There are as many styles of humour as there are officiants. So, what kind of funniness do you want at your wedding, what is your reason for using humour, and will it come across without offending…anyone? When there is tension at a wedding, everyone worries about how the bride will feel because the wedding is 95% the bride’s day. Don’t embarrass the bride! 

A wedding ceremony is the serious beginning of a celebration. Telling jokes is generally not appropriate and officiants are not stand up comedians. It is all about the bride and groom. You may want some lightheartedness to break family tensions, to diffuse some serious differences of opinions with in-laws or out-laws; nothing more.

The Commitment, when the officiant asks “Do you…?” and the groom and bride each respond in turn, “I do,” is the first response from the couple in the ceremony. The groom always goes first, and nerves are still not calmed yet. I say something like, “Do you, Arthur, choose Joan to be your wife?” I take a breath before I continue with, “In sickness and in health….” “Arthur” often speaks prematurely with an anxious, “I do.” The context is clear and everyone is now on tenterhooks. I immediately come back with, “But wait. There’s more.” Laughter ripples through the audience and tensions are relieved. When applied in the context of the moment, humour heals tension.

Never risk irritating or disrespecting your guests. Always use the present context to inject humour into the ceremony. Make sure your officiant agrees with this. Once, in a ceremony where the bride and groom were themselves being a bit funny and the guests seemed to be chuckling along with their antics, I closed my book before I pronounced them. Holding my book down in front of me, I looked at the groom and then the bride. Everyone was waiting. I had their full attention. With a thoughtful smile I said, “Looking at you now reminds me of a very famous line from that great movie, When Harry Met Sally.” I paused. The image of the scene in the diner when Sally faked an orgasm flashed through some minds. A few titters broke the silence, then one out-loud laugh from a middle-aged lady, setting off a gale of laughter from everyone. I peered over the top of my glasses and said—with a smile and a mock scolding tone—“Probably not what you’re thinking of.” More laughter. “I was thinking of the line, ‘When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.’” While everyone was nodding their approval, I pronounced the couple husband and wife. What I said was humorous in context. It would have been disastrous if I had said, “Get a room.”

When humour is good in a wedding ceremony, it is suitably in context and not ‘telling jokes’. Tell your officiant. Save the standup routines for your reception speeches and toasts to you on your special day.

Your day, your way!

Questions you should ask every prospective wedding officiant…

Due diligence is the proper term for protecting yourself by checking out any vendor you might hire. Your wedding may be simple and inexpensive or expensive and complex. Whatever, you owe it to yourself and your guests to have your special day exactly the way you want it. You will want help, and you want the best value for your money. Do your due diligence.

Here are some questions to ask officiants you might hire. I have given our answers as officiants, and you can add to these and make questions for planners, day-of coordinators, DJ’s, musicians, florists, caterers, venues, etc. Just adjust for your audience, ask your questions, and judge their answers. You must also follow through, as in references and referrals:  Getting references is not enough; checking the references is critical.

What makes you different from other local wedding officiants? Why should someone hire you? Three things distinguish us:  We write creative, customized ceremonies tailored to each couple. This makes your ceremony uniquely yours, so we provide you with a copy in print. We honor the customs of all cultures, and we have included American, Scottish, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Greek, Netherlands and other cultures in ceremonies. Language is usually not a problem, and any loving couple who wants to make public commitments of their love can have that honor with us. We deliver traditional, non-traditional, religious, inter- and non-denominational, non-religious, and spiritual ceremonies. We are natural, not stiff or pompous. We collectively have thousands of hours doing public speaking and organizing large and small events. We know that humor is often appropriate for fun and always for breaking the spell of a moment’s frustration. It happens.

Will you interview before we hire you? Absolutely. We encourage you to have complete comfort with your hiring decision.

Can we speak with some couples you have married? There are many testimonials on our site and on They are all candid reviews. We do not provide contact information for previous clients.

