Forget the priest, deacon or rabbi: my friend will do the wedding

That seems to be the way things are going, with online ministry services providing more and more instant wedding officiants.

From the New York Times:

For generations, getting married meant solemnly standing before an authority figure charged with upholding the rules of civil society or religious traditions.

But when Amity Kitchen wed Matthew Saucedo in January, a gregarious family friend, Chris Coughlin, officiated. Mr. Coughlin’s credentials for performing the ceremony? He clicked his mouse at a site offering ordination as a Universal Life Church minister, joining the ranks of Web-blessed clergy who are becoming an increasingly popular choice to preside over weddings.

“Neither Matt nor I are very religious,” Ms. Kitchen said. “The thought of just randomly picking someone to perform this meaningful ceremony, that just didn’t make sense.”

Couples are turning to these nontraditional officiants for a mix of reasons: The ties that bind Americans to traditional religious institutions are eroding in many pockets of the country. Inter-ethnic marriages are on the rise. And many brides and bridegrooms want every aspect of their weddings to feel unique, not just the handmade centerpieces and couture cake.

“I myself got ordained, because what if an officiant doesn’t show up?” said Mindy Weiss, a high-end wedding planner in Beverly Hills, Calif. About a dozen of the 60 couples she worked with last year used a friend or family member ordained online to officiate.

Hard numbers on such weddings are difficult to come by because many counties and states do not record officiants’ religious affiliations. But places that do keep track have seen a jump. In Ohio, the number of people registering as Universal Life ministers to perform weddings has risen steadily, to nearly 1,600 in 2011, twice as many as registered in 2007.

In New York City, the City Clerk’s office processed 1,105 marriage licenses last year for ceremonies officiated by Universal Life ministers,  a small fraction of the total, but more than twice as many as in 2009.

In Massachusetts and Vermont, where almost anyone can become a temporary civil officiant, a growing share of couples have had their weddings presided over by friends or relatives with temporary permits. Last year, 13.5 percent of couples marrying in Vermont chose that route.

And nearly a third of the couples interviewed by the wedding Web site, in studies of its members in 2009 and 2010, said they were married by friends or family members. Anja Winikka, the site’s editor, said the topic “wasn’t even on the radar enough” to include in the survey from 2008.

As couples marry later in life, Ms. Winikka said, they are less beholden to their parents’ notions of the ideal wedding. “Couples have established their own lives before they’ve tied the knot,” she said. “The wedding has become much more about them.”

Read the rest.


  1. Quaeritur: If a Catholic were to be “ordained” as such (apart from becoming a legal Justice of the Peace), if only to do such services, would that incur a penalty??

  2. I have an advisory opinion readied on this phenom, and while I awaits its publication, I’ll just say, short version: Catholics serving as such officiants is not a problem when it comes to those not bound by form, and a big problem otherwise. As I say, short version.

  3. I always thought that the simple act of being ordained as clergy in another religious tradition was a pretty definitive act of defection from the Catholic Church. It’s sort of a moot point though, as I can’t imagine any serious Catholics go in for these sorts of ordinations. Many won’t even attend such weddings where one of the participants is technically still bound by Catholic form.

  4. Deacon Norb says:

    Paul and Ed

    I really do not see any more difference here than the situations where Roman Catholics who are elected public officials (such as Mayors and Judges) who have the secular right to witness marriage.

    In the center of a small city in the Midwest, there is an informal “marriage park.” There is a gazebo in it that is reserved for weddings maybe a dozen or so times a year. It is named after a late mayor of that city who was devout Roman Catholic but who had a strong reputation of performing respectful ceremonies witnessing secular weddings.

    Not long ago, I approached that mayor’s long-time secretary (also a devout Roman Catholic) about getting a copy of this late mayor’s wedding ceremony. I cannot use it in a Catholic setting, obviously, but it was fun to read it.

  5. Allow me to apologize in advance … but occasionally I listen to the Don Imus radio program in the morning (yes, I know, I really should give it up for Lent … if not for life).

    Anyhow, Mr. Imus has mentioned one or twice in my hearing that he is an ordained minister of the Universal Life church. I just googled it to verify this (before posting here) and it turns out that he was “ordained” in 1971. Given his lifestyle back then, not sure if he was high or in a drunken stupor at the moment he was “ordained,” but his tone when mentioning all this on the radio strikes me as entirely jocular :-)

    Incidentally, if you google “universal life church” one of the phrases that automatically pops us is “universal life church scandal.” Gee, I wonder if the NY Times reporter explored this aspect of the group, or the not insignificant fact that the “ordinations” they do are self-ordinations and largely via the internet (point-and-click).

