At first glance, the question itself seems rhetorical – even a bit silly – but it’s a question that matters a lot to thousands of hardworking professional officiants around the globe:
Are officiants considered wedding vendors, and a legitimate part of the wedding and events industry?
The fact that the question even needs to be asked points to the existence of a problem that professional wedding officiants have become all too familiar with, one which has its roots in the way the wedding and events industry has grown over the last 30 years. Cultural traditions evolve and change over time, sometimes in surprising ways, and there are few businesses affected more by these changes than those in the wedding and events industry. While beautiful, unique, customized weddings have become the norm – from lavish tablescapes to exquisitely crafted details of all types – the wedding ceremony itself and, by extension, the wedding officiant, is treated almost as an afterthought when compared with the celebration that follows.
Its no surprise, then, that a recent series of informal online polls revealed that some wedding professionals don’t consider officiants to be wedding vendors at all, or even a part of the wedding and events industry. This may be the reason why officiants are so frequently left off vendor lists in magazines and on blogs, or forgotten as a category for wedding-industry awards, or not included on the invitation list at industry networking events. The reasons given were varied, but the most common seems to revolve around the notion that the wedding ceremony is often a religious function, and therefore the person performing that ceremony is a religious figure and not a wedding professional – an outdated notion that is simply not true.
While a large number of wedding ceremonies are still performed at churches and synagogues, times are changing and have been for the last several decades. In a recent report on church attendance and religious affiliation conducted by the Pew Research Center, the number of adults in the U.S. who have no religious affiliation has grown to more than 20% of the general population. Furthermore, among “Older Millennials” (those born between 1981 and 1989, who are the majority of couples getting married today), the same report revealed that fully one-third (34%) had no religious affiliation whatsoever.
What does all of this have to do with wedding officiants? It means that wedding ceremonies have less and less to do with religion, and non-religious couples still need someone to perform their ceremony. While some officiants are clergy and affiliated with a religion, there is a difference between religious clergy and a professional wedding officiant. The International Association of Professional Wedding Officiants maintains two basic criteria for determining whether someone is a professional wedding officiant:
- The person must actively solicit bookings for weddings from the general public, and
- The person must charge a professional fee for their services.
While the pastor at a local church may perform weddings for members of their congregation, and even perform a church ceremony for an outside couple who seeks them out, it’s customary for any payment for these ceremonies to be made in the form of a donation to the church instead of being paid directly to the pastor. In cases like this, the pastor is performing a religious function and would not be considered a professional wedding officiant. A professional wedding officiant is someone that a couple pays to perform their wedding ceremony, most often outside of a church or place of worship, regardless of religious affiliation. It’s an incredibly important distinction to make, especially when considering whether an officiant is (or is not) a part of the wedding and events industry.
So, then, what is the difference between a professional wedding officiant and, say, a wedding photographer or wedding planner, who are fully accepted as “wedding professionals” by everyone in the industry? Why are officiants often marginalized, or forgotten entirely, as a legitimate sector in the business of weddings? Think about it for a moment:
- Professional wedding officiants perform an essential function (perhaps the only essential function) at a wedding, especially for non-religious couples.
- Professional wedding officiants offer expertise and guidance to the couple in creating their ceremony, the same way a wedding planner would for their reception.
- Professional wedding officiants work with a couple’s vision and preferences to create something unique and special for their wedding, the same way a florist does.
- Professional wedding officiants have knowledge and experience that helps them create a high-quality artistic work, the same way a photographer does.
- Professional wedding officiants have talent and specialized skills that help them deliver a high-quality live performance, the same way a DJ or band does.
All of these things are true, and yet officiants are regularly left off the list of vendors in magazines and blogs, often don’t get invited to industry networking events, and are sometimes ignored entirely as a class of vendors by wedding websites and publications. Venues and vendors will often leave the category of officiants off their list of preferred vendors, preferring not to “endorse a religious position” for fear of offending potential customers. All of this, of course, being based on the outdated view that professional wedding officiants are religious figures instead of wedding professionals.
We believe it’s time for professional wedding officiants to be recognized as a legitimate, and essential, part of the wedding events industry, deserving of the same level of respect and recognition as planners, photographers, DJs, and other vendor categories. After all, a top-quality wedding officiant can make a huge difference in the success of a wedding, the experience of the wedding guests, and the lives of the couple before, during, and long after their big day.