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Officiating Weddings & Funerals: Similarities & Differences for Professional Officiants

Published Friday, Feb. 9th, 2024


A group of loved ones gather around a casket during a funeral ceremony, joined by the officiant
Photo: shironosov / iStock

Want to expand your current wedding officiant practice to include funeral & memorial services? Here’s what to expect!

 

 

If you’ve officiated a few weddings and are ready to expand your officiant practice to reach more people, you may consider adding funeral and memorial services to your resume. 

 

You’ll be happy to hear that there are more similarities than differences between these types of officiating! Although weddings and funerals are very different types of ceremonies, the skills needed to perform them are much the same, and there’s always a need for compassionate funeral officiants. 

 

Many AMM Ministers tell us that they are asked by a friend or relative to preside over a memorial service or ‘celebration of life’ at least once in their careers. Many others are drawn to the work as a way of celebrating all milestones in a person’s life, not just marriages and vow renewals.

 

To help you gain confidence as a funeral officiant, we reached out to AMM Minister Keri Klein, a professional wedding and memorial officiant in western New York. 

 

Keri is the owner of Flower City Nuptials and has been a professional wedding officiant for nearly a decade. She recently expanded her business to include funeral and memorial services, too. 

 

While expanding her services, she noticed several important similarities and differences between leading the two types of ceremonies. 

 

Here’s what she told us! 

(Quotes have been edited for length and clarity)

 

CLose up of a guest reading a speech at a funeral service outdoors

Photo: Kameleon007 / iStock

 

 

Similarities & Differences: 8 Tips for Officiating Funerals for Professional Officiants

 


1. ‘Word of mouth’ is still the best marketing you can find

 

Most wedding officiants get their start when they’re asked to officiate a ceremony for a friend or relative, and their practice grows through word of mouth as happy couples sing their praises. 

 

This is the same experience for many funeral officiants: many people are asked to officiate their first memorial by a friend or loved one, and gain more opportunities to serve the community through word of mouth. 

 


2. You are a ‘Master of Ceremonies’

 

Whether officiating a wedding, funeral, or memorial service, an officiant serves as the ‘master of ceremonies.’ This is the biggest similarity between the two!

 

As ‘master of ceremonies,’ you are the person everyone else will look to for instructions about where to go, where to stand, and when each part of the ceremony will take place. You’re the ‘director’ of the event, so it’s up to you to set the pace and tone of the ceremony. 

 

Keri says, “In both officiating weddings and presiding over a funeral or memorial service, you are the master of ceremonies. You’re the one that’s in control, you’re the one that’s making sure that people know where to go. And you have similar components [to direct], you can have readings… and you can have rituals.”

 


3. Less interaction between the officiant and guests during a funeral or memorial service 

 

During a wedding, an officiant interacts closely with the couple getting married throughout the ceremony. There are prompts, like ‘repeat after me,’ or instructions to exchange rings or toasts. There might also be interaction between the officiant and the ring bearer, the couple’s parents, or members of the wedding party. It’s a lot of back and forth! 

 

This is not the case when officiating a funeral or memorial, however. During these ceremonies, an officiant will do most or all of the speaking. There’s usually less interaction between the officiant and guests during a traditional memorial service.

 

Keri says, “I think the biggest [difference] is the base of the ceremony itself. [In a wedding], you know, it’s interactive — with the bride and the groom, or bride and bride, groom and groom…” But in a funeral or memorial, “when you’re doing the body of the ceremony…it’s not as interactive. You’re not asking for ‘I do’s or asking them to repeat parts.”

 

 

4. Grief can add an element of unpredictability 

 

Funerals and memorial services can bring sadness, grief, and unpredictable emotions. This means that loved ones who planned on speaking during the service might become overwhelmed by strong feelings and change their mind at the last minute, or they might want to participate at a different time than originally planned. 

 

In this way, funerals are less scripted than weddings, but one thing remains the same: Officiants should plan for the unexpected and go with the flow.

 

Keri says, “In a wedding, if you invite other people up to speak, it's very scripted. Most people don't have improvised parts, those are more for the toast. [But for funerals,] because of the nature of it… it’s not just grief, but also just the mental exhaustion of making all the decisions and trying to do right by the person who's no longer with us…

 

You try to get an idea of like, what they're going to speak about…[but] who knows when they get up there to speak, if they're actually going to be able to do it? If it's going to be cut short... Because, of course, you never know what kind of feelings you're going to have.”

 


5. Who writes the eulogy? It depends…

 

‘Who writes the eulogy?’ This question is a lot like asking ‘who writes the wedding ceremony script,’ because the answer is: It depends! Sound familiar?

 

As most professional wedding officiants will tell you, sometimes a couple wants to write and plan their ceremony on their own, and sometimes they want the officiant to handle all the creative heavy-lifting and do it for them. 

 

This is just the same when officiating funerals and memorials: Sometimes loved ones will want to write a eulogy for the deceased, and sometimes they’ll want the officiant to gather stories and write the eulogy for them. 

 

Related: Who Actually Writes the Wedding Ceremony?

 


6. Find the right tone: Share an audio recording of the script with loved ones before the ceremony

 

Unlike most weddings, funerals and memorial services are often delivered with a somber and serious tone. This means that how you speak and the tone you use are very important. 