Can we read any of your ceremonies? There are several samples on our website showing parts of ceremonies we have done. We write each ceremony for the couple, so our samples are just that—samples.

How many weddings do you officiate? More than 100 each year. There are three of us who officiate and we never overbook.

How long does a ceremony usually last? A normal ceremony takes about 16 minutes. One or two add-ons can stretch it to about 20 minutes. Some couples want a simple five minute ceremony, but when they think of respecting their guests’ expectations and how far they might have come, 15-20 minutes seems ideal. It really is.

What are your standard payment terms? You pay a non-refundable deposit to reserve your officiant for your date and time, and for the package you purchase. The balance is due before the ceremony, or in cash if paid on the day of the ceremony.

How do you get to know us? When we receive your deposit, we send you our checklist. After you complete and return it, we interview you in person if we can or by phone if you are far away. This way, you know that we know you and what you want…and we do!

Who gets the license? Each couple must appear before a county court clerk, apply with their photo IDs and pay a bit over $100. You receive your license immediately. You must wait three days before you can be married if one of you is a Florida resident (no wait if both of you are not residents), and your license is valid for 60 days. Check with your county clerk for more details. Hillsborough County Court Clerk’s office is on the web at

How long after the ceremony do you file for the official marriage license? We have 10 days to return it to the court. We make a copy before we sign and send in the original license. Retaining our copy serves as a safeguard against many problems associated with licenses lost in the process.

How far are you willing to travel? Is there a travel fee? No fee for roundtrips of less than 50 miles. Gulf Beaches between the Don Cesar Resort and Honeymoon Island are all within this range. Because of high gas prices and time, a surcharge applies for miles in excess of 50, based on current fuel prices. You will know before you book us what the exact mileage surcharge will be for your wedding.

Will you allow us to write our own vows? We encourage it. We will help if you get stuck, as some brides and grooms do. We print your personal vows in large type on paper for you to read from at your wedding. There is no need to memorize. You want to say something dear and you can hardly say it, let alone remember it, if you get teary and choked up.

Can we read or hear your ceremony before our wedding day? Yes, it is YOUR ceremony, written for you. You may preview yours or leave it to us once you are comfortable with how we are planning to write and deliver it. It’s your day! Have it your way!

These are just the questions we are often asked. Make sure you have your own that are important to you.

Your day, your way!


Dare to be different!

Are you a fun-loving couple, known for your over the top approach to life? Perhaps you are a young couple who just wants something unique and interesting to spice up your wedding with an out-of-the-ordinary, appealing idea. Whatever drives your wanting something other than the standard wedding ceremony fare, here are some ideas we have done with our clients to create another special moment for them.

One couple, in which the groom was notorious for his antics, dreamed this up:  At the commitment, when I asked him if he would choose (bride) for his wife, he lowered his head, stuck his hands in his pockets, walked to the balcony railing while “Beat the Clock” theme music played, and after a perfectly long pause, said, “I do.” I turned to the bride and asked her, to which she hesitated nervously, and said, “I want to call a friend.” I reached into my pocket, withdrew my cell phone and the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” music chimed. I said, “Who would that be?” She said a name, I pressed a pre-programmed number, and a phone rang somewhere in the audience. Her friend stood, they exchanged a few lines about how serious this decision is, and the bride finally said, “I do!” It came off perfectly.

In an earlier blog I told about the couple who planted an acorn to symbolize the strength and longevity of their marriage. I told the story of the Florida Live Oak while they planted, including why Spanish Moss hangs in these majestic oaks.

My wife Jayne dressed as a buccaneer captain to marry two pirates in a full-blown theme wedding.

The most common break from tradition is probably one or two readings interspersed in the ceremony. With readings, the words and their meaning bring interest to the ceremony. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a source, as are the poems of favorite authors and excerpts from famous sermons. Some couples want it soapy, some not. Whatever you want, you can find many choices on the Internet or in the public library. Researching together can be fun.

