Editor's note: This was originally written for anyone officiating an upcoming wedding, but due to popular demand (and the fact that we have seen tens of thousands of couples want to be a part of the ceremony writing process, or write it entirely themselves), we have updated the below to include information for both the officiants and the couples.
Most weddings in the USA are now officiated by friends and family (instead of by clergy or professionals), a choice that reflects couples desiring a more personal and authentic wedding ceremony. But while first time officiants might have years of personal anecdotes about the couple to draw from, constructing an official, legal, and well-structured ceremony remains a challenge. After years of officiating weddings, being in wedding parties, professionally and personally living and breathing all things weddings but never having seen all of this information in one place, we at Provenance felt it time to create this ultimate Wedding Ceremony Guide. Here's everything an officiant needs to ace the ceremony. While this article is long, it includes easy ways to make the whole process super seamless and stress-free.
Wedding Timeline: 8 Months Out
If you've been asked to officiate a wedding, congratulations! You are going to play a significant role in one of the most important moments in the lives of the marrying couple. That’s a huge, exciting honor, but it can also be pretty terrifying… Don’t know where to even start? Yup – We’ve been there! Let's jump into it.
How to legally become a wedding officiant
An officiant can get ordained online for free. Rules differ state-by-state, so the officiant will want to make sure they can make the marriage legal wherever the couple is getting married. Check out American Marriage Ministries for free online ordination. Despite the organization's name, the officiant doesn't have to affiliate with any specific religion to sign up. It’s actually pretty shocking how easy it is - the officiant just gives their email, clicks a button, and they are all set. No courses or exams necessary.
Check if you need to register with the court
The officiant should research online to see exactly what steps are needed to legally marry the couple in the state where the couple is having their ceremony. The rules in California are different than in New York City, which are different from those in Hawaii (etc.). So, before you all start booking your flights, you’ll want to check if/when you’d have to show up in person to register (or to drop off the marriage license).
Wedding Timeline: 6-8 Months Out
Interview the couple
Even if the officiant knows the couple well, you’ll all want to schedule dedicated time (~1-1.5 hours) to sit down together to discuss the couple's vision, preferences, and love story. Here are some of the most important logistical questions to ask;
- How long do you want the ceremony to be?
- How traditional do you want the ceremony script to be?
- What are some examples of secular, cultural or religious readings or rituals we could incorporate? Modern ones are fun, too :)
- How can the ceremony honor people who passed away?
Here are our favorite questions for ascertaining the couple's love story:
- Describe the moment you realized you found “the one”.
- Why is your partner right for you?
- What do you love most about your partner?
- What are your priorities, goals, hopes and dreams for your life together?
While we recommend having an Officiant and Couple meeting (as we’ve found it to be a really special and effective experience for everyone involved), the Ceremony Builder was created so that it can be completed by either partner and/or the officiant unilaterally over time as well.
There are a lot more questions that go into it, but don’t feel like you have to start from scratch in coming up with them (or finding the rituals and readings)! We created the Provenance Ceremony Builder to guide you all every step of the way.
TIP: Start a notepad in your phone to jot down any memories, stories, or fun ideas that may randomly come to you throughout the months leading up to the wedding. They’ll naturally emerge when you least expect it, so write them down so you don’t forget them!
TIP: Consider having the officiant interview the couple’s friends/family to get additional material and anecdotes.
TIP: If the people the officiant interviewed (especially the couple) are okay with having their answers recorded (via either video or audio), the officiant can consider putting together a thoughtful gift for the couple like a custom video book.
Align on what the Officiant should wear
Don’t believe the couple if they say “wear whatever you want!” The officiant will be in some of the most important photos of couple's lives; they’re going to care, they just haven’t realized it yet. Since the couple has a lot of decision fatigue right now due to wedding planning, the officiant can make it easier on them by presenting them with options. There's more information on that topic here, but some highlights include:
- Do you prefer me in a [dress / jumpsuit/ suit / tux / etc]? Is there any length requirement / should I have my shoulders/knees/ankles covered?
- Do you want me in black, or is there another color you had in mind?
- Do you want me to do anything specific with my hair (or facial hair), nails, or jewelry?
