Our Wedding & Banquet Sales Manager, Jenna Western, interviewed professional officiant Meredith Richmond about hiring an officiant for your big day. Whether you are planning a no-frills elopement or a grand Lake Tahoe wedding, here’s the inside scoop from an experienced professional officiant.
Jenna: Hi Meredith, thanks for connecting with me today. Can we start our conversation by understanding your background, experience, and credentials? How did you get involved in the professional officiant career path?
Meredith: My journey of becoming a professional wedding officiant has been a rather serendipitous experience. The first weddings that I performed were for friends, where I was invited to officiate their ceremonies as a non-professional. Soon after, my family and I moved to Maui and I met a woman from the Maui wedding industry, who is now a dear friend. Through making small talk, I shared with her about my wonderful experiences as an officiant and being a part of the ceremony. It was like the world stopped at that moment; she told me that Maui needed my services and I should be a professional officiant. It took a few months for me to really process the idea. I couldn’t let the idea go and it soon became an exciting vision. Once I was ready to present myself professionally, my friend introduced me to all wedding industry leaders on the island. Everyone embraced me and my calendar quickly filled up with wedding ceremonies. With every ceremony I performed and the glowing feedback I received, I felt signs that this was the path I should keep pursuing.
As for credentials, it is relatively an easy process for anyone to become an ordained minister. I received mine through the Universal Life Monastery. Though, it is through my experience, research and love of writing and performing customized ceremonies that sets me apart as a professional.
Do couples still hire professional officiants?
Yes, many couples choose to hire a professional. Friends and family are also often asked, which is always a special honor to have someone close in relation to perform a couple’s wedding ceremony. However, the invitation can sometimes be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking for someone who is not completely comfortable with public speaking. Also, it may be difficult for a friend or loved one that is close to the couple to not get “too emotional” when delivering the ceremony. Many couples don’t want to ask that of their loved ones.
Can you offer a customized experience for the couple? Or does it need to be religious, etc.?
Every ceremony I write is customized. I meet couples who come from various cultural and religious backgrounds. Some couples want specific rituals and important details recognized; while other couples want an agnostic ceremony reflecting their unique qualities. With all couples, I learn about their qualities; and it is important to me that my couples are excited about sharing their ceremony with their guests on their wedding day.
Do you serve LGBTQ couples?
I honor everyone’s love and feel that everyone deserves to celebrate their commitment. I support marriage equality and have officiated numerous ceremonies for same-sex couples. It is important for me that the couples I serve feel comfortable and supported.
I know there are a lot of legalities to make a marriage official and I imagine there are a lot of tasks before and after the ceremony that need to be done in order to make the marriage legitimate. Do you help guide couples through all of the steps?
Meredith: I offer each couple guidance on how they can obtain their marriage license. For California, couples need to go together to any county office in California, with valid IDs. Their ceremony can take place anywhere in California. Following the ceremony, a pre-selected witness and I sign the document before I submit it back to the county of origin. There is an additional step that couples need to take following the ceremony to obtain their certified marriage license.
What are the top reasons for hiring a professional officiant?
Reason 1: It might seem like a big task for a friend or family member to officiate and you don’t want to take away from the experience of being a guest at your wedding.
Reason 2: You want your officiant to take the reins, and have the confidence to perform the ceremony in an eloquent way while subtly directing the couple and the guests through the experience. The officiant can direct the rehearsal too.
Reason 3: You want a ceremony that is unique and customized, however, you don’t have time to research ideas and you don’t know how to make your ideas flow. A professional who specializes in custom ceremonies like myself will have suggestions and a method to make your ceremony personal. I make the process fun!
I personally love when couples create their own vows, but it can be hard to express your love through words. If a couple hires you, will you help make personal vows?
I have many tips for couples when they want to write their own vows. Most of all, there is no wrong way to write your own vows 🙂
I’ve been to weddings before when I felt awkward for the officiant. Can you share your experience of speaking in front of crowds and why you feel it is important for the officiant to be comfortable in front of large groups?
I truly feel that officiating ceremonies has become my calling. I feed off the incredible energy that couples emit at the altar. It’s such an honor to stand next to couples as they cross the next big threshold of life. Every ceremony is so special; I have a way to hold the space so I don’t get wrapped up in the energy. Though, when I’m a guest at my friends’ and family’s weddings, I’m right there with everyone else, with tears streaming down my face. It’s a beautiful way to meet all sorts of people, from the couples to their family and friends. By the time the wedding day arrives, I’m so excited to share the special ceremony with everyone.
Does a hired professional need to stay for the entire wedding? Does a couple need to include you in the dinner count or seat you at a specific table?
A professional officiant does not expect to be invited to the dinner or reception. Though I often get invited which is so appreciated, I usually decline as I want to get back to my family and often prepare for the next wedding.
I often hear that couples like the idea of having a relationship with their officiant, which is why they choose a friend or family member. How does personal connection cross over with a professional officiant?
Through my process of creating a personal and customized ceremony, I often feel like I’ve gotten to know my couples closely and truly feel like we are great friends by the wedding day.
Do you have advice you can offer to help a non-professional officiant create a successful experience?
I offer officiant coaching for this exact request. There are many tips I offer for performing the ceremony, obtaining the marriage license, and facilitating the rehearsal. Sometimes it’s the most helpful when I write the ceremony script, after learning the personal details from the marrying couple.
Do you recommend hiring a professional officiant for elopement events?
I feel that just because you may have few to no guests, the ceremony is still the same and so special. I’ve had couples share with me that if their friend was their officiant, their elopement may have felt more casual rather than sacred. Also, it may be difficult to invite just one close friend or family member to perform your ceremony and exclude others.
What is your favorite thing about living the Tahoe life?
I love playing outside in all the seasons and it’s pretty incredible to be able to access the outdoors so easily, from jumping in the lake at sunset to nordic/downhill skiing after school with my kids. The scenery is breathtaking and I never tire of it; I’m grateful to call this place my home and raise my kids here.
For more on Squaw Valley wedding venues, preferred vendors and imitate ceremony packages, check out the Squaw Alpine website.