Choose Your Own Adventure

April 8, 2004 | 47 comments
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Recently I was waiting in line at a store, and noticed that the two couples behind me apparently knew each other from church. I was tempted to turn around and ask “Are you by chance Mormons?” (Because they were all blond, and between the two couples had a strangely large number of children….) I’m glad I didn’t, though, because it soon became clear that they weren’t LDS, and not having asked, I could eavesdrop. They were discussing some social upheaval at their church, leading to certain people joining their congregation, and others leaving. Apparently there is, to some extent, a “marketplace” kind of atmosphere among protestant churches in our area. I initially had that reaction that we all know a little too well, that “well, we don’t do it that way in our church” smugness. Then I woke up a bit, and realized sometimes we do it exactly that way.

Let me introduce you all to a concept you “traditional Mormon” readers may not know about–the east coast singles ward scene. I happen to be an expert in it. I could get an honorary Ph.d. in singles wards, were it not something of a Mormon stigma that I’ve been in them for so long.

Increasingly, singles from all over the country are hearing about the merits of an east coast stint, and heading here in droves. The funny thing about this exodus (or is it inodus?) is that despite traditional Mormon you-don’t-choose-your-ward tradition, singles are selecting the communities that fit them, and moving there specifically to be near like minded people. Pretty interesting ramifications for ward chemistry…and it leads to some pretty interesting communities. With the obvious question being, what kind of an effect does it have on our spiritual growth when we choose our own communities? Is our service and commitment lessened because we are deprived of the unchosen diverse (at least in some respects) ward?

But enough of the serious talk. People clearly want facts, or at least unsubstantiated opinions. Here’s how I look at it. There is a triumverate of singles ward meccas on the east coast: Boston, New York, and Washington D.C.

Boston is quirky, intellectual, and sometimes “dangerous.” If you have crazy ideas go to Boston. (Or at least, go to Boston about 5-10 years ago…apparently those Yankees up there are mainstreaming a bit….) Boston is an adventure. If some of the T&S regulars (and Aaron) write about a crazy ward, you can go to Vegas and lay bets that it was in Boston. (It’s entirely possible that those single ward goers *would* actually gamble, and do it while drinking the coca-cola). The singles wards are full of Harvard and MIT students–in fact the building which houses 4 singles ward is about a block away from the Harvard campus. How crazy are they? Apparently a few years ago, so the rumor goes, the LDSSA made a serious attempt to secede from CES. (Something I had nothing to do with Mom…I swear.) Here’s the other thing about Boston–now that I’ve slandered (or is it libeled) with a broad brush–rock solid testimonies, incredibly thoughtful and thinking people, and wonderful communal energy.

New York. If only I knew you better. Here’s the rumor, backed up by some very enjoyable visits. Smart, bright, artsy, and hip. Want musicians? Got ‘em. Want rich successful business people? Got ‘em. (Or at least NY rich…) Want fabulous lessons full of thought provoking ideas? Head to the Big Apple. Want a little quirk with your cereal and milk? Yup. Go to New York. Besides, who can beat attending church across the street from the Opera. (And soon, attending church in the temple building.) Plus, they get added props for putting the age limit for the “older singles ward” at 27+. That’s optimism my friends….

Washington D.C. So many singles here. I’ve lost count of the wards, and rumors of impending splits have reached my ears. You want a rather large field, white and ready to harvest? Come to D.C. and thrust in your sickle. (But choose carefully where you go. I was once told that a certain ward was “into appearances” and I might fit in better somewhere else. Yes, indeed!) There are the power wards, full of government workers and law students, there are the wards with college kids, there are the wards with lots of local singles, there is an oscillating nanny population, and there are just bunches of people who are here because they heard it was fun to be single in D.C. In a celebration of our pluralistic democracy, D.C. has it all. And in celebration of our Mormon heritage, I can say that I’m blessed to be surrounded by such amazing and inspiring people.

So, despite my initial smugness regarding our Mormon tradition of set ward boundaries, I recognize that as singles–sometimes we just choose our own adventures–and what an adventure it is…

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47 Responses to Choose Your Own Adventure

  1. Bob Caswell on April 8, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    want to read…bug must be gone…

  2. Aaron Brown on April 8, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    Gosh, Karen, this almost makes me want to be single again!

    Let me throw in my 2 cents about Los Angeles. I don’t frequent the singles wards here (obviously), but I know when you move to L.A. as a single, you decide whether you’re going to attend “Club Church,” or the other singles ward (there’s two). And if you really want an ultra-trendy meat-market, word has it you should hang out in the Huntington Beach singles ward.

    As aside: Can I just say how glad I am that the Church forces the singles to “age-out” at 31 (or is it 32?). This means wards like mine get a periodic influx of 30-something singles that keep the ward interesting and fresh.

    By the way, was there really a “serious attempt” to secede from CES by LDSSA? I was a somewhat vocal advocate of the idea at HLS — at least with respect to the law school chapter. But I didn’t know this was ever seriously considered by anyone.

    I think you’re right that the fringe-nature of the Boston scene has toned down a bit (my stories notwithstanding). I remember hearing tales of bishops who would vacillate on the morality of homosexuality over the pulpit, and other such things. Nothing quite so crazy ever happened when I was there — and I was really looking hard!

    Aaron B

  3. Bob Caswell on April 8, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    For those of us who don’t know, what is LDSSA?

    “despite traditional Mormon you-don’t-choose-your-ward tradition, singles are selecting the communities that fit them…”

    Does anyone else blog for this reason? Just curious.

