You’ve popped the question, said, “I do,” and shared with friends and family. And now, you’re faced with a barrage of decisions: When to hold the wedding, where to have the party, who will be the photographer… and of course, who will preside over the wedding service. You want the day (or evening!) to go just right… so how do you decide on a wedding officiant that will be just right for the two of you?

Plan ahead

It’s pretty likely your wedding officiant is not the first thing in your mind when planning your wedding. You’ve probably booked the venue first and then went right to booking the band or DJ. But did you know that wedding officiants get booked a year in advance? If having the right wedding officiant for your needs is a major priority, don’t make it fourth or fifth in your “to-do” list—especially if you’re planning a May or June wedding. Those months are prime, so be sure to start your research right away.

Make your “wish list”

There are a wide variety of wedding officiants, the services they perform, and the personalization that they can create. Before you call one to interview, have some idea of what you’d like to include—and exclude—from your wedding ceremony. Do you want a serious and romantic ceremony, or something light-hearted and with some humor? Do you want something very creative and out of the box, or more conventional?

When you do interview your officiant, don’t bombard them with your list. Let them explain what services they provide, what they don’t do, and ask them what creative elements they bring to their ceremonies. More often than not, they will share things you may not have ever heard of before. Then start to share some of your ideas.

It’s okay to go into an interview and not yet have a clear picture of what you’re ceremony will be like. That’s the job of a good officiant: To help craft something for your special day that “clicks” for you.

A note to those “on a budget”

Weddings can get expensive—especially if you’re in a major city—and rates for all your vendors are based a lot on geography. But they are also based on the services that are provided. Many people don’t know how to value a wedding officiant, but remember: Although your guests are there to dance, eat and drink, the night away, the focus is first and foremost on the expression of your love for one another. You are relying on the expertise of your wedding officiant to give voice to the sentiments of your hearts.

If you get “sticker shock” from the quotes officiants provide you, it’s probably because you haven’t shopped for officiants before. But also bear in mind you might be getting more by way of services, like pre-marital counseling, original poetry, creativity, more planning meetings… Once you consider the amount of work the officiant is putting into your special day, the more justified his/her price might seem.

Religious officiation (or lack thereof!)

In the 21st century, many young people are identifying more as “spiritual” than “religious.” This means they are not necessarily affiliated with a particular church/synagogue/mosque/etc. When it comes to getting married, everyone suddenly becomes concerned with doing things “properly” in the eyes of their birth religion—or at least in the eyes of their parents!

It is true that for thousands of years, the only way to get married was under the auspices of clergy. Today, you have other choices. You could even get married by Elvis in Las Vegas. If your spirituality or religiosity is meaningful to you as a couple, you’ll both need to agree on what religious rites speak to you the most. If you’re an interfaith couple, you will have to be sure your officiant is not only willing to perform your marriage, but understands how to craft such a ceremony to be sensitive to the two of you and how to balance your needs. Some officiants will officiate, but not necessarily co-officiate; others will officiate, but not allude to one or the other religion. There’s a wide variety here, so be sure to know what your officiant is willing to do.

Read reviews

WeddingWire, TheKnot, and many other websites often have reviews listed of their officiants. Because such websites require actual couples to write the reviews, they’re pretty reliable. Don’t necessarily go by the amount of reviews. Sometimes an officiant will have just started their listing and only have one or two reviews listed. Read the reviews thoroughly and go for quality. It’s also a good time to see if some of the services you’re looking for are reviewed by previous couples.

Final thoughts

Very often, your wedding officiant will be someone with whom you resonate and build a warm rapport. They often are able to officiate at other lifecycle events, such as baby namings and anniversary blessings. So chose wisely, and may your wedding day be a blessed one!