How to Officiate a Wedding in 10 easy steps

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Instructions by a Thumbtack professional

Learn how to officiate a wedding in 10 steps

So you’ve been invited to officiate a wedding! Of course, you’re honored, but frankly you have no clue how to perform a marriage ceremony. Harris Bloom is here to help. He’s a wedding officiant in New York and has married over 400 couples. Four years ago, as a full-time comedian, one of his fans invited him to officiate his wedding. He did, and that wedding led to tons of referrals. More than the great feedback, he loved helping people in love and realized he’d found his calling. Four years later as the top-rated Thumbtack wedding officiant in New York, it’s clear that the people love him back. Follow along for his tips on how to officiate a wedding.

STEP 1: How to officiate a wedding

Identify what’s needed

Different couples look for different qualities and credentials in the person they ask to perform their wedding ceremony, otherwise known as the "wedding officiant." There are two types of officiants, and both have the legal authority to marry people:

  • Religious. These officiants are ordained members of a clergy, such as a rabbi, priest or minister who is imbued with the power to perform a legal marriage through their religious organization (and in the eyes of the state).

  • Civil. These officiants are civil servants associated with the court (judge, court clerk, etc.) authorized to legally marry people. Alternately, individuals can be granted authority online or apply to the court for authorization to perform legal marriages — or both.

Before you go very far down the path toward performing a marriage ceremony, you need to make sure you can offer the type of service you couple is looking for.

STEP 2: How to officiate a wedding

Get licensed

If you are not already an ordained member of a clergy or a civil servant, you will need to otherwise get licensed. Do some research to find out what the requirements for wedding officiants are for your state. Some states permit ordination online as the only requirement needed. Other states, such as New York, require an extra license that you must apply for and pay a small fee for in person at your local court.

STEP 3: How to officiate a wedding

Start planning the ceremony

Planning depends on the couple, Bloom says. After he connects with a couple, he sends them a questionnaire, asking them questions about themselves and each other, as well as how they see ceremony going. Questions for the couple could include these:

  • Will you write you own vows?
  • What rituals will you include?
  • What (if any) role will religion play in the ceremony?
  • How did you meet?
  • What other stories might help shape the ceremony?
  • What elements are most important to incorporate into the ceremony?

STEP 4: How to officiate a wedding

Meet the couple in person

You’ve got to meet the couple in person to make sure it’s a good fit on all sides. Meet with them two to four months prior to the wedding. This timeframe gives you plenty of time to plan but not enough that major changes will occur.

At this meeting, walk through their answers to your questionnaire. As an officiant, Bloom’s goal is to make each ceremony deeply personal. Even if you’re newly acquainted to the couple, he says, you want the ceremony to feel like you’ve all known each other for years. Use this meeting to try to understand their relationship and why they care about each other.

Spend time going over the details of the ceremony. Once you gain some experience, you can use help the couple with other day-of details, such as the order of the procession and what a bride should do with her bouquet.

Also take this time to ask how your voice will be amplified. Unless it is an intimate (fewer than 20 guests) wedding, you will need a microphone of some kind for the ceremony.

This meeting should last about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how much the couple needs to discuss.

STEP 5: How to officiate a wedding

Give a marriage license reminder

Don’t let the couple forget to pick up their marriage license. With all of the more fun planning details to focus on, this little legal matter can easily slip through the cracks. Each state has different rules and timeframes for the application period. In New York, for example, couples must apply in person at their local court for their marriage license, and they must do so between 24 hours and 60 days prior to being legally wed. The couple is responsible for bringing the marriage license to the wedding.

STEP 6: How to officiate a wedding

Write the ceremony

Bloom typically writes out the ceremony one month prior to the wedding date. Even though he’s written hundreds of ceremonies, it still takes him several hours to create a beautiful and unique script. He uses the answers from the questionnaire to tailor the wording. Standard wedding venues generally allot ~30 minutes for the ceremony. With that in mind, Harris aims to keep his speaking parts of the ceremony between 15 and 17 minutes. Follow his general outline for creating your own:

  • Welcome the guests and explain why everyone is gathered for the event.
  • Talk about marriage as a concept and institution.
  • Talk about the couple and why they’re so special together.
  • Vows written by the couple or standard vows performed by the officiant
  • Optional ritual elements:
    • Hand-holding ceremony
    • Sand-blending ceremony
    • Customized ceremonies
  • Exchange of rings in the ring ceremony
  • Official pronouncement of marriage

As you write a ceremony, Bloom recommends that you be heartfelt and genuine. He says he cares deeply about each ceremony he performs and aims for them to be sentimental and poignant while also incorporating humor.

STEP 7: How to officiate a wedding

Prepare for the big day

Stay in touch with your couple to put their minds at ease about the ceremonial aspect of the wedding. Write to them to confirm your presence at their wedding. Remind them to bring the rings and the marriage license.

STEP 8: How to officiate a wedding

Arrive early

Show up at least an hour before the official start time. Offer to help out if the couple needs assistance with anything. Bloom finds DIY couples often need coaching on things like how to line up the wedding procession, etc.

Confirm pronunciation of parents’ and other participants’ names so you look like a champ when you honor them during the ceremony.

STEP 9: How to officiate a wedding

Perform the ceremony

Speak as much as you can from the heart and from memory. However, use your script without fear — especially as you tell the couple’s story. You want to make sure you get all the details just right. Speak slowly and clearly so that everyone can hear and understand you.

Avoid standing on a rise unless the couple also stands on the rise.

STEP 10: How to officiate a wedding

Sign the marriage license

This step is one of the most critical so be careful — it’s a legal document! In NY they frown on whiteout, cross outs and anything but a black ink pen. You can sign before or after the ceremony. As the officiant, you take the license with you and mail a copy to the court. In four to six weeks, the couple will receive their marriage certificate.

Of course, you may feel intimidated when you are just learning how to officiate a wedding or worry about messing up an important detail. With experience, you will gain confidence and find ways to enjoy the process — and even get creative with it.

If a couple is concerned about having a "perfect" ceremony, they may want to ask a professional wedding officiant with more experience to conduct their ceremony. Because of his long experience, Bloom can advise couples along the way and help them create a personalized ceremony that’s just right for their big day. With larger ceremonies, Bloom says, it can really pay to get a pro because they have likely worked with big wedding parties before and will know exactly how to handle every detail.

About the pro - First of all, congrats! IMPORTANT - Please don’t write me just to ask if I have your date available. If I wrote you, then I do (they charge me if you ask me that for some reason) ALSO - We will meet and go over everything but I don't offer "pre-wedding sessions" if they mean counseling (another one of their conversations starters) Anyway... I have performed hundreds of weddings and have always received great feedback. I have many reviews here (check them out! No, seriously! Go!), but you can check out my website for many more! Since I am a stand-up comedian, I specialize in creating ceremonies with humor - but don't worry, it won't be a laugh a second...It'll also be poignant and moving - I will happily send you passages from recent ceremonies I have done to show you what I mean. If selected, I would forward questions about both of you, and use this information to write a customized service. I find that working with my clients collaboratively results in a ceremony that is meaningful and personal. And funny. I would also make arrangements to meet with both of you beforehand, so we can review the service and get to know each other. Harris Bloom I really love making the ceremony the best part of couples' weddings! I hear it all the time, how they thought we were all about the same, but so many guests tell the couples that mine was the best ceremony they've ever been to But dont trust me - Ask other officiants for a video of a ceremony and compare it to mine - You'll see the (huge) difference!

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