Monday, 1 December 2014

Research officiants before heading to altar

It is the start of the wedding season again. Calls are starting to come in requesting that I officiate at weddings in the spring and summer.

            Most people are married only once in their lives (or perhaps twice) and most don’t have the experience or expertise in planning a wedding.

            A recent incident publicized on YouTube made that abundantly clear.

            A couple in Peterborough were astonished to learn that the person who had officiated at their wedding was not registered with the Province of Ontario to solemnize their occasion. They had to go to Family Court and pay several hundred dollars to regularize what had been done in good faith.

            The couple then posted the video of their wedding in the internet. It was obvious to anyone with any wedding experience that the officiant really did not know what they were doing.

            One could always say “buyer beware”, but there are a few things a couple can do to prevent such disasters befalling them on their special day.

            The couple in Peterborough found their officiant on the internet. While there is nothing wrong with that, they did not check references.

            There are only three groups of people who can solemnize weddings in Ontario. They are judges, who only do it rarely, religious officiants, and civil officiants.

            Anyone can check the credentials of civil officiants, as they are given authority by municipal clerks and only do non-religious services. After asking the officiant you want to engage who credentialed them and through what municipal office, you can confirm with a municipal office if the person is indeed able to solemnize your wedding.

            Religious presiders are another matter.

            Service Ontario does list all the religious providers on their web site in a searchable data base by both name and city. The problem is that the list is woefully inaccurate. When I looked up wedding officiants for Owen Sound I discovered the names of four ministers who are deceased. Their names have not been removed from the list, unfortunately.

            My suggestion to any couple wishing to be married and looking for an officiant is to not start by searching the internet but by asking friends for a reference. In this case, word of mouth is an excellent way of finding names.

            If you attended a wedding and like what you experienced, find out the name of the person officiating and look them up.

            Another resource is your other suppliers. Hotel and hall facility managers often know a number of names of officiants and are usually glad to give you contact information. They also have experience with officiants and although they probably won’t speak ill of anyone, will give you names of people who have worked well with them and with coupes.

            In all cases, ask about fees. Officiants are usually up front about this. Expect to pay a fee for services and mileage at a reasonable rate. Expect to pay extra mileage and possibly an additional fee for a rehearsal.

            You can also expect to pay a non-refundable deposit to confirm your date, usually at the time of booking.

            Plan to meet at least once with your officiant. They will want to get to know you and a little bit about you. You can ask about their wedding experience, ask to see their proposed service and talk about the practical details of your wedding. They may offer some ideas for your consideration, such as a rain plan for an outdoor wedding.

            A wedding should never end up in Family Court in order to make it legal. Nor should it cost you anything beyond the license and officiant to make it so. Weddings should be joyous, happy occasions. And with a little work, any couple can make it so. 



Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.