One of my favorite unique add-ons is song lyrics. Many people “hear” the lyrics for the first time without music, and the effect can be very strong and positive.

If you choose to do something unique in your ceremony, make sure you get a copy of it for your memory book. It will have interesting meaning when you review it in the future.

Your day, your way!

Did you know…?

Traditions may become important parts of weddings…some applied rigorously in an absolutely must have way and others in a nice to have but not really critical way. One that has evolved in a mostly must have way is where wedding rings are placed and worn.

Vena amoris is a Latin name meaning, literally, “vein of love”.

The traditional belief is that this vein runs directly from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart. When vein was later decided to be too indelicate, it became the nerve straight from the heart. Western cultures reasoned that both the engagement ring and wedding ring should be worn on this finger. This tradition resulted in identifying that finger everyone looks at to learn the married status of an individual and for you to declare that you are tied to another and not available. This is misleading, however, because roughly half of married individuals do not wear wedding bands, and single people may wear rings on this finger as well.

Chains and bracelets first symbolized the bonds of marriage. Later, wedding rings became the standard symbol for wedlock. The ring depicts an endless circle showing the eternal nature of marriage. This everlasting bond encircles a space that is a doorway to things unknown.

The Greeks seem to have adopted metal wedding rings after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. Previously, engagement and wedding rings were generally fashioned out of hemp, leather, bone, or ivory. In early Rome, metal rings (mostly iron) gradually replaced non-metal rings. Gold and silver rings slowly caught on, proving that a man trusted his wife with his valuable property.

Nowadays, couples may exchange other tokens to signify or symbolize their bonds. Some of the couples we have married exchanged private tattoos instead of rings. Others tattooed their wedding rings directly onto their ring fingers, committing themselves permanently to the permanency of marriage. After sizing, squaring and trying to wear my wedding ring without pain, Jayne bought me a strong gold chain for wearing my ring around my neck. Along with a gold charm signifying Jayne’s birth sign, and old Dutch trading beads from my hip past, my gold chain makes me look even more like I’m from the sixties and Greenwich Village than my white hair and beard.

Your day, your way!

How much religion in your ceremony is enough?

Couples who wish to be married in their church, synagogue or mosque have already made their decision about the degree of religion they want in the wedding ceremony. For those who have not made that decision, the question remains—and sometimes it evokes a very difficult decision.

Generations often differ on religion; how much religion they want in their ceremony; how to achieve their goals and still respect or placate their parents and grandparents without offending them or creating a family feud. Destination weddings may be religious, but if they are not celebrated in church, will the religious authorities later sanction their union? If the divine liturgy is not followed, will the church recognize the marriage even when the state does and the officiant is ordained? How much religion in a wedding ceremony is “enough?” Having counseled several couples on such questions, the issue of religion in their wedding ceremony wears very heavy on many couples. This is why we can officiate as ordained ministers or as FL Notaries Public. The choice should be yours who marries you.

When a young couple’s beliefs don’t even come close to their parents’ and grandparents’, religious tension probably already exists between the generations; the marriage just brings it to a higher level and immediacy. If the officiant insists on preaching in the ceremony and completely surprises the couple, the result can be disastrous. When interviewing couples before they choose their officiant, many begin by telling a horror story about a wedding they attended where the officiant was over-the-top religiously and made religion, not the couple or their marriage, the primary focus. Couples who begin this way want assurances that we will not be preaching but emphasizing the couple, their love for each other and bonding their lives together in marriage.

If you desire a certain level or religion in your ceremony, or no religion at all, be prepared to make yourself clear and ask the officiant to agree before you engage him or her. Discussing the officiant’s values will lead to trust him or her, or to warn you to look elsewhere. A marriage made in heaven is one where partners become more richly yourselves together, than the chances are that either of you could have managed to become alone. This is the real joy of married life. Make sure your officiant writes your ceremony and says the words that will make your wedding ceremony memorable the way you want to remember it…with no surprises.

Traditions? You can make it your own!

