Layne is an active freelance writer. She enjoys staying up-to-date on trends, media, and emerging topics.
How to Get Ordained Online and Legally Officiate a Wedding
If you were asked to officiate a friend or family member's wedding, you most likely accepted the offer. Being asked to officiate someone's wedding is a true honor. You are not only there to witness their special day and union, but you are there to guide the ceremony in front of all of the wedding attendees in celebration.
There are a number of ways to get officiated. Some couples choose to have their church minister officiate, for example, but any legal adult of good standing can do it. Recognized ministers, alternatively, attend a seminary to study ministry or theology. Luckily, there are a number of religious organizations that allow anyone of any faith to officiate a wedding and obtain ordination online within a few simple steps.
Do note that you might be asked to become ordained under a different religion. If this is the case, seek permission from the proper religious authorities in the event that your or the couple's affiliations have set rules around this. In most cases, a non-denominational religious group can ordain you regardless of your affiliations.
1. Read Up on the Local Laws
Get on the internet via phone or computer and start browsing through the recommended ordination websites (below), many of which are conveniently non-denominational. In addition, you will need to check your state's requirements. Each state has different laws around who can perform a legal wedding.
- Nonreligious ceremonies can be officiated by court clerks, justices of peace, and judges. Some states will also allow notaries public to officiate as well. Boat captains must be given additional permissions to perform a legal wedding.
- Religious ceremonies can be officiated by clergy (priests, rabbis, ministers, shamans in indigenous communities, and more).
California is one such state that allows any legal adult of good standing to perform a wedding ceremony. You will want to start by determining your state's specific rules under which you will operate. If you're in California, the good news is that the process is fairly quick and straightforward.
2. Get Ordained
There are several interfaith and nondenominational groups on the internet that will allow you to become an officiate for free or after paying a small fee for materials. If you registered with any of these organizations listed below, they often ordain you and send materials immediately or within 2-3 business days. A few of the most popular ordination websites are:
- Universal Life Church
- First Nation Ministry (highly recommend for California ordination; this is the service I used)
- American Fellowship Church
- Search Open Ministry
In my experience with the First Nation Ministry (an independent non-denominational religious organization), I submitted my information and paid around $25 and $7 dollars extra to receive my materials as a PDF. I then received my paper materials (certificate and all wedding planning information) within a few business days. The material packet they provided was extremely helpful and official. I also selected to keep my certificate active for 5 years, but you also have the option of only being ordained for the exact day that the ceremony will be held (costs around $10).
Once you are ordained, you are also legally allowed to perform life celebrations such as house blessings, vow renewals, memorials and funerals, baby blessings (baptisms), and more.
What documents do you receive in an ordination package?
After inputting the following information on the First Nation Ministry site, I received a PDF and packet of official documents in the mail. I did the following:
- Entered my full legal name
- Selected my preferred ordination package (single-ceremony at $10.96, 5-year at 24.95, and 10-year at $39.95)
- Selected my preferred delivery method (an extra $6.95 if you want an immediate PDF of the materials in addition to the printed version that is sent within 2-3 business days).
First Nation Ministry provides an ordination certification, a minister's ID, a breakdown of the marriage laws by state, a letter of good standing, guides to ceremony procedures, a detailed guide of marriage laws, and examples of how to fill out a marriage license.
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3. Call the County Clerk
It is always good to check with the county clerk of the county where the ceremony will take place to confirm that they accept online ordination certificates. In addition, you may want to ask if you, the officiant, must turn in the completed wedding certificate after the wedding or if the married couple can do that on their own behalf. The couple that applied for the marriage license who you are marrying can also verify that information for you. In California, the completed wedding certificate needs to be returned within 10 days of the ceremony.
4. Meet With the Couple
Now that you are ordained, the real duties begin. Whichever religious group you received your ordination from, you will likely receive supportive materials about how to lead the wedding. There are a few legal steps that must take place for the marriage to be official, and it is good if you and the couple you are marrying are all on the same page. Three important steps are listed below:
- You and the couple must look at the marriage license together before the wedding takes place. Consider doing it on the day of the wedding before things are underway. This is a legal requirement.
- During the spoken ceremony itself, you must incorporate language that requires a response of consent by both individuals getting married. One of the classic steps of a wedding ceremony is when the bride and groom or people say "I do." You will need to set up a part of your officiant speech to ask both couples "Do you take so-and-so to be your . . . " (both individuals will be asked separately and both will need to proceed to say "I do"). You can get clever with the language and phrase it so that the couple says "we do" in unison, too, to be a little more modern and progressive. Essentially, you are asking that they consent by their own free will to proceed to get married on this day
- Sign the license. Important: Sign the marriage license and and turn it back in to the county clerk within 10 days (per the State of California); this is essential.
5. Plan the Ceremony
Plan out the essential elements of the wedding ceremony. It is best to sit down with the couple and get their approval about the tone and language you intend to use for the ceremony and which parts of a traditional or non-traditional ceremony they would like to include.
If you would like a helpful breakdown of what happens where and the traditional steps of a wedding, read: The Official Wedding Ceremony Order and Outline. This article discusses the wedding processional, the welcome, the introduction (reading/prayer), the intention and declaration, the exchange of vows, the exchange of rings, the pronouncement and the kiss, and the recessional.
Most often, the wedding party will rehearse the wedding ceremony well in advance a day before or the morning of the actual event. It is highly recommended that you have all of your language and the organization of the entire program set up in advance. This will show the couple that you are officiating for that you take this honor seriously. Not to mention, running through a mock ceremony is a great way to work out any mock hiccups in advance. In addition, it will help you all with timing and figuring out who stands where and what happens when.
7. Officiate the Ceremony
It can be a little nerve-wracking to lead a ceremony if this is your first time, but just remember that your friends or family members chose you for a specific reason. You have all the qualities that they were looking in an officiant. One of the most important things you can do is show up as yourself and be authentic.
- Be yourself
- Dress the part
- Write down what you will say (it is unrealistic to have fully memorized the entire ceremony; purchase a nice-looking notebook and fold your notes into the book)
- Get your sleep the night before
- Be sober
- Take a deep breath
- Rush your words
- Be under the influence of a substance
- Show up unprepared
- Show up late
- Forget the legal requirements of your duties
- Forget your identification
- Say anything to embarrass the couple
- Do anything culturally insensitive
8. Sign and Return the Marriage License
Sign the marriage license! Do not forget this step. The whole point of the ceremony is to celebrate (of course), but more importantly, to make this marriage legal. The marriage will not be valid unless the license is signed. In California, you will need the bride, groom, and witness(es)—usually one or two—to sign the license. You as the officiant will also have to provide the following information: date of marriage, city/town, county, signature, religious denomination (which group gave you the authority), name, official title (minister or officiant), and the physical location of the wedding.
Can I Ordain My Friend's Wedding?
Yes, you can absolutely ordain your friend's wedding. The eight steps mentioned above should make it fairly easy for you to figure our what you have to do and how to go about doing it. If you live in the state of California, you are especially lucky as the process is fairly easy for any legal adult (California Family Code section 400-402 states that an “authorized person of any religious denomination” can lead a ceremony).
What does it mean to be a licensed minister vs. being ordained?
Becoming ordained means a church or religious organization has authorized you to perform life ceremonies and rites as they pertain to state or local laws. If you hold a minister's license, you have been ordained. Being ordained simply means the process or steps that take place for you to be authorized to perform such rights.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Laynie H