SERVING THE GREATER CHICAGOLAND AREA
"Weddings with Integrity"
Ten Questions to Ask When Interviewing Wedding Officiants
When I meet with couples to talk about their wedding plans the most-often-asked question is, "What should I be asking?" Here is a list of ten common questions couples have asked. You may find them helpful in assessing credentials, integrity, commitment, and (more importantly) the legal ability of an officiant to serve your needs.The article that follows may even help you formulate a few of your own questions. You may also find this video helpful as it is a portion of a webinar on this subject.
- Are you ordained?
This should be asked of every officiant you are considering. Ordination is the official recognition by a religious body that one is recognized as legitimate clergy.
- Did you attend a Seminary?
Attending a Seminary is the most usual route to a career in ministry. This question can also provide insight into the legitimacy of credentials claimed. If the officiant you are considering has not attended a seminary, maybe your first red flag should be rising.
- Do you hold a ministry degree?
Most mainstream clergy have obtained formal ministry training. Degrees such as Master of Ministry, Master of Divinity, and Doctor of Ministry are common to clergy.
- What religious organization provided your ordination?
Here is a good question to help weed out Joey-from-Friends types. This inquiry should include a point-blank question about whether the credential was obtained through Internet sources. The Handbook of Denominations in the United States, now in its 13th edition, includes listings of about 200 legitimate religious denominations. Your prospective officiant should know if his/her ordaining body is listed. If the ordaining body is not listed, it may be time to raise one more flag.
- How long have you been ordained?
The Internet is relatively young. The wedding industry has been flooded in recent years with "clergy" having been created online for fee. They lurk online with official-sounding names that begin with Pastor. If those you meet have been ordained within the last five to ten years, you may want to ask further questions about legitimacy.
- Are you involved in a ministry outside of just performing weddings?
Using the experience of the lawyers cited earlier, you may want to avoid being married by someone who became a minister for the sole purpose of marrying people. This question should also help reveal whether the clergy you are considering are motivated by a calling to serve or an opportunity to gain a few dollars. You may also ask about their occupation outside of performing weddings. You may find the would-be officiant actually serves as an insurance salesperson, mechanic or other occupation unrelated to ministry.
- Have you ever missed a wedding?
This question should also lead you to find out how many weddings the prospective officiant performs over a busy weekend. Do the math and assess the risk of a late arrival.
- Are you going to be there or send someone else on our wedding day?
Make sure you do not miss this question. Couples seldom consider the possibility that they are meeting with someone who may provide a substitute on their wedding day. If you are comfortable with your decision - that the one you've met with is "right" for you - get in writing that he/she will be there!
- Can we design our own ceremony?
If your officiant is primarily committed to filling the calendar, there may be a reluctance to allow you full control over your wedding. If your officiant is open to you customizing your celebration, be sure to ask the next question.
- What is the process for creating our ceremony?
Obtain a clear understanding of this creative process before you commit to an officiant. This will help avoid surprises as you lead into the weeks before the wedding.
BONUS QUESTION: Will our marriage be legal?
Here is a list of people that can legally perform a marriage in Illinois...
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- a judge of a court of record or a retired judge of a court of record;
- a judge of the Court of Claims;
- the county clerk in counties having 2 million or more inhabitants (Cook County);
- a public official whose powers include solemnizing marriages;
- or an officiant performing the marriage in accordance with the principles of any religious denomination (and) the officiant be in good standing with his religious denomination...
Great Wedding! But Was It Legal? was the title of a recent news story on the question of whether the person performing your wedding is (or was) legally able to do so. The story shared the experience of a couple (one a Chicago lawyer and the other a law student) that chose an outdoor venue for their ceremony. The couple assumed it was legal to have their wedding performed by a friend who had been ordained online. They later learned that the state in which they married was one of a number of places that don't recognize marriages performed by someone who became a minister for the sole purpose of marrying people. The writer states, "With so many people turning to friends and relatives to perform their marriage ceremonies, more are bound to discover that they may not be legally married." The story quoted the Chicago lawyer saying, "The most important thing to us was that someone we knew and liked would marry us." He went on to say, "If two lawyers can be duped into getting married illegally, then anybody can."
Another lawyer specializing in family law said, "If you get married by someone who isn't able to marry you, that's a problem... If you don't have a legally recognized marriage, then your ability to get relief in the event of a divorce goes away." The writer noted inheritance rights could also be in jeopardy, IRS joint returns may be at issue, and most states do not recognize common-law marriage so "time together" may not legalize the union.
One State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in a divorce case that a marriage and prenuptial agreement were void because the officiant's credentials were not legitimate. The court concluded, "...a minister whose title and status is so casually and cavalierly acquired does not qualify for a license to marry."
When a couple raised the question about who can officiate a marriage in Illinois, the officials at the Cook County Clerk's Marriage Unit, replied by saying you cannot simply have a friend get ordained on the Internet like Joey on Friends -- they must be officially recognized by an actual congregation. They explained the law in Illinois states that to be legally married; a judge, an ordained minister of a church, or rabbi of a synagogue, must perform the ceremony.
Beyond the legal aspect of the wedding, most couples consider the integrity of the marriage celebration. Just as you would not want a poorly credentialed surgeon to operate on you - - you surely would not want a "gray-market-credentialed" officiant to perform the most important event in your life.