Wedding traditions vary greatly depending on who is setting the standard. Many brides feel they are a slave to their mother’s traditions; others feel inhibited by religious doctrine or regional social rituals. When you are dealing with a formidable force like tradition, you need someone with legitimate oomph on your side. Your planner and your officiant can help because they’ve done hundreds of weddings and should be keeping up with current trends. Before you gather anyone’s opinions, know what you might like to do. It’s your day, so gather people around you who will respect your wishes.

One couple felt that Unity Candles were bad (candles blow out or burn up) and Unity Sand projects a false image (sand is not a firm foundation to build on). Their ceremony was under a giant oak tree, so they planted an acorn, using the idea of growing tall and strong to symbolize their marriage. A couple blending Jewish and Christian traditions had me perform their ceremony as a notary rather than as a minister because that way, they would be married by neither a rabbi or a priest. The families stayed calm, focusing on their love and marriage rather than on religious differences. Another couple wanted to incorporate their commitment, vows and rings into one part of the ceremony, so we wrote their ceremony that way. The possibilities go as far as you can dream; you just need someone to help you make it your day, your way!

No matter what you want to do, don’t let someone talk you out of it because “it isn’t traditional.” Play with your ideas until they take shape or fade away. Ask your officiant to help you think through how an idea might be introduced and unfold in your ceremony. It’s your special moment, after all. Make it your own!

Weigh your options, then decide

When planning your wedding, you will encounter more details, deadlines and deposits than you probably ever have. You may have budget restrictions, a strong desire to apply your own skills in many aspects of your wedding, such as decorations, invitations, etc., or simply to have fun with a bunch of your friends who want to help. At some point, however, you will have to make decisions, and you want to make the most informed decisions. When you are organized and have clearly in your mind what you want and can afford, you aren’t much better prepared to deal with all vendors.

1. Weigh all your options. No two vendors on the same. Prices vary, quality varies, and personalities can be extremely different. It will always pay you to talk to two or three vendors who do the same thing, whether it is wedding cakes, decorations, music, officiants, or whatever. When you learn three of anything you can make an honest comparison.

2. Let every decision sit overnight. I’ve taught marketing and selling for 32 years and I know what every salesperson is taught: if you say “I’ll think about it,” and they let you do that, you will walk out the door and never be heard from again. We know this is not true, but that’s what most sales training teaches. Tell every vendor up front that you are comparing the value offered by three vendors, so when you say “I’ll think about it,” they will know that is probably what you are doing. Never let yourself be pressured into making a decision now.

3. When you do make up your mind, think about how you are going to tell the vendors you choose and the vendors you do not choose. When you know what you are going to say to the vendor you choose, it will come across with the excitement and enthusiasm that should make the vendor enthusiastic as well.

4. If you will not have money to make a deposit, but you know it will come on a payday, or when you receive your parents check, tell the vendor you want to work with. This is upfront honesty. Most vendors I know will work with you to make it happen if they know that you are enthusiastic about working with them.

You are planning your special day and you want to do the best you can to make sure it turns out to be your special way. Unless you want other people to control the outcome, participate in the decision-making that goes into all aspects of your wedding. Your special day is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Make sure your forever day is happily memorable.

Your Wedding Officiant

A court clerk can say what is required by law, sign your license and you will be married. This is the least expensive and quickest way to get married and for some couples this is the best way. If you want a ceremony that does more than this, you need to engage an officiant who will meet all the legal requirements as well as your own.

A religious cleric will marry you mostly in light of the religion s/he represents. A judge will marry you according to the law, perhaps with a few words of wisdom. Florida is one of three states where a notary can marry you too. Choose your officiant based on their personality and professionalism and if they appeal to you. You must trust that they will do what you want or explain why it won’t work well and what your alternatives are, and officiate according to your discussions and agreement with them.