  4. cooper on April 8, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    From what I hear…
    Huntington Beach is the place to go for dancing and activities (eveyone knows that all the cutest guys are from HB anyway). Also Murietta Singles Ward is a great place to be for institue or Sundays. And out here you can “travel” to be in a singles ward. because they are few and far between it’s acceptable to attend and be active and not even live in the community. This is all according to a YSAer I know well.

  5. Karen on April 8, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    Aaron,

    Wow, did I really just write a singles ward *advertisement*? So not my intention. :o) Well, Aaron, let’s just say with a little cyber-hand in front of mouth mumbling that you must have stirred the pot sufficiently, because-the-year-after-you-left-we-put-it-to-a-vote (at the HLS chapter–due to our independent funding)…the measure was defeated, but some very funny back-room politics for a while.

    Bob, ah, LDSSA. Latter-day Saint Student Association. It is the college campus club that acts as institute for non-church owned schools. (Actually is that a correct definition? It was for us at HLS…)

    And point well taken about blogging…and this is the community we chose? :o)

  6. Adam Greenwood on April 8, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    We’ve had a variation of this discussion at http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/000153.html, although we grossly ignored the valuable single viewpoint. :) Have to say that ward-hopping makes more sense for singles looking for love than it does for marrieds looking for complacency, though marrieds sometimes ward-hop for other reasons.

    I still think we can look down on Protestants a little. Moving to Boston to change one’s ward is just a bit more complicating than switching congregations.

  7. Kristine on April 8, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    “The golden age is just passed” seems to be part of the mythology of the Boston singles ward(s) scene. I was there waaaaaay back when there was only one ward, and the older folks (um, yeah, the ones who were the age I am now…sigh!) were always talking about how great it was 5 years ago.

    I was also briefly in the Huntington Beach singles ward–the EQ president told me apologetically that he just didn’t have much luck getting the guys to home teach the girls who weren’t cute so I probably wouldn’t see my home teachers unless I called them. Yuck.

  8. Melissa on April 8, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    Karen,

    I have to say that the Boston wards you speak of are nowhere to be found here now. Although I haven’t been in the Manhattan single’s ward, I can say that the ward I attend in Cambridge is the most conservative, republican, dogmatic and predictable group of LDS single’s I have ever been around (including my BYU wards). It was rather a shock to my system after being in the student ward at Yale and spending a Summer in DC because my expectations were so high. Having said that, there are occasionally very insightful comments made in my Sunday School class (that have nothing to do with me :)) and I started an alternative book group last year which attracted some like-minded souls. But it was telling to me that even among that group none of them had even heard of Dialogue, Sunstone, or Signature Books, for example.

    The Colonial Ward in DC is frankly unmanageable. You can meet someone one week in Sunday School and never see them again, ever. Honestly. There are 5 or 6 Sunday School classes, two different Elder’s Quorums and one impossibly large Relief Society. If you are an intern or are going to be there less than 6 months they tell you that you won’t be getting a calling, or visiting and home teachers. I think people who are on the margins for whatever reasons get lost there. However, I did meet several really amazing people in DC with whom I’m still good friends. I also started a book group the Summer I was there and we had some interesting discussions that I appreciated.

    The student ward in New Haven, which has now been disbanded for complicated reasons (most of which I strongly approve) was the single best experience I have ever had in a student or single’s ward. I think a lot of this had to do with size. It was small and intimate. Both married and single students attended the ward so the level of sexual tension was diminished and both groups benefited from being together. Although there was another sort of tension in RS between the play group crowd (the women who were in New Haven supporting their husbands through school) and the book group crowd (those of us in school ourselves), lots of close friendships developed. It was in this ward where I had my feminist awakening (I was a late-blooming feminist at 24) and where I moved from being a dogmatic Mormon to being a liberal Mormon. Huge changes occurred in my understanding of the Gospel and the Church because of challenging Sunday School lessons, long Gospel discussions with the book group women and with my students in Institute. I wish all student wards could be like this one, but they are rare.

    I have deep ambivalence towards single’s wards because I think they can result in the marginalization and even ghettoization of the single’s in the Church. I think the best model is the New Haven model—in which single and married students mix, but since that is so uncommon a situation perhaps single’s wards are the the next best option.

  9. Karen on April 8, 2004 at 6:34 pm

    Kristine, I had no idea about the golden age myth in Boston–I still think it can be a little off kilter there, though, so I still have faith in that golden age and its lasting influence. Last time I was there the bishop was giving a talk on “guarding our collective chastity.” Really now, that creates some interesting questions.

    I think your Hungtington Beach story perhaps explains why singles move to family wards after a certain point…they just can’t take it anymore…

  10. Steve Evans on April 8, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    The Manhattan singles wards are where it’s at. Sumer and I will sometimes take off our rings and go hang out there. Hilarity ensues!

    In all seriousness, they’re a pretty great bunch, with lots of professionals, artists, and the generic layabouts. Maybe not as intellectual as some areas (*cough*Boston*cough), but no slouch either.

  11. Nate Oman on April 8, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    Karen: The HLS LDSSA did indeed attempt to split from the CES. Aaron Eddington led the insurgency. (surprise! surprise!) Alas, it failed because everyone thought that it would be too mean to the CES teacher who would strangely stalk our meetings. So to avoid being mean, we made it clear that he was not welcome by generally ignoring him during our discussions and not informing him of meeting times. Institutionalize passive aggression…

  12. Ryan Bell on April 8, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Karen, like you, I haven’t spent time in the New York singles community, but have visited, and came away with quite an impression.

