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Last Minute Wedding: Officiating a Ceremony on Short Notice, or Same Day!

Published Monday, Jan. 18th, 2021


Illustrations by Jessica Levey

Everything you need to know about officiating a wedding at the last minute

 

 

The phone rings, and the voice on the other end tells you they want to get married soon -- later that day, in fact -- but they don't have an officiant. 

 

“Can you marry us?” they ask. “On such short notice?” 

 

Although lots of wedding ceremonies are planned months in advance, many others happen spur of the moment. Especially now, with a rush of minimonies and elopements following all those holiday engagements. Love is spontaneous and unpredictable, and sometimes waiting just isn’t an option! 

 

There are other cases too, of officiants getting sick or other wedding plans falling through, putting couples in the tough spot of finding an officiant fast

 

 

What do you do when a couple asks you to officiate a wedding on short notice?

 

You say yes, of course! 

 

_________  _________

 

 

 

How to officiate a wedding on short notice or same-day

 


Performing a same-day elopement or ceremony on short notice can be surprisingly rewarding! Feel confident saying yes to officiating by following these seven simple steps:

 

 

1. First things first: Ordination, registration, and marriage license!

 

If you aren’t already ordained, do that first for free with our online application, linked below.

 

 

Then check the laws in your state to see if you need to register as a wedding officiant to legally perform marriages. This is only required in some states, and may take a few days or longer to complete. Be sure to click the state where the ceremony will be held in the link below to learn more. 

 

 

Remember: The couple must have a marriage license issued in advance of the ceremony. This is the couple's responsiblity, and it's important to make sure they have their license before you perform the ceremony. Some states have a marriage license waiting period, and same-day weddings won't be possible there. Click the link below to learn more.

 

 

2. Come with script suggestions ready to go

 

If there’s enough time before the wedding to talk with the couple about the type of ceremony they want, bring two or three pre-written sample scripts to offer as options and let the couple choose their favorite parts of each one. You can use a sample wedding ceremony script from our library, or pick one of your favorites from a past ceremony. 

 

If you’re meeting them for the first time at the wedding ceremony, choose a simple, basic script  (one that has the most popular ceremony parts: opening remarks, vows, ring exchange, closing remarks, and pronouncement). Change the words that need some tweaking, and you’re on your way! If possible, arrive early to run through the parts of the ceremony with them ahead of time. 

 

If the couple has already been working with an officiant (who is no longer available), they may have a script of their own ready to go, too. If this is the case, read through it a few times to get familiar with it.

 

 

wedding ceremony script, what to say at a last minute wedding

 

Sample scripts and templates can easily be modified to fit your couple's style.

 

 

3. Wear something ‘safe’ and stylish

 

When you’re deciding what to wear to officiate a last minute wedding, think stylish and 'safe,' or conventional.

 

Choose neutral, solid colors, and clothing that fits well and is comfortable to move around in. A simple black or gray suit or dress, or clean dress pants and fashionable shirt or blouse usually work best. Find more suggestions in the article linked below.

 

 

Keep your accessories simple and avoid any big pops of color, but make sure that you still feel like you. Pack two pairs of shoes: comfortable dress shoes and a backup pair for trudging through wet grass, mud, or up a hill (if necessary). 

 

Even better, bring a pre-packed Wedding Emergency Kit with you!

 

 

4. Show up early and prepared

 

If possible, arrive an hour early to the venue. This will give you time to meet the couple and run through a quick rehearsal so they know what to expect.

 

If you're on an even tighter deadline, just show up as early as possible and arrive prepared with a ceremony script, a black ink pen, and a smile. Take a moment to introduce yourself, learn their names, review their marriage license, and share in their excitement.

 

The more time you have ahead of the ceremony the better, but even a few moments can make all the difference. Wedding day excitement is contagious! 

 

wedding officiants should get to a ceremony early to perform marriage or an elopement

 

Arriving early to the ceremony venue helps reduce stress and avoid mistakes or mishaps.

 

 

5. Ask the couple how they want to be pronounced married

 

One of the most important changes to make when using a template or sample officiant script is to personalize the pronouncement.

 

Some couples can’t wait to be announced ‘husband and wife’ or ‘husband and husband,' but others prefer a modern take, like ‘partners for life.’ Even a, ‘I now pronounce you happily married!’ works best for some couples. 

 

Related: 12 Creative Pronouncement Ideas for Your Wedding Ceremony

 

Make any needed changes to the pronouncement and any gendered or traditional language when personalizing any templates or pre-written ceremonies.

 


6. Bring a blank commemorative marriage certificate

 

A decorative marriage certificate makes a same-day wedding feel special! This simple gift from a wedding officiant can make the ceremony feel more formal and more 'real' to couples, even if things move quickly. Have a few decorative certificates on hand to bring to a spontaneous ceremony, and you'll see how much couples appreicate them! This simple act will set you apart as an officiant, and add to a couple’s memories of the day. 

 

 

marriage certificate, custom, commemorative, is a special keepsake for couples on the wedding day

 

Bring a blank marriage certificate with you to add a special touch to the ceremony. 

 

 

7. Bring a pen! 

 

Whatever you do, whatever you wear, make sure you bring an ink pen! 

 

And not just any pen -- a pen with black ink. Signing the marriage license is one of the most important things you’ll do that day, and you don’t want to have to run around looking for something to do it with.

 

Many states have strict guidelines about the color of ink you can use to fill out forms, so the safest bet is to always use black ink no matter where you live.

 

 

 

Sum it up:

 

Last minute wedding ceremonies are a great way to get practice officiating if you’re new to the trade. They’re fun, low pressure, and you’re often a wedding day hero -- coming to a couple’s rescue if their original officiant cancels. Say yes to officiating!

 

Read Asked to Officiate for step by step instruction on how to perform marriage. 

 

 


 

You might also like: 

 

 

A bride and groom run down a city street in their wedding clothes

Need to get married in a hurry? See the shortest officiant script possible here.

 

 


 


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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