 

Instead of giving loved ones a written copy of your service script to review before the ceremony, consider sharing an audio recording. Record yourself reading the script out loud so that the family can hear exactly how the service will sound. 

 

Keri says, “I think there's a certain amount of ‘gravitas’ that you need to have going into a funeral service… I’m [getting into] the habit of doing audio recordings, rather than sending a written script for funerals, because I think that the tone is important. 

 

It's really easy with weddings to have that jovial cadence to your voice, that excitement — but you want to make sure that you have the right tone when you're talking about their loved one that's no longer here. So doing an audio recording, and sending it to them [is a better way to demonstrate that]. And not necessarily going over with them one to one, but letting them listen to it, process it — sometimes they need to listen to it, walk away, and then listen to it again. 

 

But because [planning a funeral] is so short on time, usually, it's more important to make sure that you have the information right and that the tone is right. And I think, a lot of people when they're grieving, [aren’t] gonna say, like, ‘wow, that was the best funeral I ever went to, like, you are an amazing speaker at a funeral.’ They just want to make sure that they are — in that final act of love for that person — that they're doing right by them… 

 

[It’s about] checking in with them and making sure that all of those pieces, all the things that they want included, are there and that you're delivering it with, you know, professionalism and care.”

 


7. Less time to prepare: Funerals happen quickly, but you’ll have more time to write a ‘celebration of life’ or memorial service

 

Weddings are sometimes planned a year or more in advance, which can give an officiant a lot of time to prepare the ceremony. On the other hand, funerals are held only a few days after someone dies. Funeral officiants must plan a service quickly, gathering personal stories and meaningful information from loved ones in a very short amount of time.

 

Falling somewhere in-between these two timelines are memorial services and ‘celebrations of life;’ because there is no body or casket present during these types of ceremonies, they can take place weeks or even months after a loved one dies. In these cases, an officiant will have more time to prepare a personalized ceremony for loved ones.

 

Keri says, “I think a really big difference is the amount of time you have to prepare. Usually, when somebody is planning a wedding, unless they're doing a pop-up wedding or an elopement, they usually have at least a month, if not longer. I mean, some couples have like a year. And so if you're writing the ceremony for them…[you] have lots of time to get it right, and to go back and forth with them, and to do revisions... 

 

But when someone passes away, it's a very quick turnaround. And you have to be really skilled at listening to what the family wants, or the loved ones want, and want to share with you, and quickly put that together into something that is a beautiful testimony to that person's life. So it's a much faster turnaround.

 

If it's a celebration of life, there's usually a lot more time because, you know, they're maybe waiting for the weather to be better so that people can travel, or waiting for a milestone date. Whereas an actual funeral, the person has just passed, and it may be only a few days [to prepare].”

 

 

8. Consider a separate website and social media presence for wedding and memorial services

 

Some professional officiants will find it easier to keep all their offerings in one place – weddings, funerals, baby-blessings, naming ceremonies, and all the rest, listed on a single website. This is a common practice for certified Life Cycle Celebrants and other officiants who regularly celebrate a variety of life milestones.  

 

But it’s important to acknowledge that many brides and grooms don’t want to be reminded of death when planning their weddings… 

 

Which means you may want to start a separate website or social media account for your funeral and officiant services. 

 

Related: How to Start a Website for Your Wedding Officiant Business

 

Related: How to write a compelling minister profile or personal bio
 

...

 

 

Headshot of Keri KleinOfficiant Keri Klein

 

Keri is a professional wedding officiant with nearly a decade of experience helping couples say 'I do' to love. She's the owner and lead officiant of Flower City Nuptials in Rochester, New York.

 

"To the outside world, I’m an English teacher and mom to two. But I am also a wedding officiant and a major sap who is unapologetically in love with other people’s love — something my husband reminds me often. I’m always inspired by the beauty of love, and I strive to capture that in my writings.  I have a passion for the written word and for crafting beautiful ceremonies that will be remembered for years to come."  Read more about Keri on her website. 

 

Connect with Keri: 

FlowerCityNuptials.com / Facebook / Instagram @flowercitynuptials / Pinterest

 


 

Read Next: 

 

 

 

Read all Funeral & Memorial Service Scripts & Ideas

 

 

Candle and flowers in a memorial

Honor a loved one with this thoughtful non religious script for a memorial service or funeral ceremony. Read the full article here. 

 


 

 

Wait, why are we talking about memorial services on American Weddings?

 

We spend a lot of time talking about wedding ceremonies here on the American Weddings blog. This makes sense... Marriage ceremonies (and wedding officiants) are awesome! And they’re our primary focus and passion. 

 

But AMM Ministers don’t just marry people. When they choose to, their roles can extend much further, supporting their communities in important ways, and celebrating not just new beginnings, but endings, too. This deserves to be highlighted! 

 

Ordination through American Marriage Ministries gives our ministers all of the same rights and protections held by ministers ordained through traditional brick-and-mortar churches. As an AMM Minister (or Reverend, Pastor, or Officiant, whatever title you choose), your right to conduct religious ceremonies of all forms is protected by the religious non-establishment clause of the first amendment. While many of our ministers only conduct wedding ceremonies, others also conduct baptisms, funerals, baby blessings, and other meaningful rites. 

 

Learn more about what it means to be an AMM Minister by visiting our FAQ page

 


 


Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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