Destination Weddings Discussions

Help! Can't find an English-speaking officiant for my wedding.

This is a long post but we really need help, so please, bear with me. Even if you've never thought about language and weddings if you know anything about Catholic or destination weddings, missionaries, or had/want a guest to officiate your wedding you might have helpful advice. I'm in a bit of a panic and beginning to dread my own wedding. Google isn't helping and I haven't read any directly relevant forum/message board posts. Maybe someone out there can help??? Or at least provide some encouragement or feedback on broader issues to a bride on the verge tears?


Basically, I can't find an English-speaking officiant for our Colombian wedding and I speak limited Spanish. This bothers me. A lot.

A lot of people seem to have multilingual weddings but I haven't found many brides getting married in a ceremony in which they cannot understand the language.

It may be stupid to get this far without realizing this was going to be an issue. It's complicated. I’ve described the situation below but since this is already a long post I’ll just explain our circumstances led us to plan to marry in Colombia, but not where we live in Colombia, because having our families and friends present was more important than considerations of climate, landscape, and, yes, local language.

I didn't think this would be a problem because we were able to hire a bilingual wedding planner who has planned weddings for several international couples (always half Colombian) in the past. However, after hiring the planner and making a deposit on our venue we discovered that the other international couples were either both bilingual or they used the single English-speaking officiant recommend by our wedding planner. Unfortunately (for us) this officiant is a "priestess" who dresses like a fairy or a character from Lord of the Rings. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not our style. At all.


I'm brainstorming ideas to find an officiant or work around the language issue. Here's what I've got:

1) I still have trouble accepting that we cannot find an English-speaking officiant. Granted, you can’t get ordained over the Internet – but in Colombia clergy, notaries (bit different from U.S. notaries with more legal training), and judges can perform weddings. And Pereira, Colombia is one of three medium-sized cities in the relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan coffee-growing region. I asked my fiancé, a lawyer himself, contact lawyers with international practice areas in Pereira asking about English-speaking notaries or judges. He is working on it but it’s not looking good. (Just occurred to me - maybe online expat communities like Internations could help...just writing this gave me a new idea!)

2) Christian missionaries. What about churches that send missionaries to Colombia? Perhaps they have international clergy in the country? Maybe one of them speaks English? I'm not very religious myself and I don't know much about missionaries. How would I find them? Are there churches with active international missionary efforts that are flexible about marrying an interfaith couple who don't belong to their church? (I was baptized Methodist and last practiced with a wonderful Unitarian Universalist church in Boston but that was 10 years ago. I've contacted the Unitarian Universalist Association about an international presence but they have no churches listed for Colombia.)

3) Cartagena, while 600 miles north, is a popular destination wedding location. Perhaps they have more English-speaking officiants but I haven't had much luck finding any in English Google searches. How do couples normally find officiants for a destination wedding? Through their venue or wedding planner? How would we deal with travel for the officiant? (Travel is simply harder in Colombia. Cartagena is a 17 hour drive. There is one direct flight per day, in the morning, requiring a 1 or 2 night stay - what if they cancel that flight the morning of our wedding? Or connecting flights via Bogota. Which is kind of connecting in Dallas to get from New York to Miami.)   

4) Reconsider a Catholic ceremony. I'm not sure looking for an English-speaking priest is easier than an English-speaking notary or judge but it broadens our options. I’m not against a Catholic ceremony since I learned that I would not be required to convert and it does not have to include a full mass. My fiancé, the Catholic, is actually less receptive to the idea but we agree we would rather a Catholic ceremony to the priestess suggested. And on a bright note, I have been able to contact an American Catholic priest I met several years ago who is receptive to providing us pre-marital counseling, via Skype, but we wouldn’t be able to do the full marriage preparation course with him.

5) Maybe we should just get married in Spanish (read: sign the paperwork) with a notary before our wedding and find an English-speaking "officiant" to conduct a ceremony, even if they can't technically marry us in Colombia. But even then, how would we do that? None of our guests immediately come to mind as an officiant. Has anyone had a ceremony officiated by a guest when it wasn’t immediately obvious to them to do so? Advice?

6) Hire an interpreter. I don’t really like this idea but it’s possible to hire an interpreter to translate between the officiant and me. Personally this seems like a nightmare. Maybe I’m over sensitive due to my own personal failure to acquire basic fluency in Spanish. Other brides – how would you feel having your own wedding ceremony interpreted to you?