    I visited New York with a group of friends- most of us were married, but because we were being hosted by a few friends who were still single, we attended their ward with them (okay, I’ll admit, we marrieds also carry a very detached, anthropological interest in the workings of these fascinating little Darwinian microcosms we call singles wards). From an anthropological standpoint, we were given the outrageous good fortune of visiting during fast and testimony meeting, the best time to observe the denizens of a ward and feel the true flavor of the group.

    By the end of the hour, all members of our group (three or four couples, plus varied singles) were very surprised. Despite the diversity of the speakers, from thespians and opera students (whose testimonies were pronouncedly more dramatic than those of the sellout professionals) to investment bankers and lawyers, most of them had one thing in common. It seems that when in New York, it is entirely appropriate to bear testimony of one bedrock principle of the gospel that others are unable to witness of: the great blessedness and privilege of being a person chosen to live in the great city. I am not exaggerating when I say that a full 70 % of testimony bearers bore fervent testimony to how lucky they know they are, that where so many others in the world would give anything to be in their position, they are actually living in New York, or (as it was called by at least three speakers) “Living the Dream.”

    Indeed, the theme was begun by the conducting member of the bishopric, so perhaps the rest of the testimony-bearers were merely following suit. Either way, it was the first time in my life I’d heard this new doctrine of the blessedness of the New York city life. I am aware of the claim that most New Yorkers believe their city to be the center of the universe, and wonder how anyone could live anywhere else, but I found it interesting to see how single Mormon New Yorkers (New Yorkers in the loosest sense of course, given the lightning quick turnover a ward like this deals with) had appropriated that world view, and even doctrinalized it.

    I guess it’s hard to describe how flabbergasted we all were at the uniformity of this “testimony.” We went down to the street and stood there mystified about how universal this consensus opinion seemed among those we had attended church with. The rest of us, sad residents of Boston and D.C. and a few untouchable Utahns, struggled to answer our own questions about why we had been overlooked in Heaven’s decision about whom to call to New York. What unworthy acts had we committed that kept our names from the blessed rolls of the Big Apple church? Perhaps we will never know.

    We quickly realized how blessed we were just to have visited this spot for a weekend, thereupon naming that special weekend visit: “New York City, 2001: Living the Dream.” I’ll never forget my time among the chosen.

  13. Greg Call on April 8, 2004 at 6:48 pm

    When I was in a ward in Brooklyn, we had a sudden influx of singles that were kicked out of the Manhattan singles wards. Because there are no singles wards in the Brooklyn Stake, they attended the family wards. I think this was a huge benefit for both the Brooklyn Stake and the singles: they were almost all called to “important” positions (high council,Young men’s and women’s presidencies, Stake primary president), which eased a lot of the pressures in that very young, urban, and transitory stake.

  14. Aaron Brown on April 8, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Memories of Cambridge wards …

    … Bishop with a full beard … separate Sunday Schools with varying levels of orthodoxy … the ward “liturgy committee” … Sam Brown’s unforgettable elders’ quorum lessons …

    Aaron B

  15. Ryan Bell on April 8, 2004 at 6:54 pm

    Melissa, are the “abolish the Colonial Ward/All singles wards” undercurrents still running loose in Alexandria? I have to admit, the radicals have some pretty good points.

  16. Karen on April 8, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    You are all far too much fun. I have work to do!

    okay, Melissa…thanks for the New Haven update. You’ll also be happy to know they are in the process of splitting Colonial.

    Nate. Yes, I remember the insurgency. I was there. Remember how we know each other from law school? And how Aaron E. and I were in the same graduating class? :o) Sadly, I was the one that had multiple discussions with the poor CES teacher (who was a nice guy…but just really unprepared for us…) about what was going on. I clearly remember “Why don’t they like me?” was a recurrent theme.

    Ryan. I’m glad you got a brief sojourn in the promised land. :o)

    Aaron. Good memories from Cambridge…the organist who would play baroque music as the priesthood sat down after the sacrament.

  17. Aaron Brown on April 8, 2004 at 7:19 pm

    I am so happy to hear about the HLS LDSSA insurgency! I didn’t know about this! Even though I wasn’t there, I feel like I can now remove CES from my long list of “Things to Fume About.” Thanks to T&S for the free therapy.

    Aaron B

  18. Ben Huff on April 8, 2004 at 7:23 pm

    Wow, I really *am* in the middle of nowhere! tho I do enjoy my married student friends here. I sure hope I get some work done on my dissertation while I’m in the Notre Dame cloister! Maybe then I’ll feel fit to show my face among the talented denizens of the triumvirate : ) Of course, I am just a long day’s drive from some of these places, if I can only get the nerve . . .

  19. Ben Huff on April 8, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    Too bad when I was in the Cambridge singles ward I was a pre-mi and hence unready to take part in the true purpose of the ward. Oh, for a year there now!

  20. Russell Arben Fox on April 8, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    Dear heavens Melissa, the Alexandria Colonial Ward…what a madhouse. I remember it well. The single best ward I have ever been in for someone who 1) wants to keep their temple recommend but 2) doesn’t want a calling, 3) doesn’t want to be home taught, and 4) doesn’t want to go to church. I mean, it was just astonishing how bloated and disorganized that place was. The upside, of course, is that it allowed for tremendous diversification at the margins. Someone could probably have simply announced to their friends that they were going to start a separate branch in their own apartment, complete with providing the sacrament and teaching Sunday School, and gotten a fair crowd for a month or two before the ward leadership could have ever found out what was going on.

