Dear Wedding Planner,
Wedding planners and wedding officiants both want each couple they work with to have a wonderful wedding day. Smooth-running, stress-free. They want to focus their efforts on the happiness of the couple. Then why do most of the officiants I know dread weddings that have wedding planners attached to them?
It’s because, all too often, wedding day activities degenerate into a power struggle between wedding planner and celebrant. This kind of stress is the last thing our couple needs.
How power struggles happen
Power struggles between planner and officiant happen when they come to the wedding day with differing understandings about their relationship with the couple and expectations about their roles on wedding day.
Vendors vs. escorts
It’s important to understand whether the couple you are working with considers their officiant to be a vendor or an escort. They don’t have a relationship with their vendors. They do have a relationship with their escorts.
- Vendors have a definitive, concrete job to do for their customers. Does the couple need chairs? They will rent the couple chairs. Does the couple need cupcakes? They will bake cupcakes. Do the groomsmen need tuxedos? They will rent the groomsmen tuxedos. Vendor will work with a couple to ensure that the chairs/cupcakes/dress are tailored to meet the couple’s desires. That is where their relationship with their customers ends.
- Escorts walk alongside companions on a journey. The companions they accompany are partners, intimates, comrades — not customers. The relationship they cultivate with their couple is deeper and broader than that of a vendor.
Does your couple consider their officiant a vendor or an escort? If your couple’s relationship with their officiant is deeper than that which they have with their DJ or caterer, do not treat their officiant as a vendor.
Does your couple’s officiant consider herself a vendor or an escort? Read here about the two basic types of officiants.
Event planning vs. ministry
You need to understand the sort of work the wedding officiant thinks she is doing in order to figure out how to communicate with her. Does she think she is facilitating an event or doing ministry? Does she think her work is important or sacred? How important does the officiant think the wedding ceremony is as a part of the overall activities of the day? Is the wedding ceremony the be-all and end-all? Is it merely prelude to the reception?
It’s likely that the bridal couple have chosen an officiant in reflection of their values, and you’ll be able to take some of your cues from them about whether the wedding is merely about the wedding or represents the threshold to their marriage. If they have been working with their officiant on marriage planning (aka premarital counseling), their relationship with that officiant is stronger than that of a vendor.
Are officiants vendors?
The relationship the officiant has developed with the couple is a measure of how personally invested the officiant is in the couple and also in the wedding celebration. You need to honor the relationship.
An officiant who is not personally invested might not expect to have to show up for a rehearsal. Or she might expect to participate in a rehearsal, but not to be in charge of a rehearsal. She might not expect to even be in charge of the wedding. Or…She may be so involved with the couple and their ceremony that she expects to be fully in charge of the rehearsal and the wedding ceremony.
Don’t make assumptions. If your couple’s relationship with their officiant is deeper than their relationship with their caterer, do not include the officiant on your blanket email to all the vendors. Reach out to her individually.
Imagine an officiant who has just spent the last six months facilitating pre-marital counseling with a couple, dealing with intimate and delicate subjects. They’ve talked about family history and dynamics. They’ve talked about spirituality, sexual relations, child-rearing, financial issues. They’ve spent several meetings strengthening their communication and conflict resolution skills. There may have been some tears shed. That officiant does not consider him or herself to be a “vendor.” This officiant is involved. The officiant is a member of the wedding party.
- Imagine what you are implying about the journey this officiant has been on with this couple when when you insist that all communications with the couple be through you.
- Imagine what you saying about the officiant’s officiant’s intimate relationship with this couple when you forbid her from entering the bride’s dressing room before the wedding, because you are “protecting” the bride.
- Imagine what you’re communicating about the officiant’s personal investment in this couple when you dismiss her at the end of the ceremony, the way you dismiss the florist or the guy who set up the chairs.
The wedding day
What role should the officiant play on wedding day? Most officiants would be grateful to be invited to the reception but have no interest in getting involved in anything but the wedding ceremony. (I, myself, however, do appreciate a heads-up if the couple wants me to say a prayer before dinner.)
Ask the couple — or the officiant — what they have talked about vis-a-vis the ceremony. Have they planned an order of service? Have they talked about the processional, recessional, and receiving line? Have they discussed microphones and music? The more planning the officiant has done with the couple, the more confident you can be that the officiant expects to be “in charge” of the wedding ceremony, including the rehearsal of the wedding ceremony. Does she expect that the entire ceremony, from processional to receiving line, should be her purview? Or is her only concern that the couple somehow make their way to the altar and she doesn’t care how?
The time to clarify expectations is not on the wedding day or even the rehearsal day. It is weeks before. Decide to work with the officiant, and develop a communication approach the best meets the couple’s needs.
Wedding days are stressful. For couples, for their officiants, their wedding planners, their caterers, their florists, the venue managers – everyone is anxious and wants things to be perfect. The couple wants to know that everything’s under control, but the last thing a couple needs is to have their wedding planner and their officiant locking horns on what is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives.
How to prevent conflict with an officiant
What I tell couples in their premarital counseling, and what I’ll tell you here is that conflict happens when people have expectations of each other and don’t make those expectations known until there’s a “situation.” Then they have to deal with their disappointment that they’re not on the same page with each other and they need to deal with the situation. The way to prevent conflict is to share your expectations with each other before “situations” arise.
- At least one month before the wedding, ask your couple if it’s okay to contact the officiant. Invite the officiant out for coffee or something.
- Have a talk about what you plan on doing for this couple, and ask the officiant about what she plans on doing for this couple. This will give you the answers to those three questions.
- Ask about logistics, or ask when it would be a good time to talk about logistics. By logistics, I mean:
- Who will do what at the rehearsal
- What time each of you is going to show up at the hall on wedding day
- Who is going to do what in terms of hall preparation on wedding day (especially vis-à-vis ritual items, like candles, chalice, communion wafers)
- If the officiant knows more about the hall than you do, ask for tips (e.g., runners, candles)
- Agree on what things the two of you can manage between you on wedding day without bothering the bride/groom
- Agree on boundaries
- Agree to make yourselves available to each other
In other words, agree to be on the same team. And I’ll repeat, the day to do all of this negotiation is not on the wedding day or even on rehearsal day. It’s weeks beforehand, so that you and the officiant arrive at the rehearsal as united behind a common purpose.
A wedding is not about whether the officiant’s work is more important than the wedding planner’s work or vice versa. The work of both is to create a splendid experience for their couple as they take the next step on their journey together.
I show up for my weddings one-to-two hours before the wedding ceremony, because part of my work is to minister to the couple. To hold their nervous anxiety for them, to share their joy and concerns with them. To ensure that, up to the very moment they make their promises to one another, their wedding ceremony reflects their deepest values. I’m not a vendor.
Thanks for all you do,