True Cost of a Wedding Officiant

~ when planning your wedding-day budget, don’t be misled by wedding magazines ~

My niece is getting married September 3rd in a Catholic Church. I was taken aback when my brother (Father of the Bride) told me that he just wrote a check for $600 to use the place. This doesn’t include the “tip” for the priest who will be performing a rote ceremony and speaking a time-worn homily, with names of Bride and Groom inserted.

While I charge $600 to custom design and write a personalized, unique ceremony. Then see it through, traveling two days in a row to the wedding venue of your choosing (which means a lot of personal grooming and dress-up clothing) — where the day before, I will actually run the Rehearsal or else co-run it with your Wedding Coordinator. Showing up to perform your Ceremony at least an hour beforehand and liaisoning with your DJ/musicians, Coordinator, Venue Manager, Photographer, Reader, etc., starting in the weeks ahead…. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. (Click here if you’re interested in all that I provide for a flat fee.)

Yet somehow, the antiquated notion that the Wedding Officiant ought to be doing all this out of some sort of selfless service seems to persist…spread by none other than prominent wedding magazines like The Knot in their 2015 study of  “Average Wedding Budget Breakdown.” In fact, it does involve service! My husband points out that a Cleaning Lady makes more per hour than I do…and that’s one who’s cheap.


This “service” idea must be left over from days of yore…when a Man of the Cloth, or now Woman, appears to perform marriages for free. But that’s just an illusion. You most likely have to belong to his or her Church, where you are expected to make “offerings,” contribute to capital projects, and even volunteer. Belonging to the Church means a lot of your time and mental bandwidth spent attending every week (at least until your wedding is over). (Oh, and attending pre-marital counseling.) Attending means you have to listen and subliminally agree with the beliefs being promulgated…as well as the beliefs not spoken but projected out the other side of whatever he or she is sermonizing about: Sinner, good and evil, heaven and hell, right and wrong. (Guess who usually ends up on the deficit side? Not the preacher.)

It’s weird. Does anyone expect a Wedding Photographer, who makes an average of $2,618 per wedding, or the Venue, which rakes in an average of $14,788 per wedding, to be charging next-to-nothing out of a sense of service?  What if you get married at home or in a park foregoing all the extras, like a professional photographer? That’s the point right there. The one person you absolutely need at your wedding for it to be legal is a licensed Officiant presiding. Yet we are often close to last to be contacted, and our fee — if in line with our creativity, expertise, professionalism and formal training can be perceived as the shakiest value. When truth is, for every minute of the ceremony…I’ve put in at least an hour of my time.

(Now, if you like to rough it and like the idea of having an amateur-photographer friend take your wedding photographs for free, you may also want to tap a friend or family member to perform your Ceremony for free as a licensed Day-Officiant…which I suspect is where The Knot’s budget-breakdown “average price” partially comes from.)

There’s something else I am trying to figure out. Why — after developing such an intimate, immediate relationship with a couple, where we are in constant contact and I am at their beck-and-call leading up to the day — where the Ceremony goes flawlessly and gets lots of compliments — in which the Mother of the Bride tells me how wonderful her daughter thinks I am…. When afterwards, respectfully asked the favor of reviewing me on WeddingWire, about half do not take the minute or three. This feels like a slap in the face, like being dumped with no explanation. It hurts. I am left to wonder if couples expected more from the Ceremony. If they think, That’s all there is? Or did they expect me to be more like a rah-rah Wedding Coordinator (whom I greatly admire for this), rather than how I see my role as providing a calm and quiet presence before the wedding? Or did they think I’d be more The Entertainment, like a Master of Ceremonies such as Chris Rock, rather than my function as being duly authorized to solemnify their marriage under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia? Probably though, couples just want to be done. One Bride whose ceremony I presided over tweeted afterwards, “Best part about being married? Not having to plan a wedding.”

I can only say to those who might have such expectations…unlike the cake, flowers, hors d’oeuvres, lace, decorations and other ephemera which will soon decompose, your Vows, your Ceremony, is the sub-program that will run in the background for the rest of your marriage…and gain more fullness and functionality with time. I can only hope that in the years to come, when memories blur…the Ceremony is what the couple will remember above all and count as the most special part of their wedding day. Because it’s just the two of you up there sharing a timeless dare I say cosmic moment that cannot be captured by a photographer. No…in a Celebrant Ceremony, your love, your beliefs, are captured in words that are recorded in joyous heartsong.

Did people cry? Did you cry? Celebrants, such as myself, don’t record events…we create events. That is, we don’t provide something to be consumed but something to be experienced. And I might add…it’s never too late to review me once you’ve gotten a new appreciation in the fullness of time!

This preamble is to introduce the following blog post excerpt written by another Celebrant Institute alum, Cristina Kollet of Inclusive Ceremonies, who designs and performs marriages in the greater New York City region. While my consultation is free, she is savvy enough to charge for it (click here to see her prices, which are much more in line with the amount of work we Celebrants do than are mine).

One last reason why you should talk with a wedding officiant BEFORE choosing your venue…

Budget.

Just today I was contacted by a groom. Their venue is booked. The wedding is just a few months from now. But the groom is not happy with their very inexpensive officiant. While there is time to find a replacement, there’s no room left in the budget to invest in their ceremony. This is not a position you want to find yourself in.

This happens more often than you’d think and I always feel bad about it. Wedding magazines mislead couples into thinking that the wedding ceremony should be one of the least expensive items in the budget. This may have been true in the past when most weddings were traditional, religious ceremonies with minimal personalization and were covered by church fees.

But times have changed and many wedding officiants (especially certified Life-Cycle Celebrants like myself) are trained professionals, offering custom-designed ceremonies and traveling to the venue of your choice. As with the quality of the other parts of your wedding day, it’s a case of you get what you pay for.

By talking to your wedding officiant as early in the process as possible, you can be prepared to budget for the ceremony you want rather than settling later for the ceremony you can afford with what’s left of your wedding budget.

Your wedding ceremony is the symbolic start of your marriage and the centerpiece of your wedding day. Don’t let it be an afterthought. Consider working with an officiant early to take advantage of their experience and expertise in making sure that the location you choose for your ceremony fits your ceremony plans.

(Click here to read full post)

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