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A Bolt Out of the Blue

At these lickety-split weddings, cake is just an afterthought.

Illustration by Yelena Bryksenkova

There’s the Vegas wedding, the quickie wedding, and now, the guerrilla wedding.

Consider it the lightning round of matrimonial mergers. A couple and an officiant show up ready to go at a particular location. Three minutes later, vows have been read, the “I dos” acknowledged, and the deal sealed with a pronouncement of husband and wife.

But what do you do about the two witnesses who must sign the marriage license?

That’s easy, says officiant and guerrilla wedding practitioner Carolyn Burke. “We find them,” she says. “It can be any random people.” Passers-
by are almost always willing to do the deed.

“Once, when I was doing a wedding at the Arch, the witnesses had the same anniversary—on St. Patrick’s Day—as the couple I just married,” says Burke, a Kirkwood resident who got her credentials from the Universal Life Church.

“But if we’re at Forest Park, I won’t ask anyone who is running,” she says. “They don’t like to stop to be witnesses.”

Burke began offering guerrilla weddings by accident around Christmas three years ago. She married a couple in the Grand Hall of Union Station. Only later did she discover they should’ve gotten permission first. After that, she officiated a wedding on the balcony of a couple’s room at the Marriott St. Louis Union Station—overlooking the Grand Hall.
She’s willing to orchestrate a guerrilla wedding just about anywhere in town…with one exception.

“I won’t do it at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I used to work at the garden,” Burke says.

But she’s willing to do one at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Just talking about it thrills Burke, who has a streak of rebel impishness. The museum folks are decidedly not thrilled about the idea. “We would prohibit that,” says museum spokesman Matt Hathaway.

The trend may have begun in New York City, Burke says. With venue costs growing exorbitant, couples simply began showing up at their fave location and having the officiant conduct vows so quickly, no one would have time to tell them to leave—or pay up.

“Saving money is definitely a part of it for a lot of couples,” says the Rev. Cindy Brinkop, a minister with The Soul-Esteem Center in Maryland Heights. “They’d rather spend their money on something else, like a house. They don’t understand spending $20,000 on a wedding… They care more about the simplicity of the ceremony, and they don’t need to be the center of attention.”

Some guerrilla or eloping couples will hire a photographer or videographer to record the event. Burke allows up to 10 guests for these superspeedy ceremonies. More than that risks a run-in with the uniformed set.

Brinkop hasn’t yet performed a guerrilla wedding, but she’s willing. “If two people are happy, then go for it,” she says. “I don’t see any reason to put any confines on it.”

Of the 80 weddings she performs a year, many are elopements. Often, she’s marrying a couple from out of town with St. Louis ties. These happenings take place in parks, in bowling alleys, at City Museum, and quite a few bars. Bars?

“A lot of people get married in bars,” she confirms. “That’s where all their friends hang out and where they spend every Friday and Saturday night, so why not?”

Burke, who once married a couple in a Steak ‘n Shake, specializes in “eloping in your hometown.” But Brinkop is cautious about couples in a hot hurry to marry. “It could be a red flag that a couple is running from something: a past, a disapproving parent,” she says. “I believe that if the couple is very young, we as ministers have a responsibility to ask a simple question we might not normally ask: ‘Are you prepared to live with the consequences of this decision for the rest of your life?’”

So if guerrilla weddings are trending today, what’s on the horizon?

“I haven’t done a flash-mob wedding yet,” Burke says, smiling. “But I’d like to.”


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