Most couples price shop for the services they want to hire for their wedding.
This is a great idea, weddings can become very expensive very quickly!
The Marriage Ceremony itself is the heart of the wedding. It is the main purpose
your friends and family have traveled, some great distances, and are present.
Surprisingly, one of the most important services provided for the wedding - the
Officiant who makes the couple legally married, while presenting a beautiful
ceremony for the couple and their guests - is the specific service most couples want
to pay the least (or nothing) for.
Most Officiants charge between $175.00 and $400.00, depending on the Officiant's
fee policy, the size of the wedding, travel distance, additions such as rehearsals,
etc. This is most likely the smallest sum requested by any of the vendors involved in
I'd like to say here, that if money is truly an obstacle, and you must have an Officiant
perform your marriage ceremony for free, your best bet is to call and make an
appointment at your local courthouse with a Judge and have them perform their 3
minute ceremony. It won't be romantic, personalized, customized, or in any way
unique, you must go to their chambers during specific hours they have set for
weddings during the week, and you can only have a few friends or family present as
the chambers are rather small, but it is free and it does assure that you are legally
That said, if you plan to have a wedding on the weekend, in the venue of your
choice, and/or with more then 6 or 7 people present, please read on.
Compared to the costs of the other wedding services you will hire, your Officiant is
the smallest expense in the budget.
Many couples mistakenly believe that the officiant only spends a small amount of time doing the actual
wedding ceremony itself and spends no other time on their wedding ceremony at all.
While there are some Officiants who use a short set script in which they simply pencil in the names of the
Brides and Grooms, most of us spend a great deal more time on your ceremony than that.
Remember, while price shopping for all your wedding services, you get what you pay for.
Some Officiants may quote you a "cheap" fee, and you think that fits your budget. Just be aware that you will,
most likely, not get a beautiful, quality ceremony. What you will get is the same canned generic ceremony
that everyone else gets, your name is simply penciled in on the appropriate blank. There are no real options
for personalization, no real choices (and I don't mean the 2 or 3 ceremonies they let you choose from), no
real input. Frequently they are not able to speak confidently and loudly enough before a crowd of your
favorite family and friends so that, in the end, no one will have heard anything said in your ceremony,
No one wants to be told "I couldn't hear a word of your ceremony, but I'm sure it was lovely."
I thought it might be helpful to look at some of the things most officiants do, and the work involved, to explain
why we charge what we do.
Most people only a generation ago belonged to a church they regularly paid a tithe to, thus helping to
support their religious official regularly. They usually had their wedding officiated by this same pastor, who
had one set ceremony allowed by the church. There was no "personalization" or "customizing" allowed. The
church still charged a fee for the use of the building and the time of minister, even for members.
These days many couples choose to marry someone of a different faith or culture. They might ask the pastor
of a church to perform their ceremony but if they're not members, or haven't attended for a while, they're
likely to get turned down.
More couples want more control and influence on the ceremony itself these days as well. Many couples want
their weddings outdoors, in their own homes, or some other venue that is not the church. Many ministers are
uncomfortable with these ideas, and non-traditional ceremonies, and they will not travel to the venue of
choice for the couple.
An even larger number of people no longer attend churches, and many don't have religious beliefs at all.
Independent clergy, such as myself, with interfaith beliefs that are open and accepting are a great alternative
for couples that can't, or won't, for various reasons, have their wedding in a church.
A few simple examples of the average costs for an average wedding:
Often the Bride's gown will cost as much as $1,000 to $3,000 for that memorable gown for that "one
perfect day". There are several discount bridal wear shops that you should look into to help you save
money, the gowns often cost between $100.00 and $500.00 in these places. A huge savings for a beautiful
Then there are the photos. Most couples want professional photos or video. Expect to pay $1,000 or more
for a good photographer.
And what about a wedding cake? If they want a fantastic one, beautifully decorated, they’re looking at an
average cost of $400.00 dollars. Often the couple does not bat an eye at the prices for wedding cakes.
The invitations are pricey as well, often costing several hundred dollars for less than 100 invitations.
Flowers are another "must have" for most couples. Cost depends on what they’re willing to settle for.
Fresh flowers are not cheap no matter what the season. Artificial flowers are often less expensive if one
makes the bouquets themselves, but they are by no means cheap, especially when you make not only your
own but the maid of honor, bridesmaids and flower girl, too. Don't forget all the men's boutonnières (Groom,
Best man, Groomsmen, Father's and Grandfathers) as well as the Mother's and Grandmother's flowers.
Let’s not forget the music. A CD player with special music can be a money saver, but if a violinist, string
quartet, vocalist, pianist or DJ, is a "must have" that's another pricey addition, often $1,000 or more.
Then there is the reception. The venue, caterer, and decorations all add up to a very large percentage of
your budget, the average cost for this is $10,000.00.
