Several weeks ago, I showed up for church and no one was there. Not even the Holy Ghost. It was just me and a sack of treats for my nursery kids, all alone in the parking lot.
First, I made sure that it was Sunday. It wouldn't have been the first time I screwed up that part. It's easy to lose track of what day it is when working the night shift. I came home, got changed and went to church — on Monday.
But this time my watch, phone and radio all confirmed that it was the right day. Where was everybody?
I wasn't completely surprised. I've long suspected that the call for the church to fulfill the prophecy that we would one day return to Jackson County, Mo., would occur without anyone telling me.
Bishop: "Everyone be quiet. We don't want to wake up Kirby."
Stake president: "This is so cool."
I texted one of my ward sources. Ed replied that it was regional conference this Sunday, and that the meeting was already over. I could therefore return home sure in the knowledge that missing it was merely an oversight rather than a deliberate sin.
Regional conference? When did we start having those? More importantly, what's a region?
One thing is certain — Mormons conference the hell out of things. We got ward conferences, mission conferences, stake conferences, area conferences, youth conferences, zone conferences … there's probably a conference for every aspect of the church, including excommunication conference.
I used to like conferences. When I was a kid, my family generally regarded them as church holidays. Forget three-day weekends. We were just happy to have an entire two-day weekend, meaning that we got to goof off two days in a row instead of just one.
We stayed home, went camping or visited distant relatives. As a way of making themselves feel better about it, my parents would try to listen to General Conference on the radio.
As a kid, I found it better than going to the actual conference, where I only understood about 5 percent of what was being said and was forced to entertain myself to the point of enraging my father.
The more I think about it, the more I see conference — pronounced "confurnz" in rural Utah — as a general religious function instead of just a Mormon one.
How do we know it wasn't "Conference on the Mount" when Jesus gave us the Beatitudes? People haven't changed that much, you know.
Jewish child: "Do we have to go to Passover Conference again?"
Jewish parent: "One more word, buster, and you can just sit in the cart."
Confurnz would certainly explain the "Council of Nicea," when the Emperor Constantine invited all 1,800 bishops of the Christian church within the Roman Empire to a mass meeting for the purposes of resolving doctrinal issues, and only about 300 bothered to show up.
Presumably, the rest had gone camping or visiting distant relatives.
Driving home from no church, I decided that I probably hadn't missed all that much from the regional conference. When it comes to meetings, I try to follow the counsel of my Mormon leaders.
"It takes a pretty good meeting," said the late LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer, "to be better than no meeting at all."
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.