A Unitarian wedding ceremony is a unique celebration that joins two people as partners – legally, socially, and spiritually – on their life’s journey. No set liturgy or institutional format is followed. Rather, each ceremony is co-created by the couple and the Lay Chaplain/Officiant with elements that are personally meaningful for those involved. The resulting ceremony celebrates the commitment between two people by honouring the values that give meaning and substance to their lives.
1. What is the difference between a Lay Chaplain and an Officiant?
“Officiant” is the term for anyone licensed by the government of Ontario to perform wedding ceremonies. The term “Lay Chaplain” is used by Unitarian congregations in Canada for members who have been invited by their church to serve the public through creating and officiating rites-of-passage. All Lay Chaplains receive specialized training to perform these ceremonies from the Canadian Unitarian Council. Throughout their term, Lay Chaplains continue to participate in workshops with their colleagues.
2. Is a Lay Chaplain a Minister?
No. Canadian Unitarian Lay Chaplains are members of congregations who receive special training overseen by the Canadian Unitarian Council to perform rites-of-passage, followed by a year of mentoring with a senior Lay Chaplain. Unlike ministers, they do not hold a university degree in theology, the “Masters of Divinity”. Lay Chaplains take additional training annually and are subject to performance reviews by members of their congregation.
3. Do we need to be members of the Unitarian church for your Lay Chaplain to marry us?
No. Unitarians in Canada have a long history of providing services to people who do not belong to any church or religious group.
4. Do you require or offer a marriage prep course?
We do not require couples to complete a marriage prep course. If desired, we can provide an optional program. For couples wishing to prepare for this significant life transition and commitment, by exploring subjects such as family history, conflict, and future goals, First Unitarian offers pre-marriage spiritual counseling in four private one-hour sessions (subject to availability).
5. Do Unitarian Lay Chaplains perform inter-faith marriages?
Yes. Unitarianism is not only tolerant of other religious beliefs and traditions; we are accepting of them and draw upon many faith traditions as sources of wisdom and inspiration. Lay Chaplains can make suggestions for blending the poetry, rituals and beliefs of diverse spiritual backgrounds into a single coherent service. Our Lay Chaplains are non-denominational and can work alongside priests, rabbis, or other clergy as appropriate for your wedding. We are inclusive and non-discriminatory with regards to religious practices and gender.
6. What is your fee?
Currently our fee is $350, including a $150 non-refundable deposit to guarantee your booking. The final payment is due a week prior to your wedding date. (Rehearsals, if needed, are an extra fee.) Weddings outside of Toronto are charged a mileage fee according to the Government of Ontario mileage rate. Our fee includes meeting with you and your fiancé, creating your service in consultation with you, meeting just before your wedding to go over the details, and officiating your wedding at the appointed time. At the ceremony we ensure that the legal documents are properly filled in and sent to the Ontario Registrar General following your wedding.
7. Can we speak with a Lay Chaplain before we reserve?
Yes. Whether your inquiry is by phone, through our “Contact Us” section, or by email, our Chaplain-Coordinator will refer your query to a Lay Chaplain who will respond with further information. If you are interested in speaking with a Lay Chaplain, a meeting will be arranged to answer your questions and discuss your service. Meetings can be arranged at either First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto (175 St. Clair. Ave. W.), a mutually convenient café, or the Lay Chaplain’s home. If after meeting your Lay Chaplain you decide to reserve their services, your booking is confirmed with a non-refundable deposit.
8. How long does a typical wedding ceremony last?
Most ceremonies take approximately 20 minutes, but they might be longer depending on your use of music, readings or other rituals (for example Celtic hand-fasting; water, wine, or sand ceremony). Please ask us for suggestions.
9. Can we be married wherever we choose?
Generally yes. Our chaplains are licensed to perform weddings in Ontario and have done so in public parks, backyards, restaurants, banquet halls, etc., or (for a modest rental fee), at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto. Check with your Lay Chaplain at your first meeting if you have an unusual site in mind.
