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6 Steps to Finding the Right Wedding Officiant for You

Written by Jenn Sinrich  Photo: Andrea Hallgren Photography

 

On the long, seemingly endless list of decisions to make about your big day, figuring out how to find a wedding officiant and choosing the right person for the job are pretty big ones. This person will not only officiate your wedding ceremony, but he or she will work with you in the months leading up to your nuptials to ensure that you’re ready for those wedding bells to ring. Some officiants even take engaged couples through what is similar to premarital counseling, which has shown to be an important part of the wedding process.

For many couples, finding the officiant that will marry them, is a task that is often overlooked until the last moment, but as Kimberly Lehman of Love, Laughter & Elegance in Massillon, Ohio, points out, it’s a decision that should be made early on—at least eight months before the big day. Doing so not only helps you plan for the kind of ceremony and wedding you will have, but also the kind of marriage you are both hoping to have.

To help you choose wisely, we talked to wedding experts to uncover how to find a wedding officiant.

Decide whether you’ll be having a religious ceremony.

More and more weddings are taking place in non-religious or neutral venues, such as banquet halls or hotels. But this doesn’t limit you in choosing to have your officiant be religion-based. “If you decide that a religious ceremony is right for you, the first step is to seek an officiant from the pool of people already in you lives,” suggests Leah Weinberg of Color Pop Events in Long Island City, New York. This could be a rabbi or pastor at your place of worship, or perhaps someone you used to attend services with when you were younger. If a couple decides to have a non-religious ceremony, there are many officiants who are not affiliated with a particular religion and can perform secular ceremonies.

Do some research on potential officiants.

When it comes to figuring out how to find a wedding officiant, there are many ways to go about this process. Unless you know your chosen officiant well, be sure to check out the credentials of those you may consider. Lehman suggests seeking out the references of other couples who’s this person officiated. “Additionally, make sure that they have the necessary licensing from their local community, and the state of residence,” she adds. “Too often, I hear stories about how an officiant performed a ceremony, and then the marriage was not considered valid since the person was not legally registered in their state.” Also, ask if the officiant has any advanced training or academic degrees in their field. The latter is not always necessary, but can be an asset. Be sure to use WeddingWire’s wedding officiant finder to read reviews of officiants in your area.

Confirm that he or she is a confident speaker.

“A good officiant is a good orator,” says Larissa Banting of Weddings Costa Rica in Santa Ana, Costa Rica. “They have confidence, speak clearly and understand how to create dramatic tension when necessary as well as levity, taking everyone on a journey with their words and voice.” While your ceremony is, indeed, about you and your spouse-to-be, and the love you share between the two of you, your officiant will be the ‘host of the show;’ the show being your wedding. “You don’t want someone who is overly dramatic, as they can drag everything down into the realms of parody,” she says. “Try to see them ‘in action’ either at a service or in a video from another wedding to gauge how strong their presentation skills are.”

Get to know your officiant on a more personal basis.

This individual is not only going to play an important role in your wedding, but the rest of your life, too. You will always remember the person who stood in front of you as you said your vows and put a ring on each other’s finger. For this reason, as well as many more, it’s wise to spend time getting to know this person if you do not already. “It’s impossible for me to imagine officiating at a wedding without meeting with the couple at least four times,” says Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, rabbi of the United Synagogue of Hoboken. “This is in part because of the large number of questions and issues that must be discussed when planning a Jewish wedding, but it is also because I want to make sure to really know the couple if I am going to be accompanying them at such a special and holy moment in their lives.”

Figure out is any planning obligations are involved.

“Most officiants require couples to fulfill a certain set of requirements and planning obligations,” explains Lauren Chitwood of Lauren Chitwood Events in Louisville, Kentucky. “The first, of course, is financial, but some officiants require premarital counseling, online training sessions or one-on-one meetings to determine if the couple is ready for marriage.” For this reason, it’s smart for couples to determine early on if they’re able to attend all of the necessary premarital meetings and fulfill the officiant’s requirements.

Rabbi Scheinberg, for example, requires that the couples he marries go through a sort of premarital counseling with him. “Considering that the marriage will last tens or hundreds of thousands of times longer than the wedding, it would make sense to devote much more time during the months leading up to the wedding to planning for the marriage in addition to planning for the wedding!” he says.

Make sure their values line up with yours.

Especially when it comes to religious ceremonies, values and levels of conservative or orthodox policies can cause issues when not ironed out early on. “A more conservative priest or minister may insist on including ‘obey’ in the bride’s vows or readings that have the wife as a subordinate to the husband, which can make a more modern bride’s blood pressure rise,” notes Banting. “If you’re a regular attendee of your house of worship, you likely will have an idea of what ideals your clergy holds and if they reflect yours, but if you’re not familiar with your potential officiant, be sure to ask for their ceremony script, complete with vows and any readings they want included.”