    By the way, you can apparently obtain a doctorate from this group by paying a $25.00 fee and passing an exam that is entirely based on the reading of a book (and correctly answering questions about the material in the book) that was written by the “founder” of this “church.”

    The organization is based in California. Naturally :-)

  6. fiestamom says:

    If you don’t click through to the article, you’ll miss this gem:
    “I’m considering asking him to dress up like an old-school 1920s circus performer, or as a strongman with a mustache, whatever he’s cool with,” Ms. DuLong said. “The wedding party is going to be dressed up in 1920s gear, so it would be cool if he goes with the theme of that.”

    I can only imagine what the made up vows will be like. I’ve been to a few wedding with made up vows, and hoo boy. They were a mix of New Age/Native American/ spirituality mixed with declarations of a love that never grows cold. Can we just stick with a church, a man of the cloth and (in my Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford voice)NO.SLEEVELESS.GOWNS!

  7. It all makes perfect sense. Gay marriage has only confirmed the much broader trend in civil society where marriage means whatever the couple wants it to mean. The present story is case in point. Eschewing involvement in religion is often indicative of individuals who don’t want to be bound by norms that don’t originate with the self. It follows, then that people would begin to eschew even civil authority figures, write their own vows (arising from self-determined norms) and then have friends who agree officiate.

    It’ll make a great sociological study to follow the marriages from this “church” and plot the divorce rates against traditional civil marriages and sacramental marriages.

  8. Deacon Norb says:


    The young engaged couple had made an appointment with me. I did not know either of them nor did I recognize their family names but it turned-out that they were newcomers in our area anyway. She was Roman Catholic but he was not, and in those cases the Parish Secretary usually refers them to me rather than my priest/pastor.

    It normally takes me about forty minutes in that first interview to explain not only Roman Catholic teachings on the sacredness of marriage but also the proper protocols everyone has to go through to have their wedding celebrated at our parish church.

    Finally, after explaining everything, I asked if there were any questions. They looked at each other and the groom-to-be asked: “Do you allow the ‘sword-ceremony’ in your church weddings?”

    Now, I know what a “sword-ceremony” is. It is still customary in the weddings of military officers; it is never done inside the church but outside somewhere. My two weddings where this was a part included one where the “sword-ceremony” was done outside the church proper but on the attached huge portico and the second was done at the reception.

    BUT these two were not military folks at all. So I asked what the deal was. It turned out that they were Medieval Re-enactors and they wanted to get married formally “in-costume,” likely also in Medieval English dialect and with the groomsmen performing that “sword-ceremony.” They had been turned down by almost every other church in town. After some discussion about the fact that our ceremony had religious significance and that this was looking like a pageant, they withdrew their application from us as well.

    I later saw in our local paper’s society page that the wedding ceremony — complete with costumes and swords and Medieval English dialect — was celebrated in an outdoor park and was presided over by a secular official. It must have been something — but we did not cooperate.

  9. Who on earth is talking about being ordained?

  10. No, no, no! Folks, this is a simple variant on the old fashioned civil ceremony, which among non-Catholics is totally and completely “valid and licit” even in our eyes. If two Protestants (or Jews, or whatever, as long as neither is Catholic) choose to marry this way, for WHATEVER reason, God is there, too, blessing the union. For most folks, “civil” and “sacramental” are not opposites kinds of marriages. It’s only an issue among Catholics. For reasons I explained in my AO.

    Funny, I tried to get my AO published last year, because I KNEW this would soon come up among Catholics, but the editors didn’t think it was an issue among Catholics. Well, it is. Obviously.

  11. I remember the ULC. So, Imus is one? Not surprised.

  12. naturgesetz says:

    I think it’s great that people are getting married. It is a problem, of course, when Catholics don’t have proper form and don’t have a dispensation. But for society as a whole, I see this as more positive than negative — much better than the “It’s just a piece of paper, and we don’t need it” attitude toward marriage.

  13. It’s called ordination when the certification is done through Universal Life Church, which is the only “quickie” officiant considered legal in certain states. It’s not really ordination, of course, but it’s a good question. I can see that there would not be an objection, canonically, to a Catholic’s securing a secular license to officiate in states that allow it, for those not bound by the form. Of course, that would presume, I would imagine, not officiating at same-sex weddings? Which leads me to ask whether a Catholic justice of the peace must refrain from officiating at same-sex weddings where they’re legal? Ed, your answer is going to get longer!

