November 14, 2015
Wedding Officiants Cost
Expert Advice from Wedding Officiant
Starlene Joyner Burns
How Much Should You Pay a Wedding Officiant?
Unless it’s raining money, people want to know; just how much they should be paying a wedding officiant to officiate their ceremony.
There are ministers who provide wedding services outside their church as a way of serving their flock or earning extra income. Therefore, you should not expect wedding officiants cost to be equal to clergy on payroll at a church.
Wedding Officiant Credentials
The internet these days is exploding with “instant clergy” who received their ordination online (Universal Life Church (ULC) or some other institution that offers immediate ordination). These wedding officiants can be very well organized and some of them will dominate the wedding officiant market to become leaders in their genre. However, they offer services many traditional clergy may not.
Traditional clergy, like myself, are flexible. But we will not dress up like Santa Clause to do a Christmas theme wedding, a witch for a Halloween theme ceremony, or act like a comedian to keep your guests in stitches on your special day
Keep in mind that traditional clergy are not actors or actresses, we are real clergy who respect the sanctity of marriage and the seriousness of the day. Many of us will bring light humor to a ceremony and officiate it in a style that reflects our personalities.
Special Theme Weddings
I can’t speak for all traditional clergy, but I will dress for a Motown theme wedding of the 70’s (big afro, dishiki, platform heels, etc.), civil rights theme ceremony of the 60’s (beret with a nehru jacket), flapper theme of the 50’s (wave hair and all). You see, I love weddings and themes that fit who I am. So I will only get into character that expresses my past in some way, as long as, I can stay true to my divine purpose and help my couples vision come to life.
So one way you can discern the instant clergy (online ordained) from the traditional ones (seminary trained), is they will do anything to get you as a client. The other way to distinguish them from those who have prepared themselves for ministry, is by asking the tough questions. ULC will provide ordination credentials and doctoral degrees for every religion you can imagine.
But none of this really matters, because the bottom line is, you don’t have to be a minister to preside over a marriage in some states. So those credentials are unnecessary. However, many state laws require that a marriage performed outside the court can only be solemnized by an ordained clergy holding regular religious meetings.
The ULC has found a way around these state laws by challenging them in court. So instant clergy (self-ordained) can perform ceremonies in almost every state and country, except states and countries who adamantly refuse to accept online ordinations as valid religious clergy credentials.
So caveat emptor.
Validating Your Officiant’s License
Who checks clergy credentials these days? My credentials have only been checked by a church or prison where I am to perform a marriage or establish a working relationship.
Couples have shown a lack of interest in validating their officiant’s authorization and license. Their interest seem to lie in emotional bonding, years of services, website presence, information, expertise, recommendation (by venue manager, planner, dj, etc.), blind trust, and cost. Officiants who received online ordinations, do so, only for the purpose of officiating weddings.
I started performing wedding ceremonies after leaving seminary, installed as an associate minister in a none paying job. But this post is not about online ordained clergy versus trained installed ones.
This post is about wedding officiant’s cost. So let me apologies for being desultory.
When I first started in 2004, I’ve saw websites advocating that a minister who charges the average fee would provide average services or services that were subpar. And ministers whose fees are higher would offer better services for the money. More bang for the buck sought of speak, going the extra mile.
What are average services?
Rev. Joyce Klein (senior minister) trained me and many other Spiritual Science ministers (multi-faith religion) in the Washington and the Baltimore Metropolitan areas (for weddings). Her fee in 2004 was $350. This fee covered services in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. And her fee was within average. However, she went beyond the call of duty. Every minister she trained, she required us to provide the follow:
- a get acquainted meeting,
- a brochure for couples,
- a wedding workbook for the couple’s use which offers a selection of readings, rituals, etc;
- dressing professionally, but causally when appropriate,
- writing and revising the wedding ceremony according to the couples wishes,
- coordinating and directing the rehearsal when needed
- coordinating with the DJ or musician
- being flexible and understanding of the couple’s desires,
- discussing our ministerial attire for the wedding, so they can decide what we should wear,
- being able to step aside and when to take charge,
- arriving early for the ceremony,
- arriving on time for the rehearsal,
- taking possession of the marriage license as soon as possible to avoid not having it at the ceremony site (for non-home weddings),
- practicing the ceremony before arrival and reading it again prior to the ceremony,
- preparing the space for the marriage ritual with prayer,
- giving the couple a bound copy of the ceremony along with a keepsake marriage certificate,
- bringing a minister’s emergency kit to the wedding,
- knowing the marriage laws for the jurisdiction in which the ceremony is performed,
- signing the marriage license, giving the couple their copy, and mailing the official copy to the appropriate court clerk, on time.
- helping the couple when asked: suggesting venue, marriage licensing procedures, ceremony program format and contents, wedding music, supplies, etc.
Higher Quality Service
If the above services are average, then what is higher quality service? When you have the answer to that, please email me at Wedding Officiant Cost.
What I have outlined does not make the ceremony officiant a wedding planner. This information is only meant to show you what average services are. Quality should not be determined by how much you pay, but it should be gauged by the personalized respectful services you receive.
What to Pay
I created a spreadsheet that shows the wedding officiant fee based on a 4 percent cost of living increase from 1992 – 2021. The based wedding officiant cost was taken from my wedding in 1992.
Rev. MacMillian offered me a sliding scale of $200 to $300, back then. I chose to pay $200, and I was not offered an opportunity to customize my ceremony. His travel distance was less than 15 miles from Washington, DC to Silver Spring.
In addition, he did not offer counseling, but gave us an opportunity to discuss with him any issues that arrived from the premarital take home questionnaire. His services in my opinion, was minimum, even if I had opted to pay $300.
After I became a minister and wedding officiant, I looked over the documents I received from him and found that he offered customized ceremonies, but neglected to offer it to my husband and I. Now that I am doing the same job, I don’t make that mistake.
I believe in total transparency. Customized services are offered to everyone I serve, unless a couple insist on something cheaper.
Cost of Living Increase
The “Cost of Living Increase for Wedding Officiants” spreadsheet will allow you the opportunity to see the salary trend for officiants in the Greater Washington DC area from 1992 – 2021 at a 4% cost of living increase. According to this, I am underpaid. I had to roll back my fee when the economy was in a recession, and today I have yet to recover from that drop in income.
When you select a minister or officiant, please keep in mind that each person will have his or her own fee structure. These fees may not be based on a cost of living increase, but on personal grandeur, experience, investment, or work load.
I did not create this post to compete with my colleagues or to call out online (ordained) clergy. It was created to answer a call from those who tugged at my heart string.
“Quality lies in a person’s willingness to do the best job he or she can do. A business person’s brand should be important to them.
Never think paying more is equated to better quality and services. But paying me is equated to the best quality and services your money can buy.
Officiant: Rev. Starlene Joyner Burns
Photography: Image #1 Michael Clark Photography
Photographer: Images #2 & #3 unknown