7) Last, and my least favorite, talk to the priestess. See how flexible she is. Would she perform a more traditional ceremony? In more traditional dress? Is her outfit really that important? Why do I have such a visceral reaction to it?

Am I overreacting? To the priestess? To an interpreter? Am I making this a bigger problem than it is? Your thoughts are welcome. (Just please be kind...in other words, please tell me nicely if you think I'm overreacting.)

Thanks in advance to anyone who reads this far!


Miriam (& Andrés)


***** The Long(er) Story *****

I'm American, my fiance is Colombian. We met in Colombia. He has always lived in Colombia. Colombians (depending on their social & economic situation) may still have a difficult time getting tourist visas to the U.S. Therefore, we feel compelled to marry in Colombia if his friends and family will be able to attend.

Also, my fiance's hometown, where he still lives (and I live 4-6 months per year) is in a region of Colombia that is often affected by guerrilla violence. Perhaps you know of Colombia's violent past - Marxist guerrillas, Pablo Escobar, or narco trafficking. Colombia has come a long way and *most* of the country is safe for tourists. Please don't read this as a reason not to travel to Colombia - it is more complex than that. Protest-related road blockades can cause fuel or food shortages and restrict ground transportation. The highway between our town and the closest international highway was bombed 6 times in December 2014. There is a local airport and life within the city limits is safe. But living here requires a certain amount of flexibility and we really don't want to worry about how the state of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (a terrorist/guerrilla group) might impact our wedding day. Plus two of my closest friends are in the military and require special permission to travel internationally and, I'm told, permission would *never* be granted for this region. So for these reasons we are getting married 6 hours north of where we live. Even though we are familiar with our destination, we don't have a local network to help with planning and we have to travel (three days, minimum, since it's not safe to travel parts of the route via bus after dark) to meet with vendors and such.

Three years ago I left my job as a college professor to travel the world while continuing to work as a researcher part-time, remotely. I met my fiance during my first visit to Colombia. While I've spent the last three years traveling full time (spending 4-6 months a year in Colombia) my fiance has never traveled outside Colombia and Ecuador. Nonetheless he is fluent in English - self taught, often through music and movies.  I, on the other hand, am stuck in the verb-noun, verb-noun stage of Spanish so I lack the precision afforded by proper use of articles, prepositions, and such. I have conversations in Spanish, but they aren't eloquent, are often limited by my vocabulary and I have trouble understanding people if they speak to fast (aka normally) or have an unfamiliar accent. In other words I can interact with his family but if I need to say something important or precisely, I need Andres to interpret.

Re: Help! Can't find an English-speaking officiant for my wedding.

  • Wow. It sounds like you aren't totally against the idea of the priestess. Could you simply ask to see a copy of her ceremony and ask her to dress in a suit? Perhaps she does both traditional and fantasy themed weddings, but your planner is only familiar with one of her specialties.
    "There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness." -Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Reading and Writing"
  • drmariner said:

    This is a long post but we really need help, so please, bear with me. Even if you've never thought about language and weddings if you know anything about Catholic or destination weddings, missionaries, or had/want a guest to officiate your wedding you might have helpful advice. I'm in a bit of a panic and beginning to dread my own wedding. Google isn't helping and I haven't read any directly relevant forum/message board posts. Maybe someone out there can help??? Or at least provide some encouragement or feedback on broader issues to a bride on the verge tears?


    Basically, I can't find an English-speaking officiant for our Colombian wedding and I speak limited Spanish. This bothers me. A lot.

    A lot of people seem to have multilingual weddings but I haven't found many brides getting married in a ceremony in which they cannot understand the language.

    It may be stupid to get this far without realizing this was going to be an issue. It's complicated. I’ve described the situation below but since this is already a long post I’ll just explain our circumstances led us to plan to marry in Colombia, but not where we live in Colombia, because having our families and friends present was more important than considerations of climate, landscape, and, yes, local language.

    I didn't think this would be a problem because we were able to hire a bilingual wedding planner who has planned weddings for several international couples (always half Colombian) in the past. However, after hiring the planner and making a deposit on our venue we discovered that the other international couples were either both bilingual or they used the single English-speaking officiant recommend by our wedding planner. Unfortunately (for us) this officiant is a "priestess" who dresses like a fairy or a character from Lord of the Rings. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not our style. At all.