TIP: If the officiant is in the wedding party *and* officiating, align if they need a separate outfit (e.g. a bridesmaids dress for the photos with the bridesmaids and an officiant outfit for the ceremony).
Wedding Timeline: 3-4 Months Out
Write the wedding ceremony script
It’s go time. Once the officiant had their interview or received all the answers they need from the couple (either as scratch notes or in the Provenance Ceremony Builder), you have everything you need to write the ceremony script. Our recommended order for the ceremony is Welcome/Processional, Officiant Remarks, Readings & Rituals, Vows, Ring Exchange, and then the Pronouncement.
If you choose to craft the ceremony script with Provenance, all of the answers collected in the interview will get woven together into a ceremony script in Provenance’s Script Editing Tool, so there will be a solid jumping off point and won’t be staring at a blinking cursor on an empty page. Everyone will also have have access to all of the blocking needed for the big day, a bunch of modern options for the Declaration of Intent, wording for A Group Vow, and more.
There’s a lot of flexibility to customize the script and make it unique to the couple. The officiant should remember to keep the ceremony script to the couple's preferred length and tone (which is integrated into the tool). You got this! They couple wouldn’t have asked you if they didn’t know you’d do an awesome job.
Discuss ceremony props, vow books, and ceremony binders
As the officiant is putting together the ceremony script, they should think through if there are any props needed (e.g. sand for a sand ceremony), and ask the couple if they should order them. While they shouldn’t be responsible for paying for the items needed in the ceremony, it’s a nice gesture to at least take this chore off the couple's plates. Just remember to route the items for their approval before purchasing. The vow books and binders will be in many photos, so check to see if they want these instead of iPhone, iPad, or loose papers.
Confirm that the couple has a plan for their marriage license
While it’s totally fine for the couple to have already been legally married (or perhaps they’re not even getting legally married and just want to have a meaningful ceremony), it’s worth it for the officiant to discuss this logistical step with them. There is such thing as being too early, too late, or in the wrong county to file for a marriage license. If the couple lives in LA and is getting married in Miami, you don’t want to find out at the rehearsal that they got their license in LA as the officiant will have to sign it in LA at another date. In other words - check the requirements for the county where you’re having the legal ceremony (not where you’re living at that moment).
Wedding Timeline: 1 Month Out
Edit, finalize, and collect feedback
It can be tough for the officiant to write the ceremony script in isolation and predict how something will land with the couple and larger audience. The officiant should choose someone who they trust and whose feedback they value, and read it to them as if it’s the big day. If the officiant isn't sure about a specific line or section, it’s worth running that by someone close to the couple for their take before the officiant shares it with the couple. If the couple requested to hear the speech before their wedding, then the officiant should share it with them a month in advance so everyone has time to make edits and finalize it.
Check in on the Wedding Vows
The couple has a lot going on, so they may not have started their wedding vows. If they're anxious about where to begin, they can try out the Provenance Vow Builder to write meaningful vows without the stress. It'll ask them questions about their love story and then take their bulleted notes and random ideas and memories and help weave them together into a first draft they are proud of.
Consider professional polish
If the officiant, couple, or anyone giving a toast is willing to invest to ensure your speeches are the very best they can be, consider working with a Provenance Speechwriter or a Provenance Public Speaking Coach. These curated professionals – ranging from comedians to White House speechwriters – are helping officiants, couples and their guests write amazing speeches.
Wedding Timeline: 2 Weeks Out
Finish your wedding speech & practice, practice, practice
Look, procrastination is real, and so 2 weeks can feel like plenty of time to keep working on your the ceremony script. But don’t be fooled. Especially if you’re traveling to a destination wedding, there will be unexpected events or errands that will come up the week of, so don’t factor that last week in as a writing week. Get the script to a good enough place two weeks before the wedding so that if the ceremony happened to be tomorrow, it would be great. You’re human, so it’s natural you’ll continue to tinker with it as you practice, but it should be 93% done when you’re 2 weeks out.
TIP: The officiant needs the correct phonetic pronunciation of any names they have to say so they can practice saying them correctly
TIP: The officiant can ask which side they’ll each be standing on so they can practice where they will be looking throughout the speech.
TIP: If applicable, the officiant should practice with the printed speech so they can better rehearse as it will be (and also so they know where they can access a working printer in case they don’t have).
