This weekend a substantial part of my past will cease to exist. As of May 1st, the Era of Student Wards will come to an end, and the last remnants of the University of Utah 32nd Ward will be scattered to the four winds.
At least, I think it will happened this weekend. It might have been last weekend. Truth is, I haven't attended the 32nd Ward in nearly two and a half years. Hard to believe it's been that long.
Even harder to believe it's been almost thirteen years since the first time I walked into a U32 meeting. Back then Clinton was President, Stockton and Malone were still running the pick-and-roll downtown, and I had hair (a lot of it, actually). There were three different buildings on the current University Institute property, which along with some schedule confusion, meant it took me three weeks before I finally found an actual U32 meeting.
Once I finally did, I attended with BretO and Mr. Mac's grandson (AKA, "The Other Josh") for about six months until Jared Parker was brought on as Bishop in the spring of 1999. And that was the beginning of the Glory Years of the U32.
Over the next ten years I was in and out of the ward several times, ducking out for a couple years when I went to grad school in Logan, or for stretches when I lived in areas covered by other wards. When I started at "Club 32," the ward boundaries covered all of Davis County, the Rose Park area, Capitol Hill, and even the Brigham Apartments downtown. But starting in '99, people started coming in so fast that the ward was eventually whittled down to a narrow sliver of the North Bountiful/South Centerville area. If that doesn't stand as a testament to the quality of the place, nothing does.
It's hard to narrow the list of memories when you've spent so much time in a ward like that (especially when you have to omit the dating-related ones for fear of litigation). But here are a few that stick out for me:
· 1999: A few ward friends and I gather in BretO's backyard to film a music video for the Stake Film Festival. Our electric cover of "If You Could Hie to Kolob" wins "Best Soundtrack" at the festival, but the YouTube response isn't quite as kind.
· 2001: In a profound abuse of power, I use my calling as U32 Elder's Quorum President to organize the Ward Toga Party, where I plan to debut my new band, The Atomic Thunderlips Traveling Ministry. A half-hour into the event, lightning strikes a nearby transformer, cutting power to the church for the evening.
· 2002: During a heartfelt testimony, I accuse my roommate Bob Morley of being one of the Three Nephites. Ever the humble disciple, Bob immediately approaches the pulpit and follows my rant with an emphatic denial.
· 2004: While still in grad school at USU, I swing down to Salt Lake one weekend and decide to drop by the U32's Fast and Testimony meeting. About three testimonies in, a girl gets up and rants for ten minutes about the hod-rodding jerk she was racing up 4th South on the way there, and how the intensely frustrating experience was a testimony to her of God's infinite love. Pretty funny considering she was describing my car.
· 2007: In a sleep-deprived stupor brought on by my new graveyard shift job at KJZZ, I expose my sister and roommate's just-blossoming courtship during yet another rambling, incoherent testimony. They wind up getting married, so everything's cool.
· 2008: In the deadly silence of an empty gym while U32 members contemplatively take the sacrament, Nathan Lyon gets a text message. No big deal, except that Nathan's text notification is an especially loud audio clip of our President proclaiming, "My name is George W. Bush, and I approve this message."
Actually, if there was one thing that embodied the best spirit of those U32 years, it was the annual St. George temple trip. Just after school let out, as people were moving home for the summer, about 70+ ward members would caravan down to St. George for an overnighter that featured hiking, picnicing, and a morning session at the St. George temple. Usually, a dozen or so people would go down a night early, and make the event last a little longer. Those were usually the people who would make up the heart of the ward for the coming summer. Of all the activities and all the memories I have of the ward, those trips were probably my favorite. I was always bummed that the tradition only lasted those first few years.
As it all draws to a close, I’ve been hearing a lot of lamentations, but I think the big shift is being a bit overblown. Maybe that's just easy to say two years after I've already walked away. At the same time, from my perspective, I can see that not a whole lot is really changing. People will still have singles wards to go to; they'll just find them locally instead of dragging up to campus every Sunday morning. In a way, the whole thing feels like an elaborate plan to help young single adults save on gas money. Nothing wrong with that.
I always laugh whenever I go to a summer testimony meeting in Island Park and listen to people bear their testimonies of their ward. There's a fine line between appreciating something and giving it undue reverence. Ultimately the U32 was great because of the people who were in it, and the spirit that united them. The place definitely had its warts—trust me, in ten years I saw lots of them—but overall it brought out the best in a lot of people.
That's why it isn't so sad the ward is being disbanded. Those same people are just going to do their thing somewhere else. Sometimes you just gotta move on.