Pious Payments

The Wedding Guru Judy Lewis fields this week’s wedding questions. Today: Clergy fees, smergy fees! Here’s how to stick to your budget without besmirching the church

Sometimes the excitement of the bridal shower, engagement party, and reception trumps the details of the actual ceremony. (I’m talking about the not-so-romantic stuff — such as selecting and paying for the house of worship and the ceremony officiant.) Read on…

A Valley groom asks: “My fiancée and I are getting married in the same church that she and her family attend. We’re ready to book it, but we’re not quite sure how much to pay for the use of the church and the minister’s fee. Please help!”

Dear Valley groom: Here’s what I found about church and clergy fees (correctly called an “honorarium”): Some expect a lot, and some don’t expect anything. I’ve met brides who plan to give anywhere from $100 to $500 to the church; one even paid $20 to each of the altar servers, and $100 (or more) to the priest. Another source tells me she’s spending $450 total, which includes use of the church, a wedding coordinator for the ceremony, an organist, the priest, altar servers, and maintenance services. (Though, if her family weren’t church members, the cost would set them back three times as much.) Officiant (who are not clergy) fees range from about $385 to $800.

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I spoke with Reverend Judith Johnson, an ecumenical minister from Rhinebeck who has participated in thousands of weddings during her 20 years serving as an officiant. (She’s also the author of “The Wedding Ceremony Planner,” Amazon.com’s best-selling wedding design book.) On the difference between clergy and officiants: Clergy associated with a particular house of worship are supported by that institution. That’s not the case with an officiant, who’s not associated with a particular church. In that case, the officiant should be compensated directly. Johnson suggests finding out about these fees while you plan your ceremony. “That way,” she says, “you won’t have any surprises — and you’ll be comfortable that you’re doing the right thing.”

A good point to note: If you wish to use the services of an officiant not associated with your chosen house of worship, the clergy may not be so willing to give up his pulpit. Johnson explains that sometimes church officiants look down upon officiants who aren’t associated with a church. You can see if they’ll compromise — perhaps the church’s clergy may share the pulpit with your chosen officiant. It all depends on how accommodating the clergy is to allow an outside officiant into his or her church.

Johnson pointed out that the fees often depend on several things:

  • The church — and whether or not you are members
  • The church’s location
  • Your relationship to the officiant
  • How often the officiant will meet with you before the wedding
  • How far the officiant needs to travel
  • How long before the ceremony the officiant arrives (usually at least 30 minutes)
  • How long after the wedding the officiant remains (usually 15 to 20 minutes in order to sign the license, congratulate the couple, and pose for photos)
  • Whether your ceremony is pre-written or custom-designed

So, how to crack the clergy fee code? I suggest first setting a budget and shop around before you make a decision. If you’re set on holding your ceremony in a particular house of worship, then you may have to negotiate — or you may just have to pay what’s being asked. Need to trim your budget? Consider having your ceremony at the same facility as your reception. In this way, you save on that second rental fee.

Readers, how much did you pay your officiant/clergy member? Did you get married in a church? If you could do it over again, what would you do to save money? Share your suggestions in the comments box below.

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To submit your own question to the Wedding Guru, email Judy at judy@hvmag.com.

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