How to Survive: Officiating a Wedding (Specifically in New York City)

Qualifications (in two parts)


So you’ve been asked to officiate a wedding? Congratulations! This means your friends think you are somewhat organized and charismatic—or they at least think you’ll be able to speak in front of an audience without sweating too much. Regardless, this earns you bragging rights for a little while.

“Oh, you got a promotion at work? That’s cool. I’m going to bind two people together by love and law. No big deal.”

Eventually, however, you’ll need to start looking into what it takes to actually be able to follow through with marrying people. You might not know this, but the Internet can sometimes be a confusing place. Sure, certain websites will boast that all you need to do is press a button and you’ll be good to go, but the requirements listed on the NYC Clerk’s Office website tell a different story.

“I need a letter of good standing with the organization I’m affiliated with? Wait, I need to be affiliated with an organization?”

It all sounds much more complicated than it really is. You can try reaching out to a friend who has already officiated so that he or she can walk you through the process. Or you could, you know, keep reading this.

I recommend getting your qualifications from the Universal Life Church. Their mission statement is all encompassing. Also, they have a New York City package, so all you have to do is visit the site, press a button to get ordained, and then press another button to have all the paperwork you need for the Clerk’s Office sent to your doorstep. BOOM!

Here’s the thing, though. Do not wait until right before the wedding to get it all done—ULC can take up to three weeks or so to send you everything. It’s not a difficult process, but don’t be an idiot about it.

Marriage Bureau at the City Clerk’s Office

Once you get your certificate of ordination, etcetera, in the mail, take some more time to brag. Fire-up Photobooth on your computer and snap some sweet pictures with it. You are awesome and have totally accomplished what it takes some people years of graduate school to do; make sure the people on Facebook know it. Then throw some cold water on your face and prepare for a visit to the Marriage Bureau—it’s time to make those credentials legal and binding.

You might be scared that everyone who works at the Bureau is looking for people of your ilk—the impersonators who just diddled around on the internet and don’t really deserve the honor of bringing two people together in holy (or not, depending on your beliefs) matrimony. Don’t be a fool. This isn’t their first time at the rodeo. They know that the Universal Life Church exists and likely provided you with some sham paperwork. The fine people at the City Clerk’s Office just asks that you have your shit together, as well as $15 to pay them for another certificate.

When you arrive at the Marriage Bureau, you’ll meet a man at a front desk. He will give you a ticket with a number on it—yes, like at the supermarket. You wait, do some people watching, and eventually, when your number comes up, hand over all your papers and sign a big book. Voila! You’re done.

All anyone asks is, before you head over there, take a look at yourself in a mirror. People will be at the Bureau to get married THAT DAY. Give them some respect, damnit.

Ceremony (in two parts)


Ok, you’ve gotten all the paperwork done. Now it’s time to think about what you’re going to say once it’s time to stand in front of the bride, groom, and most of the people in the world they hold dear. It’s time to write a ceremony!

For this, there’s no need to completely reinvent the wheel. Reach out to friends who have gotten married, if you have any, to see if they have copies of what they did handy. If your particular bride and groom are nontraditional, trawl the Internet for “alternative” ceremonies. Most people who think they’ve done something original and magical want to share it with the Google-searching world.

Once you get some ideas, pitch them to the happy couple; see what they’ve found on their own. At this point it is important to, above all else, LISTEN TO WHAT THEY WANT. If the bride says they don’t want definitions of love in the ceremony, don’t give them a reading that begins or ends with: “This is what love is.” If the groom says they’re not into anything vaguely religious, don’t suggest a call and response—not even if it’s directed to the moon, trees and mountains rather than the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (that hippy stuff hits a whole other set of nerves).


The day has finally arrived. It’s show time!

First things first, look decent. Sure, at the Marriage Bureau you might have managed to sneak into the background of a few pictures, but here you’ll be front and center. Literally. You’ll be standing between the bride and groom—slivers of your hair and arm will poke through the snapshots of their first kiss as husband and wife; half of your goofy grin will show-up in pictures of them reading their vows. I think an understated elegance comes across best. Do with that what you will.

As for the ceremony itself, hopefully you’ve read it out loud a couple of times on your own or at the rehearsal because now’s not the time for stumbling over words, taking an awkward breath in the middle of a sentence, or mispronouncing a name. Be mindful, also, of over-practicing. If the bride and groom wanted a robot to perform the ceremony they probably could have rustled one up.

As far as booze is concerned: if this is a respectable wedding, it will be there. Try to cut yourself off from any pre-celebratory cocktails at least an hour before everything gets underway. The couple is, presumably, important to you, so you’ll be crying no matter what—you don’t need to be extra messy about it.


Once the ceremony is done, it’s time to celebrate. Sidle up to the bar, get a glass of champagne, and, once the music starts, dance like everyone is watching. Then go home and, in your spare time, sit outside the marriage bureau with a sign to drum up some business—it’s time to get a return on your investment.

(special thanks to B&K, without whom this How to Survive would not have been possible)

Photo credit: 


  • B of B&K