Every year, more Massachusetts couples opt to be married by friends and family. If you’re someone who’s been asked to officiate, here are some tips, based on interviews with justices of the peace, former one-day officiants, and couples who’ve seen the best and worst of it.
1. Stick to the script.
If a couple gives you a script or approves one of your drafts, stick to it. One Massachusetts woman (who wished to remain anonymous) said she and her husband were married by a favorite relative who inserted religion into the service against their wishes. If they’d known he was set on doing this, they would have asked someone else. “He probably thought he was saving us from hell a little bit,” the bride said, laughing. Anne Sablich, who was married by her 89-year-old grandfather a few years ago, said he did a great job because there were no surprises. “I’ve been to weddings where the officiant broke into a surprise song or told an off-color story more appropriate for the reception, and it was so nice to know that I could trust my grandfather to just stick to our wishes,” she said.
2. Please don’t cry.
Halley Dean of Kansas, who’s officiated nine weddings for loved ones, says that if you think you’ll be too emotional to get through the ceremony, you should say no to the job. That’s why Dean declined when it came to her sister. She was afraid she would have sobbed hysterically through the whole thing (“and, in fact, I did ruin the video as maid of honor because you cannot hear any audio over my [reaction]”). Dean says: “I would advise the officiant to gut-check themselves — that they really can stand up there, keep themselves more or less under control emotionally, and feel confident that they are not going to screw up their loved ones’ big day.”
3. Make the moments clear.
Grace Dane Mazur, a writer whose upcoming book, “The Garden Party,” is set around a wedding rehearsal dinner, has officiated six weddings. Her tip comes from a shaman who told her that every wedding needs three moments: a signal that the ceremony has begun, another that makes it clear that the couple is now married, and a final one that “the ceremony is over and we’re no longer in that ritual space.” It sounds obvious, but the audience needs to know what’s happening, she said. Mazur has a book recommendation for those who need help with creating and leading a service: “Into The Garden: A Wedding Anthology: Poetry and Prose on Love and Marriage” by Robert Hass and Stephen Mitchell. It includes poems and prose for the occasion.
4. Not for laughs.
Justus Perry, of Salem, was the officiant in what he calls a “bandit wedding” at Disneyland in California. By “bandit” he means that the couple didn’t have permission to get married at the theme park, so he had to do a short service before anyone noticed. Perry was working as a sketch comedian in Los Angeles at the time and figured “funny was expected.” But when he thought about it, he realized the quick service wasn’t about jokes. “Heartfelt was more important,” according to Perry.
5. Consider a consultation.
Donna Michael, president of the Massachusetts Justices of the Peace Association, said you can pay a JP to write a service, even if someone else is going to read it. Sometimes a justice of the peace is the objective party who can ensure that a one-day officiant knows what to say and is respecting the wishes of the couple.
6. Don’t drink.
“Ugh, I’ve seen some things,” says Grafton justice of the peace Claire Miller, of officiants who’ve had a few drinks. She adds: “Make sure you’ve eaten and are hydrated; don’t lock your knees; and take in the moment. It goes by so quickly.”Meredith Goldstein writes the Globe’s “Love Letters’’ advice column. Contact her at email@example.com.