    I'm brainstorming ideas to find an officiant or work around the language issue. Here's what I've got:

    1) I still have trouble accepting that we cannot find an English-speaking officiant. Granted, you can’t get ordained over the Internet – but in Colombia clergy, notaries (bit different from U.S. notaries with more legal training), and judges can perform weddings. And Pereira, Colombia is one of three medium-sized cities in the relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan coffee-growing region. I asked my fiancé, a lawyer himself, contact lawyers with international practice areas in Pereira asking about English-speaking notaries or judges. He is working on it but it’s not looking good. (Just occurred to me - maybe online expat communities like Internations could help...just writing this gave me a new idea!)

    2) Christian missionaries. What about churches that send missionaries to Colombia? Perhaps they have international clergy in the country? Maybe one of them speaks English? I'm not very religious myself and I don't know much about missionaries. How would I find them? Are there churches with active international missionary efforts that are flexible about marrying an interfaith couple who don't belong to their church? (I was baptized Methodist and last practiced with a wonderful Unitarian Universalist church in Boston but that was 10 years ago. I've contacted the Unitarian Universalist Association about an international presence but they have no churches listed for Colombia.)

    3) Cartagena, while 600 miles north, is a popular destination wedding location. Perhaps they have more English-speaking officiants but I haven't had much luck finding any in English Google searches. How do couples normally find officiants for a destination wedding? Through their venue or wedding planner? How would we deal with travel for the officiant? (Travel is simply harder in Colombia. Cartagena is a 17 hour drive. There is one direct flight per day, in the morning, requiring a 1 or 2 night stay - what if they cancel that flight the morning of our wedding? Or connecting flights via Bogota. Which is kind of connecting in Dallas to get from New York to Miami.)   

    4) Reconsider a Catholic ceremony. I'm not sure looking for an English-speaking priest is easier than an English-speaking notary or judge but it broadens our options. I’m not against a Catholic ceremony since I learned that I would not be required to convert and it does not have to include a full mass. My fiancé, the Catholic, is actually less receptive to the idea but we agree we would rather a Catholic ceremony to the priestess suggested. And on a bright note, I have been able to contact an American Catholic priest I met several years ago who is receptive to providing us pre-marital counseling, via Skype, but we wouldn’t be able to do the full marriage preparation course with him.

    5) Maybe we should just get married in Spanish (read: sign the paperwork) with a notary before our wedding and find an English-speaking "officiant" to conduct a ceremony, even if they can't technically marry us in Colombia. But even then, how would we do that? None of our guests immediately come to mind as an officiant. Has anyone had a ceremony officiated by a guest when it wasn’t immediately obvious to them to do so? Advice?

    6) Hire an interpreter. I don’t really like this idea but it’s possible to hire an interpreter to translate between the officiant and me. Personally this seems like a nightmare. Maybe I’m over sensitive due to my own personal failure to acquire basic fluency in Spanish. Other brides – how would you feel having your own wedding ceremony interpreted to you?

    7) Last, and my least favorite, talk to the priestess. See how flexible she is. Would she perform a more traditional ceremony? In more traditional dress? Is her outfit really that important? Why do I have such a visceral reaction to it?

    Am I overreacting? To the priestess? To an interpreter? Am I making this a bigger problem than it is? Your thoughts are welcome. (Just please be kind...in other words, please tell me nicely if you think I'm overreacting.)

    Thanks in advance to anyone who reads this far!


    Miriam (& Andrés)


    ***** The Long(er) Story *****

    I'm American, my fiance is Colombian. We met in Colombia. He has always lived in Colombia. Colombians (depending on their social & economic situation) may still have a difficult time getting tourist visas to the U.S. Therefore, we feel compelled to marry in Colombia if his friends and family will be able to attend.

    Also, my fiance's hometown, where he still lives (and I live 4-6 months per year) is in a region of Colombia that is often affected by guerrilla violence. Perhaps you know of Colombia's violent past - Marxist guerrillas, Pablo Escobar, or narco trafficking. Colombia has come a long way and *most* of the country is safe for tourists. Please don't read this as a reason not to travel to Colombia - it is more complex than that. Protest-related road blockades can cause fuel or food shortages and restrict ground transportation. The highway between our town and the closest international highway was bombed 6 times in December 2014. There is a local airport and life within the city limits is safe. But living here requires a certain amount of flexibility and we really don't want to worry about how the state of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (a terrorist/guerrilla group) might impact our wedding day. Plus two of my closest friends are in the military and require special permission to travel internationally and, I'm told, permission would *never* be granted for this region. So for these reasons we are getting married 6 hours north of where we live. Even though we are familiar with our destination, we don't have a local network to help with planning and we have to travel (three days, minimum, since it's not safe to travel parts of the route via bus after dark) to meet with vendors and such.

