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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 when you answer, the voice on the other end tells you they’re about to get married -- later that day, or maybe a day coming soon -- but they have no officiant. 


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


While lots of weddings have months of planning leading up to the big day, plenty of others happen spur of the moment. Especially now, with a rush of minimonies and elopements following the holiday engagements, and couples all over the country tired of waiting out the pandemic to say I do. 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! 



(If you aren’t already ordained, do that first for free with our online application. Then check the rules in your state to see if you need to register as a wedding officiant to legally perform marriages. The couple must have a marriage license issued in advance of the ceremony. Check to see if your state has a waiting period.) 


_________  _________




How to officiate a wedding on short notice


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


1. Come with script suggestions ready to go


If there’s enough time before the wedding day to talk with the couple about the type of ceremony they want, bring two or three pre-written sample scripts to offer as options. You can use one from our library, find samples online, or pick one of your favorites from past ceremonies. Choose something modern and something traditional, and let them pick their favorite parts from each. 


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) and arrange to show up early to run through the parts of the ceremony with them ahead of time. Change the words that need some tweaking, and you’re on your way!


If the couple has already been working with an officiant, they may have a script of their own ready to go, too. If this is the case, be sure to 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.



2. Wear something ‘safe’ and stylish


When you’re deciding what to wear to officiate a last minute wedding, think stylish and safe. 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. 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 pair that will work well if you need to walk through wet grass, mud, or up a hill. 


Even better, bring a pre-packed Wedding Emergency Kit with you. Consider this your MacGyver accessory.


(Read What to Wear (and Not Wear) as a Wedding Officiant for more suggestions.)



3. Show up early


If possible, give yourself an hour to meet the couple and run through a quick rehearsal so they know what to expect. At the very least, take a few minutes to introduce yourself, learn their names, review the 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.



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


One of the most important changes to make when using a template or sample 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 wedded!’ 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.


5. Bring a blank commemorative marriage certificate


If a couple’s eloping or getting married on short notice, a marriage certificate gifted to them by their officiant will add a special touch, and can make the whole thing feel more celebratory and ‘real.’ Having a few of these on hand to bring to these types of spontaneous occasions 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. 



6. Bring a pen! 


Whatever you do, whatever you wear, make sure you bring a 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 rules on 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. 




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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

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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