Inviting the wedding officiant to the reception

I was wondering…do I send an invitation to the officiant of our wedding? We only met her once, but she is wonderful and we really liked her. I would like to have her come to the reception, or at least let her know that we are thinking about her. Do we ask her over the phone or do we send her an invitation?

Traditionally, the officiant is invited to the ceremony and reception in exactly the same way as the other guests. The invitation to the ceremony is a reminder, a courtesy, and, if she likes you too, a memento of a happy occasion.

The invitation to the reception is a courtesy to someone whose participation was essential to accomplishing the wedding ceremony. If the officiant is married, the spouse is included in the invitation as well.

If you mailed invitations to the other guests six weeks ago, then thought of the officiant, go ahead and put an invitation in the mail now. Although this isn't ideal, the officiant will probably be flattered that you took the trouble to send a real invitation, as so many couples issue an off-hand oral invitation at the rehearsal itself.

Why is an off-hand invitation at the last minute wrong? First, the officiant is one of the most important people at your wedding. In most states, it can't proceed without him or her. Second, if the officiant doesn't receive an advance information, she may make other plans for the afternoon or evening.

Even though the officiant doesn't know you well, she will almost certainly recognize that the invitation is a courtesy and a sign that you value her presence. If she is uncomfortable at parties where she knows few people, she will either stay only a short while or decline the invitation. Don't be concerned if she declines-it's quite possible that she simply has other plans for the time.

Your question is refreshingly hospitable and generous. Many happy couples are reluctant to entertain the officiant at the reception. When the officiant is a stranger who is hired solely for the occasion and who does virtually no ceremony planning work with the couple, they are not positively required to invite him or her-although it is still a nice gesture.

It may help to think of officiants as falling along a continuum from vendor, at one extreme, to spiritual advisor or family friend at the other. If your wedding is officiated by whatever county clerk was on duty when you showed up at the courthouse-as is possible in some states-this officiant is not invited out to lunch with you afterwards, no matter how much he wants to go. If your officiant is a family friend, your parents' pastor, your own pastor, or someone that you have other social ties to, he or she would be invited as a matter of course. Any officiant who spends time with you working on getting the ceremony right is assumed to be an honorary friend or spiritual advisor, and would thus be invited.

If you are having assigned seating, traditional etiquette books will tell you to seat the officiant with the bride's parents. This rule dates from a time when the officiant was almost always the bride's parents' pastor: they knew him and probably invited him to dinner at least once a year. While it's still safe to follow this rule, use common sense about seating the officiant at a "good" table with people that he or she knows or might enjoy. If the officiant knows the groom's parents but not the bride's parents, it is perfectly correct to seat him or her with the parents he knows.