How to Become a Maryland Wedding Officiant
Most of my Weddings are on the Ocean City beach but the fundamentals remain the same.
Most of my Weddings are on the Ocean City beach but the fundamentals remain the same.
My first ceremony was an average performance at best. I was nervous and read right off the paper. Eye contact with the crowd was minimal. About halfway through the wedding, I caught a glimpse of the audience and noticed something odd. They were all still standing in front of their chairs.
At that moment I realized that I had asked them to “Please rise for the Bride” but forgot to ask them to “Please be seated.” Should I pause the ceremony and ask them to sit? Should I just keep going? Either way, I was going to look like an amateur. I just kept rambling and let them stand. The only thing that saved me from complete ridicule was that I was friends with the bride and groom and the ceremony was short. 2000 weddings later, I’ve improved a bit but there was quite an Officiant learning curve.
Maryland beach weddings are unique. Indoor weddings are structured and predictable. There’s a microphone and a podium. The ceremonies are long and half the guests have tuned out five minutes into the service. Beach weddings should be short and sweet. Eight to ten minutes is perfect. A Sand Unity Ceremony may add another five. Throw in a romantic first dance on the beach and the entire affair tops out at 20 minutes. Seems easy, right?
Reading is easy. The Officiant’s role is to take charge of the ceremony the moment they hit the beach. The challenging part of my job occurs prior to the ceremony. A typical sunset wedding in Ocean City goes something like this:
Meet the groomsmen on the beach for an efficient wedding rehearsal. It’s likely I’ve never met the groom. In a phone conversation with the bride, we discussed what he’d be wearing so I can easily identify him. They’re supposed to meet me with the marriage license at 7:10 and sign the paperwork before the ceremony. This goes smoothly about half the time. Groomsmen can be quite unpredictable, especially when there’s a bar nearby. If all of the groomsmen are on time, fully dressed, and reasonably sober it’s usually a great day in Ocean City, MD.
Help lineup the groomsmen and perform a run-through of the ceremony with the groom. Most of his lines are usually of the “repeat after me” variety. The only line the groom usually has to memorize is “I do.” Check to see who has the rings and who will pour which vessel if there is a Sand Unity Ceremony. If they are exchanging their own personal vows, it’s important to ask who’s going first.
Meet the bride and whoever is escorting her to the beach. This is usually the first time I’ve met her and the family. We try to find a spot behind a sand dune where she can see the groom but he can’t see her in the dress. If it’s a rainy day in Ocean City, I give her the good news first: “You’ve got the beach all to yourself, the sand will be easy to walk on and hopefully we’ll see a rainbow.” Most of the beach brides I meet are polite, happy, and ready to get married. Being on the sand in bare feet and inhaling the aroma of the sea has a calming effect. On the occasions I’ve encountered pre-ceremony drama, it’s usually produced by mothers and mother in laws who are upset the wedding’s not in their local church.
I begin each encounter with a sincere compliment. All Brides are Beautiful, but they sometimes forget to smile. My most important job as an Officiant is to keep the wedding party smiling and having fun. If it’s raining, my sense of humor is my best tool. Things go wrong. Rings drop in the sand. Groomsmen get stuck in traffic. The bouquet was left at the hotel. The marriage license is still in Pennsylvania. The more that goes wrong, the smoother you need to be. Your ability to sit positive and keep smiling sets the tone for the entire bridal party.
After the initial meet and greet, the Wedding Officiant lines up the bridesmaids, flower girl, and ring bearer. The little ones are often unpredictable but that’s part of the fun. I find that taking a knee to speak with them produces better results. Bridesmaids with cellphones often tune you out – just try your best and focus on the bride and whomever is walking her down the aisle. If Dad has a line in the ceremony, make sure to go over the cues with him. You’re the last person a bride see’s before she takes the most important steps in her life. If she’s genuinely smiling and radiating for the cameras, you’ve done well.
Before I leave the bride to cue up the DJ and head to the archway, I say this: “Do you have any questions? You look absolutely amazing, it’s a beautiful sunny day ( it’s not raining or if it is, you’ve got the beach all to yourself), everything’s going your way. It’s going to be fun. I’ll see you at the altar.” After the bridesmaids walk and the flower girl appears on the sand, announce “Please rise for the Bride.”
Before you begin, ask the guests to be seated. The ceremony itself is usually influenced by the bride and groom. I go over this in advance and e-mail them a preview based on their preferences.
If you’ve never written a beach wedding ceremony, The Ocean as my Witness will help you master your craft. The ceremonies are designed to mix and match and help you customize a ceremony that’s best for the wedding you’ll be officiating. Beach ceremonies should be simple. An intro, the vows, a ring exchange, and a conclusion are all you really need. I’ve never had guests complain the ceremony was too short. A long-winded affair impresses no one. Microphones are usually not permitted on the beach so you’ll need to project your voice. It’s an art to tunnel your voice between the bride and groom so the back row can hear but the wedding couple doesn’t feel like you are shouting at them.
The best Officiants consult with the bride on what to wear. I always ask what the groom and groomsmen will be wearing so I can blend in better with the pictures. From the moment you hit the Ocean City beach, your attire is your first impression. It’s hard to command respect from total strangers if you don’t look like you’re in charge. Err on the side of caution and overdress. As a rule, if the groom is wearing a tie then I do as well. However, it is vital to be comfortable and cool. No one wants to see the minister sweating. If it’s a nice day, I wear a full suit but use a stylish vest instead of a jacket. It’s good to have suits in khaki, white, navy blue, gray and black. My signature look (see above) is either bare feet or flipflops in the summer.
The Wedding Minister will be in photos and videos taken by professionals and guests. Being punctual and well dressed will gain trust and help cover up mistakes. There’s one photo you NEVER want to be in. That’s the first kiss. After saying “You may now kiss the Bride”, get out of the photographer’s way. I take a lot of pride in working with the photographers. During the ring exchange and vow exchange I utilize my patented Rox Slide Step. It’s a smooth step to the side and a repositioning about six feet behind the bride. I’m facing the groom so he can read my lips while still looking directly at the bride. The photo and video team get a clear lane to get pictures with nothing in the backdrop except the bride, groom, and the ocean. I’ll make eye contact with the paparazzi so I know they’ve had time to get the perfect shot. After the kiss, there may be a first dance on the beach. If not go right into the wedding recessional with a spirited announcement. I wait until after the bridal party exits to make my way down the aisle. Congratulating the parents in the front row is a nice gesture on your way out. Then I meet the bride and groom one last time to tie up any loose ends and bid our farewells.
My Wedding Minister binder is off white. It contains two pens, tissues, and a band-aid. I replaced the inside back cover with a nice mirror (brides love it!) I use clear and heavy page protectors. These keep my ceremony dry in the rain and keep the pages from flopping around in the wind. I keep an order of ceremony sheet with the bride and groom’s contact information,
a description of what they’re wearing, their musical selections, and notes regarding the venue and vendors. I often have several weddings a day, so I keep stamps and return address labels for the Ocean City Maryland Marriage License.
Keep it simple and fun. If you make a mistake, cover it up with your best smile. Getting married on the beach should be fun and laughter is contagious. Most people will never be asked to Officiate a wedding. If you receive that request it is an honor. Make sure you are properly ordained so the marriage is valid. Dress for the part and arrive early. Practice your ceremony in the mirror a few times. Life is short – enjoy each moment and seize the day!
AMM Founder & Minister Sean Rox
Ocean City MD’s original Beach Wedding Officiant since 2006