  21. Davis Bell on April 8, 2004 at 7:56 pm

    Interesting comments. I’ve been going to the Colonial Ward for a year-and-a-half, and have visited the Manhattan singles wards many times. There is no question in my mind that singles ought to be dissolved post haste. Since that doesn’t appear likely, I’ll give my assesment of the Big 3.

    It’s true that Colonial is huge, although I can confirm the rumors that it’s going to be split in the near future (I heard it with my own ears at ward conference). It also boasts of a guy/girl ratio of 1/2.5. The split should make things a little smaller; however, I think that once one ward is slightly better than the other, everyone will move into the boundaries of the better one. Not sure how they’re going to deal with that.

    Anyway, Colonial is a good place. It’s fairly unorganized, and it’s easy to get lost if you’re not outgoing. I’ve found that there are a lot of cool, interesting people here, but they don’t tend to be as ambitious or accomplished as those in the NYC or Boston wards. I attribute that to the fact that DC is where one goes after graduating from BYU without a spouse or a clear career objective (myself most certainly included). Everyone knows about “the Colonial Ward” and DC is a cool place to live.

    People who live in New York or Boston are usually living there as a result of long planned-for career or educational pursuits. People in DC are fairly laid back and quite social. In Colonial you’ll find a lot of teachers, Hill workers, law students, federal bureaucrats, and the odd private sector laborer.

    New York on the other hand is full of investment bankers, lawyers (as well as law students), dancers, singers, fashionistas, and beginning corporate ladderclimbers. To make a gross generalization, these people tend to be highly ambitious, status-conscious, attractive, well-dressed, and lay on the resume-dropping a bit heavy during testimony meeting.

    I can’t really speak to the Boston ward(s). In fact, I’m considering a school there for this coming year, and I’m a little nervous about it, as I haven’t heard great things. My unfounded impression is that it’s chock full with conservative guys at HBS, interesting guys at Harvard Law, liberal guys and girls at the rest of Harvard, and your odd MIT, Tufts, Northeastern, etc. refugees.

  22. Mary on April 8, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    Ryan, I had the exact same experience at the Manhattan singles ward. I was there for a summer but during every fast and testimony meeting, the same, “we’re so blessed we live in the city” stuff came out. Maybe it is because the ward fills with people only there for the summer and feel like they really are blessed to be there because they’ll be going back to BYU in six weeks.

    More often than not I’d hear the testimonies than run out and buy a good piece of chocolate cake and go back up to Riverside Park and read.

  23. Clark Goble on April 8, 2004 at 9:19 pm

    Does this mean Manhattan should be named rameumpton? (grin)

  24. John David Payne on April 8, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    Davis Bell, come on out here to Boston and you’ll find that the (4) singles wards are just wards and the people are just people (except for people from The Law School who are marsupials of some sort). Some you won’t like; some you will be friends with for years and years. Some people gripe bitterly about what an unfriendly ward it is, etc. Some people bear testimonies about what a friendly ward it is, etc. It’s the same as everywhere else. It’s just church, man. Beats me why anyone would move here to be a part of the ‘scene.’

    AN ODD M.I.T. REFUGEE

  25. Aaron E on April 9, 2004 at 4:55 am

    This is my first ever blog post but I just can’t resist.

    As I recall, the “insurgency” turned into Pip and me raising our hands while the rest of the slouches (some of you included) looked around sheepishly. The real story, for Aaron B’s benefit, is that CES brought out an extra teacher to the area who had nothing much to do so he was forced to look to the borders of CES territory, where he found us. He then began attending and trying to turn us into institute in the traditional fashion. He spent most of his time trying to flatter us with statements about how brilliant we were and how what CES really wanted was every college group to be more like ours. His real mission, though, was to turn us into a regular institute-like body with him at the helm. There was much discussion (always with him in the room looking hurt) that led to me and Pip standing alone in what was, for me (overstating things slightly), a bitter defeat (especially because of the influence those 1L clowns).

    I heard that after I left and during the reassertion of CES dominion that followed, LDSSA withered somewhat. I don’t remember who I heard this from but it could be that they were just telling me what I wanted to hear. Nate, what really happened? Your post suggested that nothing really changed. Were my dire prophecies all false?

    cambridge memories:
    My first SS lesson at the Cambridge Singles ward when I was there was titled something like “Of hyperbolae and the relative risks of inviting Christ to dinner” (all scriptural references to the KJNV). And in the married ward I recall Jared Black’s “my grandpa was a stake president and drank all his life. Today’s lesson is about the word of wisdom…” My all time favorite, though, is not even mentionable.

  26. JL on April 9, 2004 at 7:13 am

    To the people who said that the Manhattan singles’ Wards were oddly self-congratulatory about their state of existence: AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN!!!!!
    I’ve only been a few times, each time I leave glad that I go to a family ward. I’ve also been to a very few singles’ activity and had the same impression there. Let me break it down for you: The transplants from Utah or wherever think they are the Shizzizle because they live in New York City. The members tend to be flashy, decked out with expensive and/or hip clothes. Many of them moved here to go to a prestigious school, a fancy job, are trying to ‘make it’ in the art/theater world, or they were bored they so moved here. All of these things seem to make them a)hipper than thou
    b)hipper than thou
    c)hipper than thou
    I’ve only been to the super-mega tri-singles ward meetings with 600-800 people in attendance. They have since broken that up so my assessment may not be fair. But, I felt like I was walking into the cafeteria of a snobby private school. First you notice the whispering clicks. Then the girls looking you up and down smugly, and the guys who know they are God’s gift to women sitting with their fan club of 3-5 women who fawn over them during sacrament meeting. There also seemed to be big groups of friends who of course have no time for thou. Maybe after thou hast proven thyself cool enough they may acknowledge thy existence. The tourist families are always there and really stand out. Then there are the loners. They don’t talk to you either. Needless to say, the meeting felt spiritually destitute. In my family ward we get a new refugee from the singles ward every few weeks. They never go back.