  14. So far as I know, all of those online things are technically set up as churches. Their doctrine may be so generic as to be virtually non-existent, but strictly speaking, their power to sell people the “license” to marry folks comes by way of ordaining them as legal ministers in a legal church.

  15. You can get any sort of theme wedding you can imagine, and some you can’t. My own wedding involved a sword and a broom, but that was a Wiccan thing, and I knew full well not to ask a Catholic church to perform it.

  16. Mr. Peters,

    “If two Protestants (or Jews, or whatever, as long as neither is Catholic) choose to marry this way, for WHATEVER reason, God is there, too, blessing the union.”

    I hope it is assumed by the Catholic Church that God is there in a civil marriage ceremony, also, even if one or both ARE Catholic. The ceremony might not be valid and licit by church standards, but does the Church assert that God, even if called to bless the marriage, is not there and would not do so?

  17. pagansister says:

    That sounds very cool, Kenneth. When I married ( 47 years ago) it was a traditional (but very small) wedding in the Methodist church I had attended with family from age 11 to 20 when I married. My future husband and I were planning to let a JP do it, but being the oldest of 3 girls, Mom planned a wedding in 3 weeks, and we were married in the church. It was nice, don’t regret it, but would have been just as married if it had been a JP or at the court house. My ideas about the church and it’s teaching had changed considerably but it did make the folks happy—

  18. Joe Mc Faul says:

    I, for one, couldn’t resist. I have been ordained for several years. My ordination certificate hangs in my office and I sometimes correct people that my title is, “Rev.”

    I’ve always suspected that ordination in the uC will make you more likely to be subject to a tax audit, so I do not claim a parsonage deduction.

  19. pagansister says:

    Both my children chose not to be married in a religious ceremony. My son and his wife had a Notary Public marry them in their back yard and my daugher and her husband got “legally” married at the court house, and had a beautiful ceremony, with her Dad giving her away, the next day in a 1900′s southern mansion , with a friend presiding.

  20. There is another phenomenon that I have come across when doing baptism intakes. Upon asking the parents where they were married, some will say at the catering hall or on a beach. When I begin to explain that the Church does not recognize their marriage as sacramentally valid, they interrupt and say they were married by a Catholic priest. When I ask them the name of the priest I often recognize the name of a man who left the priesthood and rents himself out doing “Catholic” ceremonies at non-Church venues. I also found out from our banquet manager when booking my daughter’s wedding reception that these “rent-a-priests” or other “ministers” get $500 for a 20 minute ceremony. I guess it’s a lucrative business. Maybe I should tell our pastor to suggest larger donations from our wedding couples.

  21. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    In a related matter: I never cease to be amazed at the number of couples who come to the parish to have their babies baptized, but on the form state that they were not married by a priest.

    My favorite story: I once asked a woman if she and her husband had been married by a priest. She replied, “I’m not sure if she was a priest…” When I said, “If it was a ‘she,’ it wasn’t a priest,” she brightened and said, “Oh, then, it must have been a nun!”

  22. So, how do you handle it? Does the baby get baptized in the Catholic Church?

  23. naturgesetz says:

    This reminds me of the nice people across the street whose son had a “destination wedding” somewhere down south — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, I don’t quite remember. He was baptized Catholic, so they got a Catholic sister to perform the ceremony. Later, they had a party back here. I gave a present and enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres, but when the sister introduced herself, I didn’t know quite what to say, tried to come up with something that was pleasant without implying approval for officiation at a wedding which involved defect of form and place (don’t remember if disparity of cult was also involved).

    It was all highly irregular, of course, but OTOH they at least wanted it to be somehow Catholic. It didn’t represent a complete rupture from the Church in their uninformed minds (or their parents’).

  24. pagansister says:

    naturgesetz, I didn’t realize a nun could marry a couple. In the case of the couple you mentioned, you said he was a baptized Catholic, but I’m assuming she wasn’t? Did the Church consider the couple you mentioned married in the eyes of the Church?

  25. Just another example of the waste land of contemporary culture. It seems to just get worse.

  26. These posts need to be written with the ones that say the people aren’t “catechized” enough. Make getting married enough of a pain in the butt and watch as people go elsewhere. It is likewise happening with funerals. Don’t worry. The kids will come back once they are ready to have their children baptized. Oops. They’ve stopped coming back for that too.