We meet couples who are interviewing potential officiants to perform their weddings. Several relate stories of religious officiants who went over the top with their religiousness, overpowering the ceremony and surprising the couple; or flamboyant spiritualists who are dramatically fervent in their non-religiousness; and notaries who are dry and humorless. Officiants who try to be comedians and tell bad jokes can come from anywhere and leave a bad memory for everyone. Bad wedding stories sadly linger too long in memories. Thankfully, most couples tell good stories about weddings they’ve been in or attended and really enjoyed. Couples who have been to weddings we officiated have sought us out. Making good memories is important for everyone.

How will you choose an officiant who is good for you?

Know what you want. Some couples want only a man to marry them. This is mostly old religious tradition or the couple’s standards, but it is real nevertheless. Some grooms simply demand this. It is your choice.

Do you want good humor in your ceremony? Does your officiant need to be calm and clear or bubbly and enthusiastic? How will your officiant handle the difference between your religious beliefs and your parents? Whatever you want, meet the person you choose to officiate your wedding before deciding. You must trust that person to do what you want.

Prepare your questions. Have a few good questions handy for your telephone or face-to-face interview. How many weddings have you done? What religion are you? We are ________. Do you have any problem with that? We’d like our child to be part of the ceremony. How might we do this? How do you get paid? How did you start doing weddings? Was it by accident or on purpose? What do we get out of it? Make sure your questions are all legitimate concerns. Any officiant you choose should answer all your questions to your complete satisfaction.

Your day, your way! When you choose an officiant as carefully as you choose your gown, you will certainly be off to a great start.

Your Wedding Ceremony

So, you’re getting married. Congratulations! Whether this is your first or fourth marriage, you have many things and costs to consider: venue, gowns and tuxes, flowers, rings, your religious views, the religious views of your families and perhaps the requirements of your church, synagogue, mosque or temple. You may not want God mentioned at all in your celebration of marriage. You have deadlines to meet on top of going to work or to school (or both) and you hardly have the time! All this and more is happening in your busy life. You need to get all this done and fit it all into a budget you control, rather than letting your budget control you. You have a huge organizational chore on your hands. You realize some things will be missed or decided in too much haste, but you hope not. And we haven’t even begun talking about the event at the hub of this event planning: your wedding ceremony.

Your ceremony starts everything. In your ceremony you take that giant step beyond your past and forge a new beginning with solemn oaths and vows of love, exchanging rings, symbolizing your unity and launching your marriage as well as the celebration. Your entrance and walk down the aisle to stand before your guests and the officiant are prelude and the processional. The officiant welcomes you and your guests and says why you are there. Then the handoff when your parents present the bride to be married to the groom, the commitment (you say “I do”), standard vows (the ‘repeat after me’ part), personal vows if you wish, exchange of rings, some symbolism (Unity Candle, Unity Sand, etc.), the charge to the couple, and perhaps a prayer. Finally, after all your planning, hard work, hurrying and scurrying, and standing perfectly pretty before the world for 15-18 minutes, you come to that great moment when the officiant says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.” The officiant announces you and you walk out to tears, cheers, and joyous applause (the recessional). Let the party begin.

What just happened to make the bride gleam and smile, the groom breathe and loosen his tie, parents cry, friends cheer and the world recognize Mr. & Mrs. Newlywed? In less than 20 minutes, you all heard about love, how you met, about your love for each other, what you are promising with your solemn vows and what to expect from it, all in a ceremony that is as traditional as the ages and can be as personal, creative and entertaining as you want it to be. Believe me, every part of a wedding ceremony can be done the way you want it, or even discarded. “Traditional” simply means the form of your ceremony, not the way you do yours. You may change only the vows, include your children, skip the commitment and vows and just promise to love one another in your own words, or collect the good wishes of your guests that they write on flat stones (a sort of lasting Twitter without the Internet). The form is flexible.

The words of your wedding ceremony will count now and in the years to come. Plan to make them important to you and memorable to your guests.

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A Perfect Witness
Wedding Officiants & FL Notaries

10504 Lacera Drive  Tampa FL 33618