  27. JL on April 9, 2004 at 7:14 am

    To the people who said that the Manhattan singles’ Wards were oddly self-congratulatory about their state of existence: AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN!!!!!
    I’ve only been a few times, each time I leave glad that I go to a family ward. I’ve also been to a very few singles’ activity and had the same impression there. Let me break it down for you: The transplants from Utah or wherever think they are the Shizzizle because they live in New York City. The members tend to be flashy, decked out with expensive and/or hip clothes. Many of them moved here to go to a prestigious school, a fancy job, are trying to ‘make it’ in the art/theater world, or they were bored they so moved here. All of these things seem to make them a)hipper than thou
    b)hipper than thou
    c)hipper than thou
    I’ve only been to the super-mega tri-singles ward meetings with 600-800 people in attendance. They have since broken that up so my assessment may not be fair. But, I felt like I was walking into the cafeteria of a snobby private school. First you notice the whispering clicks. Then the girls looking you up and down smugly, and the guys who know they are God’s gift to women sitting with their fan club of 3-5 women who fawn over them during sacrament meeting. There also seemed to be big groups of friends who of course have no time for thou. Maybe after thou hast proven thyself cool enough they may acknowledge thy existence. The tourist families are always there and really stand out. Then there are the loners. They don’t talk to you either. Needless to say, the meeting felt spiritually destitute. In my family ward we get a new refugee from the singles ward every few weeks. They never go back.

  28. JL on April 9, 2004 at 7:14 am

    To the people who said that the Manhattan singles’ Wards were oddly self-congratulatory about their state of existence: AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN!!!!!
    I’ve only been a few times, each time I leave glad that I go to a family ward. I’ve also been to a very few singles’ activity and had the same impression there. Let me break it down for you: The transplants from Utah or wherever think they are the Shizzizle because they live in New York City. The members tend to be flashy, decked out with expensive and/or hip clothes. Many of them moved here to go to a prestigious school, a fancy job, are trying to ‘make it’ in the art/theater world, or they were bored they so moved here. All of these things seem to make them a)hipper than thou
    b)hipper than thou
    c)hipper than thou
    I’ve only been to the super-mega tri-singles ward meetings with 600-800 people in attendance. They have since broken that up so my assessment may not be fair. But, I felt like I was walking into the cafeteria of a snobby private school. First you notice the whispering clicks. Then the girls looking you up and down smugly, and the guys who know they are God’s gift to women sitting with their fan club of 3-5 women who fawn over them during sacrament meeting. There also seemed to be big groups of friends who of course have no time for thou. Maybe after thou hast proven thyself cool enough they may acknowledge thy existence. The tourist families are always there and really stand out. Then there are the loners. They don’t talk to you either. Needless to say, the meeting felt spiritually destitute. In my family ward we get a new refugee from the singles ward every few weeks. They never go back.

  29. Melissa on April 9, 2004 at 10:27 am

    Davis,

    Your instincts are largely correct about Boston, but JD makes some good points too. The regulars in my Sunday School class are by and large not the conservative HBS types.

    One of those “recovering liberal” philosopher girls invites you to come to Cambridge and make challenging and provocative comments in her Sunday School class.

  30. Davis Bell on April 9, 2004 at 11:03 am

    Here’s my rationale for worrying about the “scene” in Boston (or any of the other places I’m thinking about attending school next year): I’m almost 27 and unmarried. I’m not panicked about that fact, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m not getting to the point where I’d really like to get married.

    As a consequence, I’m trying to balance my educational and career opportunties with the responsibility I feel to place myself in situations where I can meet the future Sister Bell (or if I meet her in Boston, the future Sister Maiden Name-Bell). Thus, I’m looking for a place where A. there are some single Mormon girls, and B. people are fairly social.

    Yes, I could go to Church pretty much anywhere in the country (or world), but at this point, because I want to marry another member of the Church, I’m looking to the ward I attend for more than simple spiritual fulfillment.

    Second, I think it’s a bit simplistic to say that wards are wards and people are people. Every ward of which I’ve been a member has been quite different. Some have been big, some have been small; some have been friendly, others not; some have had a great spirit, some have felt spiritually dead. Sure, every ward shares some common characteristics, but I think these are outweighed by the variables.

    Lol on the Rameumptom. I do, however, wish to stick up a bit for the Manhattan wards. Much of what has been said is to some extent true. Nevertheless, I know some really great, kind people in those wards.