Also, it’s totally normal if nerves start to spike and the thought of giving the speech starts to feel overwhelming. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. You can have friends or family look over your speech, listen and give you tips, or even consult an expert speechwriter or public speaking coach last minute.
Have the Officiant review the couple’s vows and anyone's toasts
While there are a lot of tips on how to craft your perfect vows. the Vow Builder will also help ensure their vows are balanced in tone and length. Or of course you, can confidentially review each of their vows to offer them each light feedback.
You also can offer to review family/friends' toasts so there's someone who can identify if the same story is being told too many times or if there's anything in there the couple wouldn't want. If anyone needs help getting started with their toasts, the Provenance Toast Builder can be a helpful jumping off point.
Connect with the Wedding Planner or Day-of Coordinator (if there is one)
Ask the couple if you can connect directly with the wedding planner or day-of coordinator so you can get answers to the below questions.
- Will there be a podium, hand mic, floor mic, headset or something else?
- Are there any music cues for who walks when, when the guests need to rise/sit, the welcome or conclusion of the ceremony?
- Are there any announcements before or after the ceremony that you should add to your script? (e.g. “The couple asks that not photos or videos be taken during the ceremony; instead they invite you to be fully present with them.”)
- Are there any logistics of setting up / clearing out rituals or readings (mic/props/tables/chairs/etc) that you will be involved in?
- Where can you leave the marriage license and a change of clothes (if you need one) during the ceremony?
- Would they prefer to lead the rehearsal, or should you? More on that below.
Get Last-Minute Questions Answered by the Couple
- If there’s no wedding planner/day-of coordinator, the officiant should check with the couple on the list of questions above, in addition to the below:
- Who will bring the following to the ceremony?: Vows, Marriage License, Items needed for rituals and/or readings.
- What’s the processional order, seating/standing arrangement, and recessional order?
- Who’s walking each partner down the aisle?
- Who will have the rings during the ceremony? (Usually it’s the Best Man)
- Who will the bride hand the bouquet to before the remarks begin? (Usually it’s the Maid of Honor)
- Who is sharing their vows first?
TIP: The officiant should make sure to have all of the answers above added to the ceremony script so they don’t forget.
TIP: The officiant should review the marriage license with the couple ahead of time so there are no surprises and so that they have time to research any questions before the big day. Go through each of the fields and make sure you all know how to fill it out. Call the county clerk’s office if you have any questions.
Wedding Timeline: The Day Before the Wedding / Wedding Rehearsal Checklist
If applicable, the couple should bring:
- Marriage license
- Any items needed for rituals and/or readings
The officiant should bring:
- Printed ceremony script in binder (if applicable)
- Items needed for rituals and/or readings (if applicable)
- Copy of the couple’s vows (just in case)
- Pen with black ink (to sign the marriage license)
- Mints (not gum!) & deodorant (trust us)
TIP: If officiant is not a professional, people will be asking you “are you ready??” “are you nervous?!” While the officiant may honestly want to respond “READY? I AM FREAKING OUT,” perhaps consider saving that response for a trusted friend or family member. Instead evoke confidence to the guests and the couple. This is “fake it til you make it” territory. Tell them you feel great and can’t wait. You got this.
Sample Officiant script for wedding rehearsal below (with important callouts underlined)
Hey everyone! Welcome to the rehearsal for [PARTNER A] and [Partner B]’s wedding. Please pay attention as we’ll go through all the motions/cues of the ceremony.
Let’s line up & walk in the correct order, paying attention to X music cues
Once [PARTNER A] & [Partner B] get to the [front], I’ll invite all guests to be seated.
If the bouquet hasn’t been handed off before I begin speaking, I’ll make sure that happens.
If there are any loud noises/ disruptions like motorcycles or helicopters, I’ll pause for them to pass.
First I’ll welcome everyone to the ceremony and make relevant announcements
Then I’ll thank people for being there and we’ll have a moment of silence
I’ll share my remarks about the couple
We’ll do X reading and Y ritual
[PARTNER A& B] will exchange their vows
We’ll need the rings from Z, then they’ll exchange the rings
The couple will say their I Dos
I’ll pronounce them as [insert preferred pronouncement here]
They’ll kiss - I’ll back out of the moment so I’m not in those photos… ok let’s practice the kiss
And at this point - PARTNER A & B - take a moment to let it all sink in because it’s party time!!