    Three years ago I left my job as a college professor to travel the world while continuing to work as a researcher part-time, remotely. I met my fiance during my first visit to Colombia. While I've spent the last three years traveling full time (spending 4-6 months a year in Colombia) my fiance has never traveled outside Colombia and Ecuador. Nonetheless he is fluent in English - self taught, often through music and movies.  I, on the other hand, am stuck in the verb-noun, verb-noun stage of Spanish so I lack the precision afforded by proper use of articles, prepositions, and such. I have conversations in Spanish, but they aren't eloquent, are often limited by my vocabulary and I have trouble understanding people if they speak to fast (aka normally) or have an unfamiliar accent. In other words I can interact with his family but if I need to say something important or precisely, I need Andres to interpret.

    Find a spanish-speaking person who can legally officiate the ceremony.  Ask him/her if he/she would be willing to 'share' speaking roles with an english-speaker.  The Officiant may have to do the official things like the I DOs and the "I now pronounce you", but maybe the english-speaker (a friend/family member who doesn't mind public speaking) could do the majority of the rest of the ceremony.  This way you get the best of both languages, you and your english-speaking guests get to understand the majority of your wedding, but you also get the legal spanish wedding.
    SP29ernursejdrmarinerOliveOilsMom
  • Granted, feelings don't have to be rational, but I do think you are being too hard on yourself and perhaps a little overly sensitive about not mastering a foreign language in three years time (living there part-time). Most people wouldn't or couldn't. Learning languages as an adult is far harder than doing it as a child (there have been studies).  And some people seem to be hard wired for grasping new languages and others just aren't, just like some people excel in math or science or sports or spelling and some people aren't so great at those things. It is not some fatal flaw in you as a human being.  I think everyone around you can be understanding of that, especially since you do seem to be trying.  From what you've said, it doesn't seem like you are petulant and stamping your feet demanding everyone cater to you in English and refusing to try to communicate in Spanish. I don't think people are judging you nearly as harshly as you seem to be judging yourself.

    That said, marriage is a legally binding contract and its important you understand what is being said. If you won't go with having an interpreter there the day of, then what about finding an officiant who will work with you and your fiance to script the ceremony ahead of time and you work with anyone bilingual willing to help you with translating and really practicing before the ceremony so you do understand those specific words and answer appropriately in Spanish?  
    SP29spockforprez
  • Is there any chance that someone in your FI's family could do the translation? I know this starts to cross the line with having family 'working the wedding' but it might be more personal than a random interpreter. I also like the idea of just focusing your language skills on the marriage ceremony and doing it in Spanish.
  • SP29SP29 member
    Sixth Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    Agree with the above. I think you have a few options.

    1) Talk to the priestess and ask how she would normally conduct a ceremony, what wording she would include, etc. I'd be much less picky about whatever she wears- she's an adult and can choose for herself. Will it really make or break your wedding day?

    2) As adk suggested, have the official Spanish speaking officiant with a friend/family member who can speak certain parts in english. Turn it into a bilingual ceremony.

    3) Get an interpreter. I wouldn't find this weird as a guest. I think it me it would look like a bilingual ceremony.

    With the Spanish speaking officiant, could you not get a copy of the ceremony and go over it with your FI having him translate for you/teach you before hand? Then you'll know what is being said the day of and can practice the language for the responses you'll need.
    drmariner
  • drmarinerdrmariner member
    10 Comments 5 Love Its
    edited March 2016
    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses! Based on your suggestions we have started putting together ceremony ideas and questions for potential Spanish-speaking officiants. A few things that have come to mind: 
    - Lacking an obvious choice for a guest ceremony leader we are looking to have different guests do several readings. If we ask guests to do readings in Spanish and English we hope if will feel like involving our guests in our ceremony not simply a language solution.
    - I realize while reading your replies - I don't mind things like the greeting/welcome or things that are short and contextually clear (kiss the bride, announcement of husband and wife) being in Spanish. And I don't need to understand the readings in real time, having translated the content in advance is fine. It is the very serious vows, the promises, the commitment bits that I want to be fully present in. 
    - My fiancé wants to write our own vows. I thought this would be a problem (and it still might still be). We hope to find an officiant okay with English vows as long as we provide a translation in advance. 