 

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9 Wedding Etiquette Must-Dos Most People Forget

Written by Jenn Sinrich  Photo: Anna Simonak Photography

The concept that there’s a right way to do something (and a wrong way), a.k.a. etiquette, has been around since the dawn of time. But, in today’s day and age, especially when it comes to weddings, much of the old-school protocol has gone out the window. Sure, it may have to do with changing times, or type of wedding you’re attending—i.e. a ceremony in a church with hundreds of people will likely hold you to a higher standard than a beach wedding with a handful of the bride and groom’s close friends—but that doesn’t mean etiquette in its entirety no longer exists (at least we hope not). “Etiquette was created so people would know how to act and be accepted by the rest of society, which, when you get right down to it, is no different than trying to get a ton of likes or hearts on your social media posts,” says Larissa Banting of Weddings Costa Rica in Santa Ana, Costa Rica.

So what rules should you remember at your own wedding—or as a guest? We talked to top wedding and event planners to get the inside scoop on which elements of wedding etiquette still matter today.

If you’re getting married…

Treat your guests like guests.

“Since you’re inviting people to celebrate your passage into wedded bliss, it’s your responsibility to make sure they are taken care of and made comfortable,” says Banting. “That means having enough seating for the ceremony so people aren’t left standing, having fans or cold drinks available if it’s hot, and having sufficient food and drink for all.” Of course, this is why you hire a wedding planner—to make sure you can sit back enjoy on your big day while ensuring your guests are taken care of. “It may be your day but once you’ve included other people along for the ride, you need to worry about their comfort too,” Banting adds.

Don’t keep people waiting.

You’re going to be pulled in a million and one different directions on your big day, which is why it’s crucial that you create a realistic timeline that you can stick to — and one that won’t keep guests waiting. “Hair and makeup is usually the area that can send the best-laid plans off the rails, so pad in an extra hour to ensure you’re ready on time,” suggests Banting. “If you have a long photo session between the ceremony and reception, offer guests a cocktail hour to keep them occupied—and, if you’re planning on having touchups done or changing into another outfit before or during the reception, just be aware of the time.”

Play music that will appeal to all guests.

You and your crew might be into Beyonce’s latest single, or those 90s throwbacks that you mentioned to your band or DJ in your pre-wedding meeting, but remember that you’ve likely invited guests of all ages. Consider what some of the older crowd (your grandparents, uncles, aunts) might want to listen to as well. “Select a wide range of music to be played so everyone has a chance to get up on the dance floor and have some fun,” says Banting. “Save the hip hop for later in the night once the older crowd has cleared out.”

Be thankful for your toasts.

As the focus of all the wedding toasts, the couple shouldn’t toast to themselves, says Banting. “Proper etiquette is to remain seated, smile and not raise your glass, then thank the person who made the toast.” Although it’s not required, she points out that it’s a nice gesture to finish the toast session with a small speech from you and your bride or groom. “Make sure to thank your guests for coming, your parents for their support and then say something gracious about your newly betrothed before raising a glass to all and taking a sip.”

Send thank-you notes.

Even if you had the chance to thank someone verbally for attending your wedding or giving you a gift, handwritten thank-you cards are still definite dos. “Guests spend considerable amounts of time and money in choosing a gift, selecting attire to wear, finding child care, and traveling to and from all of the wedding-related events,” Kimberly Lehman of Love, Laughter & Elegance in Massillon, Ohio, points out. “A heartfelt message, written to the giver of the gift, is much appreciated—just a few lines stating how nice it was to see them and spend time together at the shower or wedding, and how much the gift is appreciated and may be used is fine.”

If it’s not your wedding…

Give a gift at each event you’re invited to.

Traditionally, as a guest, if you are invited to the shower and the wedding, then yes, you should bring a gift, says Lehman, though the bachelorette party is usually more informal so a gift is not necessarily required. “If you are a member of the wedding party, you are expected to contribute financially to the shower and bachelorette party, as well paying for your attire, accessories and/or grooming for the wedding,” she adds. Of course, this can be a bit overwhelming for some, especially when you’re still in school, but Lehman points out that it’s your choice to say yes or no to being a part of the wedding party. “Another solution is to have the wedding party contribute one large gift, for example the stand mixer the bride has had her eye on for months.”

Don’t assume you can bring a plus-one.

“Many guests don’t realize that when they are invited to a wedding, the couple and families are paying for each individual person to attend, to eat and drink and be entertained, rather than one blanket fee,” explains Lehman. “This is why accurate head counts are so crucial to keeping the budget under control.” In other words, if the invitation sent reads “Mr. Jim Smith and guest”, then yes, bring said person, but if the invitation is addressed only to “Mr. Jim Smith,” only Mr. Smith himself is invited to attend.

Always RSVP by the deadline.

There’s a good reason invitations, especially ones to weddings, have a deadline for when you can RSVP by. Head counts are important people! Whomever is planning (and paying for) the wedding seriously needs to know how many people to expect far before the one-month countdown. “If you happen to see the bride before the wedding and end up telling her your RSVP in person, don’t think that got you out of sending your response in,” says Jessica Janik of The Invisible Bridesmaid in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “As soon as you know you will or will not be able to make it, be courteous and send back the RSVP card if that’s what is requested.”

Don’t get in the way of the photographer or videographer.

You might consider yourself the master photographer, thanks to your skills on Instagram, but the couple hired professionals for a reason. “Don’t stand in front of the hired personnel so you can get the perfect shot of the bride and groom on their big day,” warns Janik. “And, if you did happen to take that perfect shot, wait until the ceremony starts to post a photo—you don’t want to beat the bride and groom and post before they have a chance to.”