  31. Steve Evans on April 9, 2004 at 11:21 am

    Clark, lol…

    There is a problem with people in NYC getting up and vaunting their city. Mostly, this is from newbies that won’t last longer than the average mayfly. ‘Tis best to ignore them. JL, who apparently has 3x the problem with NYC, may have judged them a bit too quickly, though there’s no denying the initial snobbery. I chalk that up to the transient nature of the wards — you don’t want to invest a lot of time in singles that won’t, as I said, last longer than the average mayfly. But for my wife and I it’s a lot of fun…

  32. John David Payne on April 9, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    Davis,

    If you’re 27 and unmarried, then Boston is probably a pretty good place to look for a wife. Lots of singles wards have mostly twenty-year old girls and few women in their mid to upper twenties. A man of your age (and the age you will be in the next couple of years) might feel a bit out of place. It might be difficult to find someone you relate to. In Boston, the singles wards are separated out by age. There’s two for undergrad-age-folks (18-23ish) and two for college-graduated-age-folks (24-30ish). That’s the one thing that seems different about this place to me. I don’t know that you will get that kind of crowd in many other singles wards. (The Manhattan older singles ward, whatever it’s called, sounds like it skews even older, but I’ve never been so I don’t really know.)

  33. Ryan Bell on April 9, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    I’m glad others have noticed the same strange manifest destiny thing going on in New York. I’ve scratched my head over that for years. The experience led me to wonder about a larger issue: We all know that large cities can often have their own culture, which effects their residents in unique ways. How does the culture of the city in turn effect the culture of a ward?

    For example, I noted already that the testimonies born in New York seemed much more dramatic than those I’ve seen elsewhere. The whole meeting had a bit more of a thespian flair than I’m used to. Having attended wards in D.C., N.Y., and Boston, I’ve noticed little differences that seem certain to have crept in from the local culture, rather than from some idiosynchratic mix of different personalities in the ward, as one might assume. How much does locale affect the ward culture?

    Davis, I’m saddened that you feel the need to defend the New Yorkers. Let me ask you this: of the people in New York wards you’ve dealt with, how many of them were just a little bit… crazy? Be honest.

  34. Davis Bell on April 9, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Of all the people I’ve dealt with from Manhattan? 2-4%.

  35. JL on April 9, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    Sorry for posting 3x, :”> I’m really not THAT angry. My browser made me do it! Maybe an admin can fix it? Steve, I think you’re right about the transiency thing. The newbies glom together and congratulate themselves for making it in the big city. And I have judged them quickly because I’m already prejudiced against singles’ wards. But I need to take an extra xanax after I leave.

    The crazy ones are my favorites. Percentage much higher than 2-4% in my experience. (Maybe because I’m naturally drawn to the strange?)

  36. Mathew on April 9, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    In regards to the insurgency–my hand was in the air too Aaron if you are talking about the vote taken in 2001. Me, you and Pip. We eventually did suceed under the leadership of Paul Boehm my 3L year who had it out with the CES guy–you should get the story first-hand from him because it is hilarious. The name was changed from LDSSA to HLDSA–my wife was the elected secretary at the time. The result was the same–still debated the purpose of the organization etc. Under H.L. Rogers’ leadership they seem to be doing more–held a conference this year that was reportedly well done.

  37. Matt J on April 9, 2004 at 7:52 pm

    Aaron E, if I could ask you to make another post.

    Is your Jared Black the same one that went to Stanford as an undergrad and is married to Courtney? Great couple. Do you know where they ended up?

  38. Jared J on April 10, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Here goes my first ever blog post. I hope you’ll all forgive my indulgence in saying hi to old friends Karen, Matt, Nate, and Aaron E.

    As to the anti-CES insurgency in 2001, I want to give my sincere apologies to the insurgents like Matt, Pip and Aaron that I did not support. I guess that means I was one of the 1L clowns Aaron mentioned, although I don’t recall being very vocal in support of the CES guy either. When I found out later about how he was secretly trying to “call” our next President my views changed.

    The hilarious story Matt, is more than Paul’s encounter with Bro. Fogt; there was also Ned reading a statement during LDSSA accusing Paul of holding a secret vote to secede from CES. That was more than a little tense for a moment. Ah, those were the days . . .

  39. Aaron E on April 10, 2004 at 8:40 pm

    We’re going to have to start a separate thread for all of our random reminiscing.

    Jared J, you are not a clown and there’s no need for an apology. I am happy that you’ve joined the dark side.

    As for Jared Black, I’m not sure if this is the same Jared Black you are referring to or not. He was a 3L at Harvard when I was a 1L. I met up with him once after he graduated. He was working for Dorsey Whitney in Seattle. I just checked the firm’s website, though, and he’s not listed so I’m not sure where he is.

  40. Matt Evans on April 10, 2004 at 11:26 pm

    Jared Black went to Stanford for undergrad, but I don’t remember his wife’s name.

    It looks like I was the only one from HLS LDSSA who actually liked having the quirky CES guy around. I never understood the need to formally distance ourselves from CES anyway. We didn’t answer to CES and their emissary was corralled, powerless, and wielded zero influence. The insurgents overlooked the humor he brought to our meetings. None of us strained to invite the spirit through changing our tone of voice, but he’d cycle through a half-dozen personalities (trending meek) hoping to find The Voice That Invites The Spirit in a single meeting. I never told him, but Voice #4 usually made me the most tingly.

    If you’ve ever heard Afterglow, you know the schtick.

  41. Stacey B-P on April 12, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    I just wanted to add my two cents to this already well-discussed topic. There are two issues that I feel have not had complete review and lack a little flavor and color.

