Why Do You Need an Officiant for a Wedding? Here Are 9 Solid Reasons

And why you might want to think twice about relying on a friend for this important role.
Bride and groom and officiant at wedding ceremony
Photo: With Love & Embers
Samantha Iacia - The Knot wedding style expert
Samantha Iacia
  • Samantha writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in wedding decor, trends, and fashion
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Samantha was a features and weddings contributor for The Baltimore Sun
  • She is based in Washington, D.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism
Updated Sep 29, 2023

When you start thinking about your wedding vows and ceremony, you might be wondering, 'why do you need an officiant for a wedding?' There's a good (and very simple) reason we'll always encourage you to leave the majority of wedding day details to the pros—it's their job. Whatever it is—be it catering, ceremony music, cake baking or event rentals—they love it, and they're good at it. The same applies to your ceremony officiant too, and there's a level of quality, professionalism and peace of mind you'll get from working with a seasoned celebrant, ordained minister or officiant. No matter what type of ceremony you're envisioning, finding a pro is easy with The Knot Vendor Marketplace, where you can search by location, religious affiliation and more. We consulted with two licensed officiants to learn about all the different services they offer and some of the ways they work with couples to create custom, personalized ceremonies. Here are nine reasons why you'll never regret hiring a professional officiant for your wedding.

1. Knows the Ins and Outs of Wedding Ceremonies

"The ceremony is one part of the wedding day that causes couples a great deal of stress," says Donna Forsythe, an endorsed humanist celebrant and owner of Lehigh Valley Celebrants headquartered in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "Most couples have no idea where to begin when it comes to the ceremony. They arrive at the introductory meeting anxious and really have no idea what to expect. If you think about it, when do we 'do' ceremony in our lives? We eat cake all the time. We know what flowers we prefer. But no one has a clue about the ceremony."

When you hire a professional wedding officiant or certified celebrant, they get to work to help alleviate your worries. Wedding ceremonies are their thing—they can explain exactly what to expect while providing you with plenty of options and ways to structure your own ceremony. "First and foremost, we become a trusted advisor," says Forsythe. "We are consultants for the couple."

2. Focuses Entirely on You and Your Wedding Day

The biggest difference between hiring an experienced officiant and asking a friend or loved one to perform your ceremony is that first and foremost, the officiant is there to do a job. They've chosen to make this their profession, which means that they'll show up on the wedding day prepared to do a good job and focused on providing a memorable experience for you and your guests.

"It's my goal to help couples feel relaxed, ready, fully present and in the moment so that the ceremony is a life-changing experience to really look forward to, not just something to 'get through' before cocktail hour and the party," says Rev. Annie Lawrence, an ordained non-denominational interfaith minister and licensed wedding officiant in New York City.

Lawrence, who has officiated more than 2,500 ceremonies since 2003, doubles-down on the importance of why you need an officiant at the wedding. Not only will the officiant perform the ceremony with ease (they're a pro at this, after all), but a professional will help calm your nerves and engage your guests in just the right way. "Some couples ask a friend to officiate because they want to save money and they want someone who knows them," Lawrence says. "I would encourage couples to consider that sometimes it's easier to be open, vulnerable and truthful with an officiant than with someone you know. If the friend does not prepare, says something inappropriate or fails to properly file the marriage license, it could end the friendship."

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3. Coordinates with Other Wedding Vendors as Needed

The officiant plays a much bigger role on your wedding day than you might realize, especially if there are any unexpected issues or hiccups (but with the help of a pro vendor team, you might not even know anything was wrong until long after the fact!). "There are a lot of moving parts on a wedding day, and chances are, something is going to happen that the couple wasn't prepared for," says Forsythe. "A professional celebrant/officiant can be a source of calm in the proverbial storm, offering quick solutions when problems occur."

Before each wedding, Forsythe's team sends a detailed cue sheet to all of the vendors involved in the ceremony. "This helps the venue coordinator and planner run the rehearsal if we are not asked to run the rehearsal," says Forsythe. "It allows the musician/DJ [to] know the first and last words for the music cues. It gives the photographer and videographer an outline so they are aware of the various elements involved in the ceremony." On the wedding day, her team of officiants arrive at least an hour before the ceremony start time to help prepare the space and handle any finishing touches.

Lawrence takes the responsibility equally as seriously, explaining that she also coordinates with the entire vendor team for each wedding, including the event planner, photographer and ceremony musicians. "[Officiants] bring a back-up copy of your vows and readings (and tissues!)," says Lawrence. "They know how to handle a ceremony script, microphone, readers and rituals at the same time, seamlessly guiding all the moving pieces and any unexpected occurrences (weather, cell phones, late arrivals, etc.) with grace and ease."

4. Certified in Professional Celebrant Training and Education

Getting ordained is often touted as something that almost anyone can do online these days, but becoming a licensed wedding officiant and starting a career as a professional celebrant is much bigger. According to Forsythe, the term 'celebrant' is used to describe anyone who's received special training through a certified program or organization. 'Officiant' is a term that's more loosely used to describe anyone who officiates a wedding, whether it's a member of clergy or a friend.