10. Can our ceremony be performed on any day of the week?
Yes. Your date will be matched with a Lay Chaplain from our Congregation who is available on that day.
PROCESS: Steps to Creating Your Service
1. Inquiry and Meeting:
When you place your inquiry with our Chaplain-Coordinator, they will contact an available Lay Chaplain who will reply by email or phone with information describing our services and a copy of our wedding booklet. Reading through this booklet will help you decide if the text we generally work with (but are not limited to) suits your style. It is then your choice whether to follow-up with a meeting in person, or if you live outside Toronto, using Skype or FaceTime (etc.). If after your meeting you decide to reserve our services, we will accept a deposit to confirm your booking and ask you to sign a contract. Keep in mind that without a deposit [nonrefundable] we cannot hold the date for you.
2. Creating the Service:
Based on your preferences from our wedding booklet, and ideas from the conversation shared at your first meeting, your Lay Chaplain will create a service and send it to you by email for your review. Typically the first draft of your service will undergo a few changes before it is finalized – additions/deletions may be made, alternative readings considered, and options for rituals discussed. We want it to be a perfect fit according to your values and beliefs! We recognize that each couple is unique and has their own concerns, requests and wishes. We look forward to working with you whether it is our text or yours that forms the basis of your ceremony. You are most welcome to include children, family and friends.
* May our pets be part of the ceremony? Generally there is no restriction on including pets unless the ceremony is performed at a location where animals are not permitted (this includes Toronto First Unitarian Congregation).
3. Marriage License and Final Payment:
A week prior to your ceremony date, your Lay Chaplain must receive the Marriage license and final payment to complete their paperwork. It is your responsibility to get the marriage license within 90 days of the wedding. Do check Ontario government regulations for more details.
4. Requesting a Rehearsal:
Ask your Lay Chaplain if they recommend a rehearsal for your situation. If you are planning a more formal wedding that includes a number of bridesmaids, groomsmen, etc., a rehearsal may be recommended. Often the attendants are more nervous than the bride and groom – they want to understand their roles and they don’t want to let you down! There is an additional fee for scheduled rehearsals.
5. The Ceremony!
The Lay Chaplain will arrive at your wedding venue approximately 30 minutes before your service. We are more than happy to work with other wedding professionals – we will introduce ourselves to your attendants, photographer and musicians. Before leaving your ceremony, the Lay Chaplain will give you the official “Record of Marriage” portion of your marriage license, which confirms that you were married on that specific date. (See #6 below).
6. Following the Ceremony:
After your ceremony, the Lay Chaplain will send your completed marriage license to Service Ontario within 48 hours. Service Ontario takes approximately 8 weeks to process your marriage.
*The “Record of Marriage” is not a legal document so we strongly recommend you apply to the government for a “Certificate of Marriage” eight weeks after your ceremony date. The “Certificate” is a legal document and will be required for the purposes of spousal pension and in other situations. You can apply for the Certificate of Marriage online or by mail. The form will be in the folder we give you at your wedding.
LEGALITIES: Making your Ceremony Legal
1. Who is responsible for getting the marriage license?
For weddings in Ontario, the couple applies for the license at a municipal office. You can get information about this here. The license is valid for exactly 90 calendar days (includes weekends) from its date of issue.
2. Which elements of the service are legal necessities?
At the bare minimum, only three elements are legally required to register a marriage. They are: 1) the Affirmation of Intentions 2) the Exchange of Vows and 3) the Pronouncement. All of the other elements you choose to include in your wedding service are optional.
3. My fiancé and/or I have been married before. Is this a problem?
No. You are free to marry again as long as you both have proof of your widowed or divorced status (a legal divorce document or a death certificate) when you apply for your marriage license at City Hall. We will be happy to help you craft a ceremony that suits your situation. If you have been divorced outside Canada, check when you apply for your wedding license; special rules may apply.