The perks, and sometimes pains, of being a judge

Deborah Mitchell - Contributing Columnist

Life is often surprising. Just as I never anticipated living most of my life in Sedalia, I also had no idea I would end up in jobs that connected me with lots of weddings. But here I am, a judge who officiates at more weddings than I can count, and also the wedding coordinator at Broadway Presbyterian. Some years I “do” a few weddings, and some years, I am busy during several weekends – no one seems to want to get married on a Tuesday. This year is one of those when I am busy; several weekends – such as this one, when I will attend to two weddings in one day!

My officiating career began years ago when the Missouri legislature decided that municipal judges were qualified to marry couples. At our annual conference that year, all the municipal judges learned about the new law, and I learned about civil marriage ceremonies. The only kind of wedding I had ever been involved with was one in a church with a minister presiding; a civil service was new to me. But I learned, and I began performing weddings.

At first, municipal judges could officiate only in their jurisdictions, which meant that I could marry people only within Sedalia’s city limits unless I applied for special permission from the Supreme Court. But most circuit and associate circuit judges don’t perform many weddings outside the courthouse, and we found that people wanted weddings in lots of places, so the legislature amended the law to allow municipal judges to perform weddings all over Missouri. I could then officiate where people wanted to be married – not just in Sedalia or at the courthouse.

All these weddings are different; some people want an elaborate ceremony with bridesmaids and all the trimmings, and some just want to get “hitched.” The most frustrating ones are when people are having a larger ceremony and have a rehearsal, but no one is in charge and knows what to do. This is where my training as wedding coordinator comes in handy. I end up being the rehearsal coordinator and the officiant – and one time, the pianist wasn’t there, so I ended up playing the music, too. Some people want a completely civil service – just the facts, ma’am, just the facts – and some want a semi-civil service with prayers. I always begin with a silent prayer anyway – let this marriage be a good one.

My wedding jobs have overlapped at church, too, when I have taken care of the marriage license for a pastor who is either from another state or who hasn’t done many weddings. The church ceremonies are usually more organized than the ones I perform elsewhere, but not always. The most common question is, “Which side do I walk on?” I didn’t know the answer to that question the first time I heard it, now many years ago, but I bought a book – “Weddings for Dummies” – that gave me answers to all wedding questions. The book was invaluable as I learned how to run an efficient rehearsal, shuffle all the latecomers into seats without disturbing the ceremony – already in progress – and deal with three-year-old flower girls and ring bearers who don’t want to go down the aisle nor stay in any one place during the ceremony. But who would expect that? They are three years old!

I also had to learn how to gently guide people through music choices. No matter how you look at it, a Led Zeppelin song is simply not appropriate for a wedding – not that anyone has suggested one, but after seeing some other choices, I know it could happen. I also try to keep photographers from jumping up and down like jack-in-the-boxes during services, but often times I fail at that job.

So this weekend, I will officiate a wedding on Friday afternoon and then run a rehearsal at Broadway Friday night. Saturday is the church wedding, when I will do my best to send a young couple on the way to a long and contented marriage with little anxiety or bother. Yes, these wedding jobs were unexpected, but should you ask if I like it, I have to say, “I do.”

Deborah Mitchell

Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.

Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.

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