  27. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


  28. Short answer: No. The couple was not married in the eyes of the church. If the woman was indeed a nun (religious sister), she would not have the ability to officiate at the wedding.

    Having said that, there are places in the world, where the priest shortage is acute (or in sparsely populated areas where it is difficult for a priest to be present on a regular basis) where the Church would designate a non-ordained individual (religious or layperson, male or female) who could witness marriages.

    Technically, the officiant doesn’t “marry” the couple. The bride and groom marry each other. The priest or deacon “witness” the marriage vows. In this sense, they are the official “eyes of the Church” so to speak, confirming that a valid marriage took place.

  29. Fiergenholt says:


    “Don’t worry. The kids will come back once they are ready to have their children baptized. Oops. They’ve stopped coming back for that too.”

    You know, M. Z., you sound rather bitter about all this.

    In case you did not already realize it already, Baptisms; First Reconciliation; First Communions; and Confirmations are ALL provide fascinating oportunities for the re-evangelization of the parents of that child. Just like Funerals can be an extraordinarily popular place for reconciliation of adult family members.

  30. Another article from the NYTimes.

  31. Hear, hear!!

  32. Not bitter. I just don’t have faith in the programme being pushed by our present set of ideologues enjoying favor.
    In case you did not already realize it already, Baptisms; First Reconciliation; First Communions; and Confirmations are ALL provide fascinating oportunities for the re-evangelization of the parents of that child.
    You sound like an Amway motivational speaker. Not everything in life should be about selling. Jesus wasn’t a salesman.

  33. fiestamom says:

    I wish people still had receptions like that. Where mom and grandma made the dinner/cake, and family and friends gathered in the backyard or the church hall. I think I was born in the wrong era. I have attended one wedding/reception like that and it was wonderful. The bride’s Italian grandmother made at least 1000 Italian cookies. And she made the pasta dinner.

  34. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Jesus wasn’t a salesman.

    Actually, yes. In a sense, he was. He was selling the Truth.

    It’s tempting for priests and deacons to see those liturgies and sacraments mentioned above as just one more job to get done, one more event to complete. But we need to retain the sense of joy and mystery and awe surrounding them and flowing through them — and share that with the disinterested parents, grandparents, and assorted hangers-on who are usually yawning and looking at their watch and wondering what’s on the menu at the restaurant across the street.

    We aren’t trying to sell the Church, as much as we need to reawaken a deeper understanding of what it all means and why we are a part of it and why it matters. That’s what the New Evangelization is about. And I think that’s the point Fiergenholt was trying to make.

    Dcn. G.

  35. Deacon Norb says:

    You know, MJ, The opposite is also true.

    In my Parents’ pre-Baptism classes, I stress that the custodial parent has to be a practicing Catholic registered in a Catholic parish somewhere. The only exceptions have to be cleared by my priest/pastor (and, unknown to the parents, that will probably include a formal Sacrament of Reconciliation by that custodial parent before he gives his approval).

    In the PSRE classes managed by our Parish DRE, she emphasizes to the parents of the first-Reconciliation children that they — too — are expected to partake of that sacrament at the same time their children do. That way, there is at least one incident of mentorship.

    Parents of both First Communion children and Confirmation Children have to attend several classes in order to provide support to the teachers with the necessary catechesis. Are there exception ? Yes, but only if our priest/pastor approves and — guess what — those parents get some intense catechesis from him.

    BTW: your spelling of the word “programme” leads me to believe that it is not the US Catholic Community you are describing but some country in the British Commonwealth? Eh?

  36. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Society for Creative Anachronism… is different, and hard for outsiders to understand; and sometimes it’s even hard for insiders to understand what each other is doing.

    Probably what they wanted was to get married with a Sarum Rite marriage ceremony (what people used in big chunks of Europe before the Tridentine format came along). Today’s weddings draw heavily on the Sarum Rite customs. (So do Spanish Catholic weddings, in a lot of their customs. Not the same ones.)

    A lot of people in the SCA spend tons of time and research on living medievally, and most of their friends (and sometimes their family) are also in the SCA. They spend so much time in medieval clothes that they really aren’t costumes anymore, but just unusually styled clothes. So a pageant really isn’t usually what happens; rather, it’s usually just a wedding where people actually dress formally and act in a civilized manner. (I’ll admit that not everyone in the SCA knows how to behave in a church, but this is a problem with most church weddings nowadays and not just with people in odd clubs.)