"Celebrants have a minimum of six months training in ceremony writing, rituals—cultural, religious and couple-centered—and public speaking," says Forsythe, who has been officiating weddings since 2014. She's also the director of Celebrant Academy, a wedding officiant education program that helps celebrants achieve their certification from the International Association of Professional Wedding Officiants (IAPWO).

A pro officiant's training also comes from experience, and after performing a few hundred (or thousand) weddings, they're experts at knowing where to be—or where not to be—during your ceremony. One example: Lawrence says she makes sure to step out of the way for important photo moments, like the exchanging of rings and the first kiss.

5. Expertly Customizes Your Ceremony

Whether you're fusing two religions, combining traditions from two cultures or you're looking for a simple, secular ceremony, a hired celebrant will have the experience and know-how to help you customize everything so that it feels 100% true to you and your partner.

"When we agree to work together, I send couples some questions asking for their preferred pronouns, style of ceremony from civil (non-religious) to cultural, spiritual, or faith-based, any philosophy, readings, or rituals to include, as well as their story," says Lawrence. "How they met, their feelings about each other, what they are looking forward to in life—so we can affirm their hopes and dreams with our good wishes and our blessings." Once the written ceremony is ready, she sends a draft to the couple, word for word, including stage directions, entrances, exits and cues.

"The number-one thing I hear from guests after weddings I do is, 'How long have you known the couple?' They sincerely believe I am an old friend," says Lawrence. "That's my goal: to listen to the couple I'm celebrating with and really bring out their personalities, humor, emotion and intentions."

6. Shares Ideas to Include Loved Ones in Ceremony Rituals

If you're planning to include parents or other family members in your ceremony, that's another good reason why you need an officiant for the wedding. A professional officiant can also help you honor loved ones who have passed away in a dignified and personal manner.

Forsythe sometimes reaches out to friends or family members to get quotes and stories about the couple that can be integrated into the ceremony. "When you hire an experienced, professional wedding officiant/celebrant, you're hiring someone who will make sure your wedding is not boring," she says. "They will work with you to create a ceremony that is engaging and takes guests and the couple on a journey. There will be laughter (appropriate, not awkward) and tears (happy/joyful)."

7. Helps You Write Your Vows

Experiencing writer's block? Your officiant is an awesome resource to tap. They can work with you to craft and edit your wedding vows until they're perfect. They can offer you helpful pointers, traditional examples and even ideas inspired by other couples they've married that you won't be able to find anywhere else.

"In my celebrant group, we have questionnaires which we have each person in the couple fill out separately," says Forsythe. "This allows us to 'hear' each of their voices when it comes to describing various aspects of their relationship." And unlike an amateur officiant, none of their ceremony scripts are generic (i.e. pulled from the internet at the last minute). "We do not use any standard text," Forsythe says. "Nothing is copy/pasted. The Introduction is original writing, the vows and the ring prelude are created specifically for the couple. A love story is written as the centerpiece of the ceremony."

8. Handles Important Legal Paperwork

Your marriage isn't totally official until legal paperwork has been signed and filed with the appropriate services. But it can be a confusing process, and that's where an expert officiant can help guide you. "They will tell you when, where and how to get a marriage license, and they have the proper credentials and registration to sign your marriage license so you can be assured you are legally wed," says Lawrence.

And yes, getting married only to realize the marriage isn't actually legal on paper has happened—but mostly to those who aren't familiar with the process (like the friend you asked to moonlight as an officiant). "Most are not familiar with the legal requirements, and in many cases, the marriage license is not properly filed," says Forsythe. "Couples have had to get married again—legally—after their wedding. (I have had to do this for numerous couples!)"

9. Speaks Comfortably in Front of a Crowd

Your closest friend from college might have the greatest repertoire of anecdotes about you and your partner, but that doesn't mean she's equipped to stand in front of 150 people and engage the crowd for an hour. "It puts a lot of pressure on a friend/family member who will not be able to relax and enjoy the wedding day," Forsythe says. "Most write the ceremony last-minute and do not share with the couple for editing or approval."

When you ask a friend or loved one to perform the ceremony, the situation can sometimes cause tension or seem like an obligation they can't turn down, even if they're not necessarily comfortable with public speaking. "It also can put a big strain on a relationship," Forsythe adds. "Many times, these ceremonies don't live up to what the couple hoped for, and there are lingering resentments."

With a hired officiant, you know they'll be nothing but professional (and we don't mean dry and stale—we mean effortless and seamless in their delivery). You already have enough to worry about remembering where to stand and how to recite your vows—you don't want to worry about your officiant's performance too. And because officiants take such pride in what they do, you can rest assured that your ceremony will feel well-balanced and personal.

"Professional officiants and celebrants help people express love, thanks, and gratitude in life rituals from birth to death," says Lawrence. "It's our humble privilege, calling and purpose to create kind, conscious, loving ceremonies for all moments in life."

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