Couples turn to family and friends ordained online to officiate their weddings

Kirby and Frank Russo met through friends, while in college at the University of Georgia, eight-plus years ago. Last July, "he just took me out to this cute little garden," Kirby said, "and popped the question. And then we went to brunch and celebrated." 

In the hours, days, weeks, and months following that brunch — among the litany of other wedding-planning choices — the soon-to-be Russos faced a decision.

"It's an interfaith marriage," Frank said. "So, I'm Catholic and she's Jewish, and having to make that decision of 'how do we intertwine both our faiths and our families' was really at the top of our minds."

Kirby and Frank, with some unsolicited help from family members ("yeah, there were definitely opinions leading up to the wedding," Kirby said), considered finding both a rabbi and a priest to co-officiate. "But then we'll be sitting there for two hours," Frank said. So the Russos decided to ask Kirby's uncle, Andy, who got ordained online and married them in Athens, Georgia on April 10.

"He did great," Kirby said. "It was probably about 20 minutes."

According to The Knot Senior Editor Esther Lee, 51% of couples enlisted family and friends to serve as officiants in 2020 — up from 37% in 2015. Lee expected that COVID spike in online ordinations to continue into our — hopefully pandemic-free — future.

"As you look at the diminishing returns on church attendance," Universal Life Church Presiding Chaplain George Friedman said, "you will find more people are stepping into performing and taking their religion and spirituality into their own hands."

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The Universal Life Church has ordained Uncle Andy and 18 million and counting others in mere minutes on the Internet.

"People really want to keep their god in their heart as opposed to inside of a building," Friedman said.

Pew research found those identifying as atheist or agnostic rose 17% in the last decade, while according to a Springtide Research Institute study more than half of Gen-Z respondents affiliated with an organized religion said they didn't trust religious institutions. 

"Modern couples really want to throw the wedding that is right for them and themselves and their loved ones," Brides Associate Editorial Director Anna Price Olson said, "and I think asking a friend or family member to officiate is a perfect way to do that."

Olson called personalization vital to millennial and Gen-Z couples getting married today — a priority also on display when Uncle Andy married Kirby and Frank earlier this spring.

"I think we were able to personalize our vows and step a little bit outside of the traditions while still incorporating them," Frank said, "so we're able to add our own touch to it, which I think was so important to us."