    The difficulty here is that a lot of SCA members are pretty much interested in everything about the Middle Ages and its ideals and virtues, except medieval Christianity; others are as hardcore people with very strong religious beliefs; and some just think it’s a fun group that holds fun parties. I can readily believe that the gentleman above might have met some of the more frivolous SCA members, and not people who were serious about oaths and vows and a dignified marriage of two people.

    But yes, a lot of SCA people know more about how to rent function space in a park than anywhere else, so I can readily believe that the couple defaulted to getting married outdoors.

    Of course, if a church is worried about this, and it’s not going to be a Catholic wedding anyway, you could always go with the medieval custom of marrying couples out on the porch of church, with all the other attendees (besides the bridesmaids and best men and parents) standing around or below….

    Anyway, before I forget… one or both of the couple-to-be was probably an SCA fighter, possibly even a knight; and hence the sword arch thing. SCA fighting is sort of a serious martial art by now, so again, you can see why this would be important to them.

  37. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you don’t understand what Mr. Peters is saying, you should look up “sacramental.”

    As long as the participants are not Catholic, the Catholic Church presumes that all valid marriages are valid marriages, recognized by God.

    If one or more Catholics get married in a non-Catholic ceremony, and without getting any dispensation for it, then the Church presumes that the Catholics involved aren’t interested in having a sacramental marriage blessed by God, because actions speak louder than words. If the couple does want a sacramental marriage blessed by God and they didn’t manage it beforehand, they can ask to have their marriage convalidated in the Church; and then everything is sacramental also.

    If such people get married without the Catholic Sacrament or any kind of permission from one’s Catholic bishop, and if the couple don’t get it convalidated but do pray to God, then obviously that’s better than nothing but it’s still not the same thing. God may or may not choose to bless the marriage in a sacramental way; but there’s no way to presume it. If two people deliberately choose not to get as married as they know is possible (ie, in the Catholic Church), there’s obviously some kind of problem.

    That problem may not be with the couple’s intent, of course. That couple may have perfectly good reasons for what they did (like lack of knowledge of what they were doing). That’s why canon law courts have so many factors to consider.

    But if a couple stays together in a valid, legal marriage all their lives, they’re generally not going to run into any Catholic canon law stuff anyway, and everything is pretty much presumed to be fine. The most that would happen is that you might want to add a convalidation on top of what you’ve already got, if somebody in the couple’s converting or getting reconciled back with the Church.

  38. Richard Johnson says:

    “The difficulty here is that a lot of SCA members are pretty much interested in everything about the Middle Ages and its ideals and virtues, except medieval Christianity;…”

    Actually, there is a strong community within the SCA that studies Medieval Christianity. There are numerous gentles who study the lives of monks, priests, scribes, nuns, as well as the numerous Christian orders of the era (Hospitallers, Templars, etc.).

    Of course, according to the government documents of the SCA (Corpora), there can be no *official* religious rituals performed under the aegis of the SCA, so you do not see, for example, a religious blessing of a King or Queen during coronation, such as you would have seen in period. However, there are many individuals who study and gladly share their knowledge of medieval religion.

  39. This reminds me of a rather humorous experience I had at a wedding a number of years ago. The groom was the son of a friend who had been raised Catholic but the entire family had drifted away over the years. The bride, as I later found out, was from a family in similar circumstances. The extended families were “culturally Catholic” and the wedding was held in the bride’s grandparents’ parish church. As the bride walked up the aisle, she was greeted by a minister that I clearly recognized as a deacon. He gave a beautiful homily on married life, using examples from his own family. The two women who were seated behind me started buzzing between themselves, and I overheard one say “We’ve been away too long, THEY’RE getting married now!” While the bridal party processed out of the church I had to turn to these women and explain that the man was a deacon. I was really concerned that they were going to “spread” the wrong word!

    A few years ago I attended the wedding of a another friend’s daughter. My friend and her family were raised in the Congregational Church. I did not know anything about the religious background of the groom or his family. The wedding was at an estate, and was presided over by a friend of the groom who got one of those one-day, one-wedding JP licenses that you can get in Massachusetts. It was different. Very respectful and traditional as weddings go, but different.

  40. pagansister says:

    My daughter was in the SCA for many, many years—and had a wonderful experience. She was a fighter, had the armor and all the goodies that she needed to go to the huge once a year gathering, and fight. She made her outfits that were tradtional for the time she chose. Don’t remember just what that was. However it became too much to continue, so she took up TKD and has earned a 2nd degree Black Belt.

  41. pagansister says:

    Thank you for the information, Fr. Jim. :o)


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