Many couples choose friends as nontraditional wedding officiantsWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tradition is not for everyone. While many brides-to-be pine for classic weddings performed by ministers or judges, others want people closer to them to officiate their ceremonies.
One option for those looking to add a more personal touch to the vows exchange is having a friend become ordained and licensed to solemnize the marriage.
Kevin and Ashley Clark of Monroe, Mich., chose that route for their 2010 nuptials. They were trying to put together a special ceremony on a budget, and also had to consider that Kevin was Christian and Ashley was not.
The Clarks have a friend, Andrew Kohler, whom Ashley described as a “goofy character that we love to death.” They asked Kohler to officiate their wedding ceremony and he agreed. He obtained certification online from the Universal Life Church, a nondoctrinal religious organization that offers ordination services.
On the special day, Kevin and Ashley were married in an old theater, with Kohler providing much of the entertainment.
“He added a few little tidbits to the vows to make it interesting,” Ashley said.
Those tidbits included promises of protection in the case of a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion.
After the ceremony, a reception was held at the bar where the two first met.
“It was set up nicely, it was short and sweet, and everybody got to party. That’s all anybody cares about anyway,” Ashley joked.
Both Ohio and Michigan codes require an ordained minister, magistrate, justice of the peace or mayor, among other miscellaneous official positions, to legally perform a wedding ceremony. In the case of an ordained minister, proof must be provided to the state that one is officially ordained, after which that person will be granted or denied a license to perform wedding ceremonies. Some small fees are charged for filing the necessary paperwork.
Would-be officiants should also take note that if the marriage license paperwork is not properly signed and submitted to the state within 30 days, they could be charged with a minor misdemeanor.
Antonio Zona of Berkey also used the services of the Universal Life Church to officiate a wedding for a friend.
“A nonreligious friend wanted to get married and thought it would make her special day more special having a friend marry them instead of some judge,” Zona said. “I honestly think she got the idea from an episode of ‘Friends’ — which hurts, a lot, because that show was terrible.”
Zona has since performed “eight or nine more” ceremonies.
“They were just friends that wanted to get married and save the money a judge would charge,” Zona said. “Or maybe they liked me and wanted a more personalized wedding.”
Zona explained some of the intricacies of officiating a wedding, including how he deals with nerves or uncomfortable situations.
“I speak in front of groups all the time for work so that wasn’t really the issue for me. The only times I get nervous in front of crowds is when I’m speaking about something I know nothing about. One time I had to do a reading from a poetry book, and I wasn’t given the passage until two minutes before the ceremony. It was worded all ‘old-timey,’ so I stuttered a few times.”
When Zona solemnized the marriage of his close friends, Matthew Snyder and Erin Marten-Snyder, it set off a chain of other weddings and ordinations among his circle of friends.
Though Snyder said he does not believe in the traditional model of religions, he still saw value in a having a wedding ceremony and was inspired to follow Zona into ordination.
“It was extremely important to have a public display of the promise and commitment that a wedding entails,” Snyder said.
“It was really these same sentiments that convinced me to get ordained online, so that I could perform a wedding ceremony for a couple friends of mine.”
Soon after, he performed a wedding ceremony for two friends, Rusty and Kelsey Morlock.
Rusty said that, since he and his wife are also not Christians, they wanted someone close to perform a ceremony customized to their liking.
“My wife’s family has a tradition of reading from the book “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran,” he said. “There is a passage called ‘On Marriage’ that was read, then [we] recited our on vows, and that was it. [Snyder] is a very close friend, so we asked him to read.”
“It was easier working with someone we know [and] love as well,” Rusty added.
Matthew said he believes it enhanced the Morlocks’ ceremony, because it gave them more control over the content of the wedding ceremony.
“I doubt a Christian officiator would have allowed the readings we chose,” he said.
Other friends of Zona, the Snyders and the Morlocks have also been ordained since then, and continue to perform more weddings. One advantage of having a friend ordained to perform a wedding ceremony is willingness “to go off script,” Zona said.
“Would a judge dress up like a pirate and make you walk the plank before he pronounced you man and wife? I don’t know.”