    Also we are talking to the priestess about more traditional ceremonies. But I think we will end up going the Spanish route with advanced translation for me and an emphasis on guest readings in both English and Spanish. 

    Thanks again. I am struck by the kindness of strangers and you have helped me feel more relaxed. 
    [Deleted User]SP29
  • jacques27 said:
    Granted, feelings don't have to be rational, but I do think you are being too hard on yourself and perhaps a little overly sensitive about not mastering a foreign language in three years time (living there part-time). Most people wouldn't or couldn't. Learning languages as an adult is far harder than doing it as a child (there have been studies).  And some people seem to be hard wired for grasping new languages and others just aren't, just like some people excel in math or science or sports or spelling and some people aren't so great at those things. It is not some fatal flaw in you as a human being.  I think everyone around you can be understanding of that, especially since you do seem to be trying.  From what you've said, it doesn't seem like you are petulant and stamping your feet demanding everyone cater to you in English and refusing to try to communicate in Spanish. I don't think people are judging you nearly as harshly as you seem to be judging yourself.

    That said, marriage is a legally binding contract and its important you understand what is being said. If you won't go with having an interpreter there the day of, then what about finding an officiant who will work with you and your fiance to script the ceremony ahead of time and you work with anyone bilingual willing to help you with translating and really practicing before the ceremony so you do understand those specific words and answer appropriately in Spanish?  
    Thank you for your kind words. I am an electrical engineer turned geology PhD. I have taught myself fluid dynamics and geochemistry - either for my PhD or for professional projects - but Spanish still challenges me.  In fact, as a professor, my struggle with Spanish has dramatically improved my rapport with students who feel they aren't math or science "people." I feel their pain! 
  • drmariner said:
    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses! Based on your suggestions we have started putting together ceremony ideas and questions for potential Spanish-speaking officiants. A few things that have come to mind: 
    - Lacking an obvious choice for a guest ceremony leader we are looking to have different guests do several readings. If we ask guests to do readings in Spanish and English we hope if will feel like involving our guests in our ceremony not simply a language solution.
    - I realize while reading your replies - I don't mind things like the greeting/welcome or things that are short and contextually clear (kiss the bride, announcement of husband and wife) being in Spanish. And I don't need to understand the readings in real time, having translated the content in advance is fine. It is the very serious vows, the promises, the commitment bits that I want to be fully present in. 
    - My fiancé wants to write our own vows. I thought this would be a problem (and it still might still be). We hope to find an officiant okay with English vows as long as we provide a translation in advance. 

    Also we are talking to the priestess about more traditional ceremonies. But I think we will end up going the Spanish route with advanced translation for me and an emphasis on guest readings in both English and Spanish. 

    Thanks again. I am struck by the kindness of strangers and you have helped me feel more relaxed. 
    Hey, glad you're feeling better.  

    I have more advice for when you write your own vows.  Please make sure they're promises.  I promise to love you in better or worse.  I promise to care for you in sickness and health, etc.  What you DON'T want is verbal PDA, "I knew from the first moment we met that you were the one for me. When I'm with you I feel safe.  When you touch me I get chills."  Gross.  The word Vow means Promise.  Please make promises.  You can save the lovey-dovey mushy stuff for a love letter you deliver to each other earlier in the day.  One tip I read here once that I really like is, decide with your fiance what you are going to promise each other, then go off to your separate corners and figure out how to make those promises in your own words.  Also, no silly promises that are bound to be broken, "I promise to always put the toilet seat down.  I promise to make you breakfast every weekend."  A wedding should be serious, not silly.

    Have fun!
    SP29drmarinerOliveOilsMom
  • SP29SP29 member
    Sixth Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    Sounds like a good plan! Let us know how it works out :)
  • adk19 - I completely agree! In fact I don't feel like we are writing our own vows as much as assembling components of vows that speak the most to us. For example, I really like vows that focus on who he will become, recognizing that we grow and change and committing to who he becomes, not just who is is now. Also I prefer "from this day forward" over "until death do us part." Things like that.
  • I'll keep you posted!
  • Getting married in July and having similar issue. My wedding planner said she only knew Spanish speaking officiant no bilingual. We are actually ok with only English officiant. Can you possibly forwarded me info for "priestess"? 
  • Another vote for hiring a translator
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