Minister in a Can? Finding a Wedding Officiant for Your Destination Wedding

I’m back as promised with more helpful tips for planning a destination wedding. Last week, I talked about the most important thing you need to do — IMHO — hire a wedding planner. This week we’re going to talk about your wedding officiant.

So you’ve chosen your wedding date and you’ve chosen an island to get married on, and hopefully, you’ve availed yourselves of a good destination wedding planner who actually has an office in the Caribbean (how is a wedding planner up in the states really supposed to fully coordinate a wedding in the tropics?) The next step — with or without a planner — is to book (and confirm) your wedding officiant.

There are two kinds of wedding officiants usually found on any island — real ministers/priests/religious clergy and ministers-in-a-can. Both have their benefits.

If you’re a devout member of a specific faith, you may have fewer venue choices when you book your destination wedding. The Catholic priest on the island, for example, may only agree to perform wedding ceremonies in the actual church. Or the Jewish rabbi for the island might only be on the island one weekend a month. Or if the island is tiny enough, there may not be a religious officiant affiliated with your specific religion available on the island. Never fear, there are ways to work around it. You can always bring in an officiant from someplace else, if you have the connections to find him and he’s licensed to perform ceremonies wherever you are. Some wedding couples who have close relationships with their priests or pastors have chosen to bring them along to perform the ceremony at the destination, in partnership with a local officiant who can actually push through the legal paperwork.

Ministers-in-a-can are a growing population and shouldn’t be disregarded by any means. These are usually wedding officiants who have gotten ordained online or by mail, and have become licensed to perform legal marriage ceremonies on the island. They are usually very open-minded and willing to perform whatever kind of ceremony you like, whether it involves God, Allah, Buddha or none of the above, for a fee. Unlike the “real” religious officiants mentioned above, these ministers marry people for a living, and they’re usually very easy to work with because this is their livelihood, not just one of their parish duties. Fees seem to range from $200 to $500, depending on the size of the wedding and amount of paperwork the officiant is willing to facilitate for you. Sometimes these non-denominational officiants will refer you to a local wedding planner for getting your marriage license paperwork before the wedding ceremony.

Whatever your preference, you need to book your wedding officiant right away — before you start broadcasting your wedding date to your friends and family. There are a limited number of officiants on any Caribbean island and you must make sure they’re available at the right time on the date you’re looking for.

Some officiants require deposits, some don’t. I find that it’s usually the non-denominational guys who want deposits, and that’s just fine with me. I feel much better when I have a written contract with an officiant confirming a ceremony time and date. Deposits shouldn’t be more than $100. Think twice if they want more — most will be more than happy to accept any balance above $100 in cash on the day of the wedding.

I recently had a problem with this myself. A bride hired me to consult on her wedding after she had already paid and lost a deposit to a minister-in-a-can who picked up and left the island. She had sent the officiant a large deposit, but didn’t have a written contract in place. When the officiant left her high and dry, she had very little legal recourse to go after the minister. Fortunately, the minister I called to step in took pity on this bride and groom and cut a small break on his fee.

If you’re having a non-traditional wedding ceremony or a commitment ceremony, be sure and let the wedding officiant know exactly what you have planned when you book him or her to perform your ceremony. There are some ministers who are not flexible, or whose personal beliefs won’t permit them to perform gay weddings. It’s far better to be straight-forward with the officiant from the beginning so that you don’t end up with a problem at the last minute. If an officiant is already booked or doesn’t feel comfortable performing your particular ceremony, ask him or her for a referral to another officiant who may be willing to work with you. Don’t give up if you don’t find what you want right away — but you may want to consider hiring a wedding planner to help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Once you’ve got the minister reserved (with a deposit and a contract!), you can start planning everything else. Check back for my next blog entry about getting written contracts from your vendors when you’re dealing with people who usually do business on a handshake!

Happy wedding planning!


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