[Photographer] - are there any notes on where the couple needs to stop on their way out for photos?.
More information on what the officiant needs to do at the rehearsal can be found here.
TIP: Don't forget to have some fun! A little laughter and levity can help calm your nerves and will get people excited / set the tone for an amazing weekend.
TIP: The officiant should make sure you have final stage directions added into their script (e.g. motion for people when to stand and sit down at the top of the ceremony, step to the side while the vows happen/for the kiss, and tell the couple to hold hands during the ring exchange).
Wedding Timeline: The Day-of the Wedding
Last-minute wedding day ceremony checklist
LET’S DO THIS! You’ve been preparing for months, and now the big day is finally here. It's going to be amazing.
Here's the last-minute officiant checklist for the ceremony:
- Bring the marriage license and correct colored pen
- Bring your printed ceremony script + binder
- Bring a couple copies of the couple’s vows
- Bring any items needed for the ceremony (e.g. glass and plate to break the glass)
- If you're changing (e.g. have a bridesmaids dress and an officiant outfit), bring both outfits (and both pairs of shoes and jewelry) if applicable.
- Make sure you're dressed appropriately and have mints and deodorant handy
- Don’t forget to move out of the way before their big kiss so you’re not in those photos (make sure that direction is written down in you script!)
- Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you've got this!
…And after the officiant does an incredible job and both partners have said “I do”…
Sign the marriage license
Depending on the rules in your county, the officiant, the couple, and two witnesses, also need to sign the marriage license.
...and once you've all signed the marriage license...
Hit the dance floor or bar - whichever place you feel like you can really let loose and celebrate.
TIP: It can be fun for the officiant to have a celebratory drink with the couple, if you're all into that!
Wedding Timeline: The Day After the Wedding Checklist for Officiant
***The Officiant needs to file the wedding license at the county clerk, recorder, or registrar’s office***
- Go back to bed and don’t set an alarm
- Order in your favorite food
- Turn on a mindless binge show
- Do whatever it is that you do to treat yourself - you deserve it.
With this guide, the officiant will be well on their way to crafting an incredible wedding ceremony that truly reflects the couple's personalities and relationship. It's helpful to remember to stay organized, communicate clearly with the couple and other vendors, and always be flexible and open to changes. And of course, have fun and enjoy the experience. It's a pretty special role to have.
If you're feeling overwhelmed or unsure about any part of the process, don't hesitate to reach out to the team at email@example.com. With our Ceremony Builder, Vow Builder, and Toast Builder, we can help you create a personalized and unforgettable ceremony . Sign up today and let's get started.
The Provenance Team
Q: How long should the ceremony be?
A: The length of the ceremony can vary depending on the couple's preferences and the traditions they choose to include. On average, a ceremony typically lasts between 15-20 minutes.
Q: How do I choose readings or rituals for the ceremony?
A: Check out Provenance.co’s library of 300+ rituals and readings in the Ceremony Builder. You can also create your own rituals that are meaningful to you and your partner.
Q: Can the couple write their own vows?
A: Absolutely! Writing vows is a great way to make your ceremony feel more personal and unique, and using The Provenance Vow Builder helps take the stress out of the process and ensures both partner’s vows are balanced in tone and length.
Q: Do we need to have a rehearsal?
A: While a rehearsal isn't legally required, it can be very helpful in ensuring that everyone involved knows what to do and where to go. It can also help calm any nerves or anxiety before the big day.
Q: Can we include religious elements in our ceremony even if we're not particularly religious?
A: Of course! Many couples choose to include religious elements in their ceremony as a way to honor their cultural or family traditions. Talk to your officiant and check out the Ceremony Builder's Readings and Rituals for ways to incorporate religious elements in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to you.
Q: Can we have a friend or family member officiate our wedding?
A: Yes! Just be sure to check the laws in your state or country. Most of the United States allow for friends or family members to become ordained online and perform legal weddings, while other countries and specific US counties require a licensed officiant. Check with the local government of where the couple is getting married to determine the requirements in that area.