Sealed with a kiss!

Sealed with a kiss!
Laura & Chris' Wedding at JCRaulston Arboretum

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Wedding Officiant’s Fee

Here is another excellent article written by Maureen Thomson owner of Lyssabeth’s Colorado Wedding Officiants:

I was flabbergasted to receive an email the other day, chastising me for our $369 Classic Custom ceremony fee. According to the writer’s calculations, the fee for a “15 minute ceremony” resulted in us obtaining the astronomical hourly rate of $1,476! Wowza! If that were true, I’d be writing this article from my summer mansion on the shores of the Mediterranean while my cabana boy massaged my tootsies!

Couples often have to rein in their wedding day festivities to accommodate their budget. And make no mistake about it–the wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry with the average cost of a wedding hovering above $30,000. A professional job well done is worth a fair price, however, and it seems our unhappy writer above was unaware of the time, work and expense put forth by a high-quality officiant.

So, if you’ve been secretly wondering why the rate for some officiants seems high for the amount of time it takes to deliver your ceremony, let me clarify things.. First of all, let’s look at the actual time that is included:

Most custom ceremonies do not last 15 minutes as our friend suggested, but closer to 30 minutes. Officiants generally arrive up to 30 minutes prior to the ceremony to facilitate last minute coordination, and stay an additional 15-20 minutes after the completion of the ceremony to sign the license, congratulate the couple and pose for photos. The initial getting acquainted meeting lasts 45 minutes to an hour. It takes an hour to write the ceremony. (I write the ceremony only if a couple is having a small private elopement type wedding. For the large weddings I guide my couples in writing their own ceremony by furnishing them a wealth of beautiful, diverse wedding ceremony material I have collected over the past 11 years. Then I take their choices and weave them into a beautiful flowing ceremony. I also write the couple's "story" from their answers to questions I send them. I spend at least 10 hours working on that kind of ceremony.) Driving time to and from the ceremony must be included. There is generally an additional 30-45 minutes of email time during the course of our pre-ceremony relationship to answer questions. We advise couples on everything from marriage licenses to the name change process to wedding etiquette.

So, factoring in the above actually brings our “15 Minute Ceremony” up to 5 hours of time (or more) on the part of the officiant. Still, our frugal friend might howl that brings us to an hourly average of $74–unjustifiable to many. So, let’s take the following expenses into account. (In my capacity as a therapist, my time is worth $100 per hour!)

How did our fine fellow find us? Through one of the wedding sites upon which we advertise. This does not come for free. Nor does our website that we pay to design, maintain and host in order to give prospective clients complete information on our services as well as access to other helpful resources.

Add in the cost of gasoline, car insurance and maintenance to get us to the ceremony on time (always a plus!), office expenses, ministerial vestments, binders, phone costs, bank fees, postage, business taxes, membership dues, paper, ink, postage and that fancy black pen that you get to use to sign your license!

All of this is difficult to quantify and will vary from officiant to officiant. And of course, the cost needs to be spread across all of the bookings that an officiant acquires in any given month. Let’s take a conservative estimate and say that the above costs average approximately $30 per wedding booked. This brings us down to a more respectable $44 per hour. But wait! We have forgotten to include the wedding resources to which each couple has access in order to write their ceremony. Most officiants who’ve been writing ceremonies for years have compiled a vast wealth of options for vows, blessings, readings, etc, as well as some great creative ideas for use in the ceremony. Value? Well, we sell our ceremony resources, for $50, so let’s assume that is a safe bet. Lopping that off the top of the original $369 brings our officiant’s hourly rate down to a more reasonable $34.00 per hour.

Now, our fine fellow could certainly have his best friend, Bud, obtain a quickie online ordination and perform the wedding ceremony for the compensation of a six-pack. That would be one way to save the cost of an officiant and is a viable option for many. However, before you go call up the Bud-ster, you might want to think about what comes with that $34.00 per hour fee.

A professional wedding officiant is going to be able to handle anything that comes along on the day of the wedding. It’s not as simple as showing up and reading the script. Consider the following mishaps that have happened to couples whom I’ve wed: microphones die during the ceremony, bridal party members faint, ex-spouses feud (openly!), brides and grooms cry uncontrollably during their vows, flower girls get stung by bees, Dads need reassurance, lines get flubbed by the bride and groom, the ring bearer throws up on his way down the aisle. A thunderstorm unleashes halfway through the ceremony, Unity Candles won’t light. It goes on and on.

And then there are the last minute details–coordinating with the music providers, the photographer and the venue staff. Bridal party members need to be lined up and inevitably some key person is in the bathroom come ceremony start time. Is the Unity Candle lighter in place? Where are the roses for the rose ceremony? They were forgotten? No problem, the officiant plucks some out of a centerpiece and saves the day. (Or goes and buys a forgotten candle lighter and lights 100 floating candles before the service starts for a candlelight wedding!) Does the best man have the rings? Oh dear! The reader forgot her reading–good thing the officiant has an extra copy. Who has the marriage license? Which side is the bride’s side and which is the groom’s? The FOB (father of bride) is MIA. Oh, there he is–on the balcony having a cigarette with his girlfriend (who by the way can’t stand the ex and refuses to sit in the same row). The bride, starting to stress, turns to her officiant, who offers her a reassuring smile. All is well.

The ceremony is filled with wonderfully creative ideas that the officiant has provided. It is delivered by a proficient public speaker who projects loudly enough for even those in the back row to hear. (I actually bring my professional Fender Passport sound system with me to weddings {included in my fee}unless there is a DJ who can provide a sound system into which I plug my theater microphone. My sound system and all its components cost me about $1,500--but saves my couples the expense of renting one for their wedding so that all the guests can hear their beautiful ceremony.) Along the way, the officiant has offered support, guidance, and encouragement. A professional wedding officiant is equal parts emcee, etiquette adviser, coordinator, script-writer, organizer, frayed nerve-soother and legal resource.

 The wedding officiant is one of the lowest wedding vendor fees that a couple will pay, yet having a bad one can ruin what should be the couple’s most special day. While we respect the right of each couple to prioritize their wedding spending, it is always surprising when a couple spends copious amounts of money on things like cake, cutesy favors and limousine, only to seek a bare bones ceremony–which is the heart of the wedding day. Down the road, I think you will want to remember the words of commitment you spoke as being meaningful and poignant as opposed to how yummy your cake was or that you had an open bar at the reception.

Beware the officiant who charges a ridiculously low fee, does not require a deposit or doesn’t issue a contract. I can’t tell you how many calls we get from panicked brides because their “professional” wedding officiant backed out of the wedding a week before. If you haven’t given them money and signed a contract, then the deal is not sealed. Here’s the bottom line: expect to pay a fair price for a professional service. Then, sit back and allow your officiant to show you how to create a wedding ceremony that upon which you will look back and smile about for many years to come!

(Maureen Thomson is a wedding officiant and owner of Lyssabeth’s Colorado Wedding Officiants. Visit her website at, or

1 comment:

Lyssabeth's Wedding Officiants said...

Kayelily - Thank you for posting this article and helping to promote the word that the officiant is such a key part (and an all too often overlooked one) of the couple's wedding day. I often tell couples--if your photographer, florist or cake-baker are unreliable on your wedding day, that would be very sad, but it wouldn't stop the wedding from happening. However, if your officiant is unreliable or nonprofessional, you're in big trouble!

Long story short--this is one area where a couple doesn't want to scrimp on quality!