    The first, as a New Yorker, I have been reared in the east coast and I have a few pet peeves, which I think could add texture to this discussion.
    1. People who move from Mormon centric or densely populated areas to live in “the real world”. Most of these individuals’ testimonies begin with “we are so lucky to have this opportunity to live here”. Another frequently quoted statement is “ it is so great to live in the mission field”. Based on these statements, we can draw a few inferences about this demographic:
    a. People who enter areas that are foreign to them find their ideals challenged. Typically, this challenge either changes them or they become overwhelmed with the challenge facing them and they leave the circumstances creating that challenge. Those who face the challenge, it causes them to defend their point of view and face rejection and negative feedback. This can cause a person to doubt or question their point of view: either changing them or causing them to leave the situation. Individuals, who are not from New York, change upon entering it. Later I will review how living in a global city affects this change.
    b. The mission field is everywhere, even in areas where we have high Mormon density, we can find missionaries, by definition, all missions have mission fields. The east coast is not the only mission field in the U.S. and certainly not in the world. Therefore, one cannot state that the east coast is a mission field without generalizing it to all mission fields that exist globally.
    c. I live here. I have never lived in a richly dense Mormon area and really, why would I ever leave. So to come here for an “opportunity” is really demeaning to my fellow permanent residents and me. If your only here for a visit, you are just a tourist to me.

    Secondly, I would like to take a moment to address the globalization of the church and how NYC fits into this.
    1. New York is one of the “global cities of the world”; it is on par with Paris, London, Hong Kong and Singapore. If you have been to church in any of these cities, which I have, and been to singles wards, which I have, you find some of the unique flair that is provided in the Manhattan singles wards. Each city has a specialty, if you will indulge me for a second. In Paris, it is wine and food, for Mormons, just food; in Dakar, it is live music; in Singapore, Asian fusion in both culture and languages and in New York, it is the arts (fashion, music, art etc.). Global cities are have a few things in common, they attract highly motivated people with the capacity to make a great deal of money and/or be widely successful at their specialty and complete the spectrum, it varies down to vagabonds interested to see what it is all about. So one cannot compare Manhattan wards to lets say, Salt Lake City wards since they are not even in the same playing field,. Now compare them to London, Paris, Hong Kong and other global cities, and you have a metaphor.
    2. Not to quote Richard Bushman, but I need to add my two cents to what it is like attending church in a distinct environment. Things work a little differently in global cities. You need to accommodate for the blending and mixing of a number of cultures, languages and unique living circumstances. You are going to pay for a taxi to get to church, or the subway, there is no way of getting around that. In my cousin’s ward in Manhattan, they switch between Spanish and English every other week, and people only where headphones in sacrament, for all other meetings, it is a free for all. Where I am now in Africa, the concept of where a white shirt to pass sacrament doesn’t exist, we are more worried about getting shoes and basic clothing to cover them. The young women’s lessons are totally inapplicable, since running water and the need to put food on the table is a higher priority. In Manhattan, we are just trying keep the teenagers in schools and out of gangs. Giving them peers and mentors that can assist them. I had one friend mugged and beaten after dropping off his mentees in the Bronx. The globalization of the church is forcing it to accept a non-white-suburban concept of church “language” and meeting concepts. One day, ALL of our manuals will be adapted accordingly.
    3. My final comment, my husband and I meet in Manhattan, granted it took us a few years to get it together but we managed to get married in the long and short-run (if any of you know the story). One would think with all of those atoms colliding in one city, there would be more unions, but the city, while all to small after a while, allows one to hide fairly easily if desired. The beauty of cities. Since I have lived, for varying amounts of time in D.C., Boston, Manhattan and Laguna Hills (aka Huntington Beach singles ward) during the past 7 yrs, I can say without a doubt, I would much rather live in my home state, in Manhattan, then anywhere else. Those of us in it for the “Long Haul” are a different breed then the average tourist who pops in for a few months-few years. Judge Mormons who are permanent, not the temporary fixtures.

    In summary, I think it is important to take a look at singles wards in the following ways: first, wards that exist in cities; secondly, compare these cities to ones of similar magnitude; thirdly, compare these wards on the globalization scale (look at the permanent local populations in comparison to other wards in similar situation globally) and then you can review the intricacies of family v. single wards.

    My thoughts as a humble New Yorker on sabbatical, in Boston.

  42. Nate Oman on April 12, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    Aaron E.: I can’t remember how I voted in the 1L anti-CES vote. I wish that I remembered, but I was not doubt one of the bad-uns in your book. I did start an LDS reading group my 2L year which was moderately successful (at least for a couple of months). There was considerably less interest my 3L year, I got mono and had less energy, and the group sort of died. (My 3L there was a lunch/reading group of LDS grad students that I attended which was moderately successful.)

  43. Paul Boehm on April 12, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    Ned’s lumping of our “secret disposal” of CES with the inscrutable acts of the Gadianton Robbers ranks among my favorite HLS memories. If there is anyone who made me laugh more than Brother Fogt at LDSSA/HLLDS it was Ned. Of course, who can forget Ned’s equally hilarious attempt to integrate our group with the Ed School girls?

    To his credit, he was kind of right about the secrecy. Having heard about the controversy caused by the attempted democratic revolution (for the record, Loren Washburn always proudly told me that he was one of the insurgents), we decided to simply rewrite the Constitution–this time without reference to CES and expressly limiting our membership to non-Fogts. The new version was presented and overwhelming approved by the membership; just as we expected, almost no one actually read it.

    This led to a series of very humorous discussions with Fogt (God bless him), who no longer attends meetings but still works out at Hemenway Gym!

    Nate, I would kept attending your reading group had you not blasted me with the Socratic Method at the inaugral meeting (during my first days at law school).