The average couple can easily spend several thousand dollars to have their dream wedding and never think
twice about it. According to the Wedding Report quoted by Perfect Wedding Guide this month, the average
wedding cost (nationwide) is approximately $19,219.00 and couples choosing to marry via the JP (Justice
of the Peace or Judge) increased by 60%. - this is a reflection of the poor economic situation we are all
Cutting back on the number of guests and combining your ceremony and reception venue are good places
to start cutting your costs. Hunting for the "cheapest" officiant could cause more problems for you than it
solves, from getting a poorly done generic ceremony to having the Officiant suddenly cancel on you with little
to no time left to find a replacement. These are questions you should ask every potential officiant you call -
"How many times have you canceled on performing a wedding? What were your reasons for cancelling on a
couple who depended on you to be there and provide the service you agreed to provide?"
Often when it comes to hiring an Officiant to make that dream come true - remember that the ceremony is
not only the heart of your "perfect wedding", it is the part that makes you legally married - there is
almost always a pause followed by something like this: “$$$ dollars? We only need you for 20 minutes, just
to pronounce us husband and wife.” Or "We're spending so much on the wedding already we want
someone who'll give us a really big discount or be free!" Of course, these same couples expect
consultations, and meetings, and attendance at the rehearsal, in addition to performing the actual wedding
If the main wish is to have a fancy party, not to share the joy and celebration with family and friends as the
couple becomes legally married, why not simply have the fancy party? There is no need to use the excuse of
a wedding to justify a fancy party.
What a couple should consider is that an Officiant gives the couple personal consultations, at least once, but
more often many times to assist them in planning the ceremony. E-mails and phone calls often add up to
several hours, just in the planning stages.
Then there is the actual ceremony itself. Some ministers, like me, spend hours writing each wedding
ceremony specifically for each couple we are hired by. Other ministers have a large portfolio of many
different ceremonies for couples to choose from, and even the standard traditional ceremonies have
different versions to pick from.
The couple may want to write their own vows but that is only a small part of the ceremony.
The Officiant still has to write a great deal for it and put it all together in a meaningful way. He/She has to
compose and prepare the ceremony which consists of: Writing a greeting to your family and guests at the
beginning of your ceremony, writing prayers if they are requested, a formal bridal giveaway if that is
desired, addressing marriage as is required by both law and custom, writing vows that are meaningful to the
couple and asking for the vows to be said publicly, discussing the meaning of the wedding rings, blessing
the rings and writing a beautiful exchange of the rings with more vows, more prayers if desired by the
couple, readings by friends or family, music insertions (all orchestrated and timed correctly by the Officiant
within the ceremony so the flow is smooth and seamless), and of course there is the final pronouncement of
being "Husband and Wife".
This takes several hours to write, re-write, and proofread. Frequently the ceremony is then sent to the couple
to look at, and there may be revisions to make before a final approval is given.
If the couple receives a keepsake copy of the ceremony, that has to be created, typed, printed and put
together. Those of us who do give you a keepsake copy of your ceremony do this with special papers
(pretty designs and acid free for long life), at no additional fees regardless of the cost of paper and printing.
We are often asked to rehearse the wedding the night before the actual ceremony, especially if the Bridal
Party is a large one. All of this has probably already taken up 10 -15 hours (or more) just creating the
ceremony itself, putting everything together and meeting with everyone. And remember, the actual ceremony
has not yet taken place.
Many officiants have their own family and often have young children they must arrange care for while they’re
busy meeting with the couple, creating the ceremony, and then performing the ceremony itself. Often we
work far into the night on your ceremony.
There is travel time to and from the rehearsal and/or wedding, which has to be considered. While we are
doing these things for you we cannot work anywhere else. Many of us are willing to go beyond our city to
assist a bride and do her ceremony but we may ask for extra fees depending on the distance requested by
the bridal couple.
Most of us show up at the ceremony venue early to answer any last minute questions and speak to those
who were not at the rehearsal but are in the wedding party. Often we wait beyond the stated ceremony start
times for the Bridal Party to be ready, or for Great Aunt Jane or Uncle Joe to arrive. We calm those who
are nervous, and are diplomatic and work with all the other wedding professionals during this time as well.
We are ready to help with an emergency - from a bride or bridesmaid accidentally tearing her gown, to a
hairdo falling apart, a photographer, caterer or florist who is late arriving, and even an unexpected
rainstorm. The ceremony itself can be touchy - from a ring bearer becoming frightened and running in the
opposite direction, or a small flower girl falling down, to parental ex-spouses being a bit twitchy with each
We also mail or hand-deliver the marriage certificate to the county clerk within a certain time frame if the
couple chooses not to return the certificate themselves.
So when you look at the prices an officiant charges, consider this: You are getting an important
Professional service at very reasonable (even cheap) rates. Your wedding will not produce a legal marriage
without this one person, it will simply be a very expensive party.
If you broke it down into hourly fees you could be paying $2,000 or more for the services you receive from a
good, dedicated, officiant, but you are paying far, far, less than that.
In fact, if you look at a spreadsheet of the costs you have already paid, or have budgeted for your wedding,
you will see that the price your officiant asks is the smallest of all the services you will pay for.
Please remember this: You can get married without the fancy gown, invitations, photos, flowers, cake,
reception . . . But you cannot become legally married without an Officiant, whether it is a Judge or a Minister.
Isn't that the real point of the wedding? To become beautifully, romantically, and legally married?