Shelly Pate

How to Officiate a Wedding: Top Tips for Having a Friend Officiate Your Wedding Day

couple exchanges vows during waterfront wedding ceremony

I think it is so special to have someone dear to you officiate your wedding. This is what my husband and I did for ours! Someone close to us officiated and it just added so much more meaning to the entire ceremony and process. But, this isn’t a responsibility to just hand off to anyone, since the role holds important responsibilities on your day. This is the person who is marrying the two of you so it matters that it’s done well! Here are my greatest tips for how to officiate a wedding when you have friends or family step into this role!

3 Top Tips for Having a Friend Officiate Your Wedding Day

Tip #1: Start with someone you trust.

There isn’t a set of rules for choosing who you ask to officiate your wedding. Just like any other vendor or DIY volunteer on your wedding day, it is really up to you whoever you two want to include. I recommend choosing someone who has a tie to both of you, that is reliable, trustworthy, and has a commanding presence in front of an audience.

Even if someone hits all of those requirements, they still have to actually want to do it. Make sure your friend or family member is not only comfortable with the role but also excited about it! If they are going to be a big ball of nerves or stressed, it might be best to ask another person.

couple exchanges vows during rainy wedding ceremony

Tip #2: Practice everything during the rehearsal.

I can’t emphasize enough how very important it is that your officiant practices the entire run of the ceremony during the rehearsal dinner. They are basically running the show on the wedding day, so they definitely need to walk through these steps beforehand. Here are the essential details needed in knowing how to officiate a wedding:

  • Wedding officiant ceremony script
  • Wedding ceremony music
  • How is everyone walking in?
  • Where will everyone stand?
  • What is the mic situation?
  • Wedding ceremony readings 
bride and bridesmaids cry during wedding ceremony reading
  • Knowing how to explain to guests any special wedding ceremony unity ideas: sand pouring, lighting candles, etc.

A thought to keep in mind for both the marriage officiant and for your wedding photographer that can also be done during the rehearsal is to test the lighting. Ideally, host your rehearsal at the same time of day as the ceremony so you can check out the lighting.

Also, practice the rain plan location and turn on any lights that will be used. Make sure no one has shadows on their faces, is standing in shadow or is in a spot that’s too bright. Whether indoors or outdoors, make sure that the wedding party is either entirely lit or equally dark–not split.

Tip #3: Ensure that your wedding officiant understands how to properly run the ceremony.

  • ALWAYS opt for a lapel mic over a handheld mic with a stand (even though you can still use a handheld for the readings). Otherwise, people’s faces get blocked by the mic and it’s distracting in photos.
  • Announce “Please stand” for the bridal/couple entrance. Guests know they should but will still hesitate. 
  • This one is VERY IMPORTANT: announce guests can be seated! I can’t tell you how many times guests have ended up standing through the entire ceremony because they didn’t want to be rude and be the first to sit.
wedding ceremony at outdoor brick background
  • Don’t forget to hold hands throughout the ceremony: your officiant can say, “Now join hands” to remind you which can be written in the script. It looks odd in photos when the couple is standing far apart and not connecting in some way.

FAQ: Whose job is it to create the officiant wedding ceremony script?

couple exchanges rings during backyard ceremony

A more seasoned officiant may have suggestions or a fun wedding officiant script template that they use. But what that outline includes is ultimately your decision! You can guide the officiant in their greeting, what readings you want, and what should be said during the ring exchange or the unity portion. You and the officiant can create the script together!

wedding officiant knows how to officiate a wedding and stands to the side
  • Your wedding officiant should not talk with their hands since it is distracting in photos. 
  • At the end of the officiant script, include a reminder for the officiant to step to the side before they announces that y’all are married and can have your first kiss. You don’t want the officiant mid move during that special moment! Remind them to just smile big if they forget!
wedding officiant knows how to officiate a wedding and stands to the side

How to Officiate a Wedding in the DC Metro Area

wedding officiant shows how to officiate a wedding

All of the rules for how to officiate a wedding differ per state, but here are the differences and marriage officiant license information for weddings in the DC Metro Area.

How to Officiate a Wedding in Washington, DC

couple cheers during rooftop ceremony
  1. Self-officiating marriages are legal! A self-uniting marriage is when the couple can get married without the presence of a third party officiant.
  2. You can do so by downloading a copy of the Marriage License Application or filling out the Online Application. After completing your application, it can be submitted online or you can take it directly to the DC Marriage Bureau – Moultrie Courthouse, which is generally faster. 
  3. Here are the complete details on how to officiate a wedding in Washington, DC.

Officiating a Wedding in Maryland

couple exchanges vows during mountainside ceremony
  1. You cannot self-officiate in the state of Maryland. 
  2. Wedding officiants are not required to register with the Maryland government in order to officiate a wedding. But, there are specifications on who can solemnize a marriage in Maryland.

Resources to Officiate a Wedding in Virginia

  1. You cannot self-officiate in the state of Virginia. 
  2. There are more requirements in this state for how to officiate a wedding that should be noted.
  3. Here are more details and resources on wedding officiant requirements in Virginia.

Considering having a friend officiate your wedding or even self-officiating? I want to hear all about it!


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