The rise of the friend officiant

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2019.

People choose to become ordained for a variety of reasons. Jamie Auger had exactly two. First, his brother-in-law and lifelong friend Jared Ramey had asked him to. “It was extremely meaningful that he asked me; I have known Jared since he was 5,” says Auger, one of thousands of individuals who have become ordained online solely to officiate the wedding of a loved one.

The second reason Auger, an active Air Force airman, agreed to become ordained was because he knew he was able to show up in all the ways an officiant should on someone’s big day—and all the ways his own officiant didn’t.

“When my wife and I got married almost 21 years ago, back then you just found a minister who agreed to do it,” he explains. “We didn’t know him at all; we had spent maybe 45 minutes with him, total, before the ceremony.” Unfortunately, on Auger’s wedding day, the officiant showed up late, inebriated, and even forgot the bride’s name at the altar. “I wanted to make sure that unlike us, Jared and Lauren felt someone cared enough to put serious energy and effort into [their ceremony],” Auger says.

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Online ordination is surprisingly easy. Anyone 18 or older is eligible for online ordination and subsequent wedding officiating in the state of Ohio (which only requires that the ordination come from a religious society or organization), even if they reside in another state. Though the Universal Life Church is perhaps the option with the best name recognition, many others exist online, including the sounds-bogus-but-is-legit Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. When in doubt, contact the bureau that handles marriage regulations in the county where the wedding will take place; in Franklin County, that’s the Probate Court (614-466-8770).

Becoming ordained on the internet also is affordable: the Universal Life Church (which Auger chose based on numerous favorable reviews) doesn’t charge for the ordination itself. However, he opted to purchase the site’s “wedding package” for a nominal fee. It included instructions, vow templates and other resources; he supplemented this with plenty of YouTube tutorials, related books and time spent with the couple to tailor the ceremony to their personalities and wishes.

Windi Noble, owner and wedding officiant at Run to an Elopement, also believes that officiants should strive to make ceremonies personal. “Because I am a nondenominational officiant, I’m not tied to rules of what should or should not be included in a ceremony,” she says. “I custom write each ceremony that I perform. I believe it is super important for the couple’s personalities, traditions and values to be present.”

Chase Waits, a professional officiant with Columbus Wedding Officiants, originally became ordained online to perform a friend’s ceremony. While he’s enthusiastic about friends-as-officiants overall, he recommends drawing up a basic contract and list of expectations to help ensure clear expectations and an intact friendship after the big day.

“I would suggest that a couple only ask someone they are close with and have utmost trust in,” Waits says. “Because the friend won’t have the breadth of professional experience, make sure they are open to working together to develop the ceremony exactly as you want it.”

While the ordination process is easy, a crucial second piece is easily overlooked, as Auger realized almost too late. “In addition to my becoming an online minister, I didn’t realize that I also had to become licensed by the state,” he says.

By chance, a family member who had himself been a recent officiant happened to mention this requirement a few short days before Jared and Lauren’s wedding, just in time for Auger to drive to Columbus—the day before the wedding—to obtain his license (at a cost of $10) from the Ohio Secretary of State in order to legally perform the ceremony. “They told me it usually takes 72 hours to process, but they thankfully worked with me to rush it through. Within eight hours, it was done,” Auger says. “I was grateful to the state of Ohio!”

The big day itself went off without a hitch. “I was very fortunate; everybody gave rave reviews, they said I missed my calling,” Auger says with a laugh. But would he do it again? “I don’t know if it would mean as much to do it for somebody that I didn’t know.”

The newlyweds also were thrilled with the outcome. “He was on top of every detail,” says Jared Ramey. “Everyone cried during the ceremony. He did a great job adding some quotes in and telling the story of how we met ... he knew us better on a personal level than a minister would have. Coming from someone who actually knows us, it made a big difference.”