Interview with Ray Van Winkle, a wedding officiant in Seattle
What should our readers know about you?
Hello! I'm Ray Van Winkle, the owner and principal wedding officiant of Rev. Ray Van Winkle & Associates. We've been in business since 2003. We do ceremonies, both religious and secular, serious and lighthearted. We also do vow renewals, elopements, and offer premarital counseling.
We've been voted the best wedding officiants by King5/Evening Magazine Best of Western Washington annually since 2010, and have been a finalist in the Seattle Bride Magazine Best of the year contest for the past 5 or 6 years.
How did you become a wedding officiant?
It was my wife that got me into it. We were going to buy property on the Washington coast and turn it into a wedding venue, with me as the resident wedding officiant. The real estate part fell through, but I had already gotten myself ordained. And so I performed my first wedding in March of 2003 and had one of those "this is what you were put on earth to do" moments!
"This is what I was put on earth to do! I've done over 1,500 weddings and have only missed two."
What is the most common questions clients ask you?
They have a lot of concerns about what happens if I get sick! I've done over 1,500 weddings and have only missed two. Arranged coverage both times!
Are there things that differentiate wedding officiants?
To me, it's a matter of style and personality. Some people are more serious in nature, others are more fun and lighthearted. Brides should definitely ask about experience and the wedding officiant's willingness to perform the kind of ceremony the couple wants.
I could go on all day about why one should hire a professional, but it comes down to public speaking skills, writing ability, knowing how to properly do the legal paperwork and the ability to roll with the punches when and if things go wrong. If you have a wedding planner or day-of coordinator, just ask them about DIY wedding officiants!
Depending on the part of the country you are in, and if your wedding officiant is writing from scratch or is using a wedding officiant script, you can expect a rate anywhere from $100 and up to $800.
What are the typical services/packages offered by wedding officiants?
Most wedding officiants will have an elopement and/or "small" wedding package and a full wedding package, which would include a rehearsal. You will find that some wedding officiants do charge extra to be at the rehearsal. Depending on the part of the country you are in, and if your wedding officiant is writing from scratch or is using a ceremony book, you can expect a rate anywhere from $100 up to $800.
How do couples come up with their vows?
About 2/3'ds of our couples use "repeat after me" vows that we offer in our wedding officiant script. For the rest, who write their own vows, I always suggest starting out as if you are writing a letter to your beloved.
You can read more about writing the vows in our article "Writing Your Own Wedding Vows".
Was there ever a time you had to improvise?
Lots of times. Things rarely go 100% according to plan at a wedding (just another reason to hire a pro!). Wedding rings go missing, you have to break "repeat after me" vows down into smaller bits, someone in the wedding party faints, the list goes on.
"You guys just sit down, shut up, and thank God your sister's getting married!"
What was the most memorable wedding you officiated?
I did a wedding once where they wanted me to do the traditional "if anyone objects speak now" etc. at the beginning of the ceremony. We had an objection. We had a second objection. Then another one! Totaled out at FIVE objections, all men, all seated in different parts of the hall. The father of the bride stands up, points to each and every one of them and says "you guys just sit down, shut up, and thank God your sister is getting married!"
Which portion of the process keeps you busy the most?
The part that keeps me the busiest is the initial consultation. We get to know each other, go over the logistics of the ceremony, find out what the couple is looking for in their ceremony. Then, we introduce the couple to our very extensive ceremony book. On the wedding day itself, I arrive about 30 minutes before it's due to start. Run cues with the wedding DJ, talk with the professional photographer/wedding videographer and fill out the paperwork in advance. After the ceremony, we sign documents.
If you could ask one thing of your clients to make your job easier, what would it be?
First, as a wedding officiant I can say, don't leave the marriage license back in your hotel room! Secondly, it's nice if you fill out your portions (name, address, SSN, etc.) before the Big Day.