  44. Weston C on April 13, 2004 at 2:51 am

    “With the obvious question being, what kind of an effect does it have on our spiritual growth when we choose our own communities?”

    Did this question go unnoticed? I’m not sure I saw discussion of it except some good commentary by Stacey B-P…

    I’ve rarely had luck “selecting” a ward and as such over years had sortof gravitated toward a Monastic (hmmm) view of things: ie, one that would say if you can’t find God in your current cell/monastery/valley/ward/etc, the problem is internal rather than external.

    Recently, though, a friend invited me to visit her ward the first Sunday of this year, and I had such a positive experience with Elder’s Quorum there that months of Sundays receeding back into memory seemed rather palid in comparison. I’ve been back a few time since and it wasn’t just a one time experience. Whatever is going on over there, it makes for the kind of experience where I fell closer to the Spirit while I’m there and when I’m done.

    I’m sure the observation isn’t novel to many. The illustration was important to me because it served as a reminder that in addition to any number of mediocre to acceptable criteria for choosing a spiritual community, there exists at least a few that would seem remarkably valid.

    Still: I think that the monastic-idea that I’d tended toward is one hedge that guards against some very real dangers when a spiritual community becomes something you simply shop for. The temptation to try to change your life by changing your surroundings rather than your heart can be pretty strong. I also think by the time you get into shopping mode, you’re far more focused on your own needs than the opportunity to provide service…. and this can be a particularly dangerous trap for talented singles who don’t yet have strong direct obligations to specific individuals to balance the pull of personal ambition/opportunity….

  45. Christine on June 1, 2004 at 10:03 pm

    Bravo to Stacey the native global economist who broke down the anthropomorphics of Manhattan Singles wards. Okay Stacey, you’re the smartest. Reading all of your comments in and around Singles in both Boston and New York brought me to my knees. If any of you who trod the streets of these towns didn’t take advantage of your inherent tribalism and go to a local family ward in say, the Bronx or Brooklyn somewhere, you have nothing upon which to compare your city experience except of course using that bedraggled canard, “we are so grateful to live in this great city.” You unfortunately missed my fast and testimony meetings in Park Slope where one convert who was born and raised in Park Slope by a longshore man, bore his testimony and went into some detail about losing his brother to a mob murder in the basement of the very building in which we now held our meetings. Apparently his brother owed money. It wasn’t pretty, he tearily described the scene and made graphic references to the garbage bag in which they found him. You can’t make this stuff up. Needless to say, it was before the Sopranos because I think one of the writers was in the congregation and stole the testimony for one of the story lines. The 29-year-old Bishop blanched on the stand and all the 20 something mothers and young fathers sat in stupefied silence wondering if mommy and daddy would have room for them on such short notice back in Spanish Fork.
    I lived as a single person in New York for 20 years. Only we never called ourselves single. We were just people living in New York. And sure, everyone goes for an adventure. And sure, most of the folks there are hipper than thou, that’s why they chose New York as the place they wanted to have their adventure. What’s your love of fabulous clothing going to do for you in Zion’s great basin? Go where clothes matter. And shoes. And hair cuts and groovy glasses. It’s fun. You can be a brainiac at the same time. And if you have a spare minute, you can even love the Lord right out in the open in front of all your colleagues and associates. You might even start a trend of your own. Quaint I’m sure — why would anyone waste their time claiming a love of service through living gospel principles while showing off a hot pair of Jimmy Choo’s?

  46. Christine on June 1, 2004 at 10:04 pm

    Bravo to Stacey the native global economist who broke down the anthropomorphics of Manhattan Singles wards. Okay Stacey, you’re the smartest. Reading all of your comments in and around Singles in both Boston and New York brought me to my knees. If any of you who trod the streets of these towns didn’t take advantage of your inherent tribalism and go to a local family ward in say, the Bronx or Brooklyn somewhere, you have nothing upon which to compare your city experience except of course using that bedraggled canard, “we are so grateful to live in this great city.” You unfortunately missed my fast and testimony meetings in Park Slope where one convert who was born and raised in Park Slope by a longshore man, bore his testimony and went into some detail about losing his brother to a mob murder in the basement of the very building in which we now held our meetings. Apparently his brother owed money. It wasn’t pretty, he tearily described the scene and made graphic references to the garbage bag in which they found him. You can’t make this stuff up. Needless to say, it was before the Sopranos because I think one of the writers was in the congregation and stole the testimony for one of the story lines. The 29-year-old Bishop blanched on the stand and all the 20 something mothers and young fathers sat in stupefied silence wondering if mommy and daddy would have room for them on such short notice back in Spanish Fork.
    I lived as a single person in New York for 20 years. Only we never called ourselves single. We were just people living in New York. And sure, everyone goes for an adventure. And sure, most of the folks there are hipper than thou, that’s why they chose New York as the place they wanted to have their adventure. What’s your love of fabulous clothing going to do for you in Zion’s great basin? Go where clothes matter. And shoes. And hair cuts and groovy glasses. It’s fun. You can be a brainiac at the same time. And if you have a spare minute, you can even love the Lord right out in the open in front of all your colleagues and associates. You might even start a trend of your own. Quaint I’m sure — why would anyone waste their time claiming a love of service through living gospel principles while showing off a hot pair of Jimmy Choo’s?

  47. John David Payne on June 17, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    A guy in my (singles) ward just put together a really good map, showing where all the singles wards in the US are. Check it out:

    http://neiljenkins.net/LDSSinglesMap/