(Another) singles post

A couple of years ago I wrote a research paper on "Adult Singles in American Christian Churches". My professor suggested I get it published, but I was already kind of persona-non-grata at my church when it came to singles issues. Then my motherboard fried and I lost the finished product - I'm going through and doing some additions and edits. 2006 might be the year.

I was widowed at age 41 after 23 years of marriage. Like most married people, I didn't have a clue about how many single people surrounded me (or not). Like most married people - the church I was at didn't have a lot of single people and I didn't waste my time asking myself why that could be.

I did have single friends - my husband didn't come to church with me for several years and in that time, married women didn't befriend me, it was the single women that gathered around. But when my husband joined the church, I kept those single friends, but didn't look for new single friends. I was part of a "couple" and that's largely how we socialized.

As of 2004, 49.8% of "Heads of Households" in the United States are single adults. That's a lot of single people.

Does your church look like the population, reflecting that fact that roughly 1/3 of adults in the United States are single? If not, why not?

I had some interesting experiences as a widow. Because of my age (only 2% of the US population consists of widows between 34 and 55), my experiences are different than most widows. In a lot of ways, I have more in common with divorced women my age than I do widows of all ages - who are mostly older)

By and large - married women treat single women as "outsiders". Face it, we're not part of the club. Some of the excuses:

We have different challenges. I would answer that when my daughter wants to go out with a young man that I don't approve of, the challenges are very much the same - only I don't have a husband to stand beside me to provide an example of what a Godly man should be like.

We're in different social circles" I would answer with a question: Why? As a woman, I love gardening, animals, reading, cross stitch, walking. I love to go out for coffee and just chat. I have teenage children. Socially, you might get along really well with me, if you can get over the fact that I'm not married.

I've read "Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend. It's all about putting up good boundaries and it could be dangerous if I include a single woman in my life" I would answer that going out for coffee with a single woman is not going to endanger your marriage unless your marriage is so fragile to start with that life as a single starts looking more attractive than your own life. This would not be the fault of the single woman.

I don't want to take the risk of my husband getting to know a single woman I would answer that most single women will assure you that we promise not to jump your husband in the sound booth at church. Seriously. (Yes, I had this experience. A gentleman was teaching me to run the power point from the sound booth. His wife was in the choir loft and when she saw me talking to her husband she made a beeline for the sound booth, put her arm around her husband and didn't let go until I left.)

My family is busy. Okay, you have a home and teenagers. So do I. We're both busy. Some are busier than others. I'll make time for a woman-to-woman relationship if you will.

THE MEN (in terms of helping single parents) SAY:
My wife wouldn't like it. I would answer with a question: who rules your home? The man or the dragon? (This is a reference to Mark Driscoll, who I have heard a couple of time explain that there are two options - either the man runs the home in a Godly way, or the devil rules it in an ungodly way.)

There are a lot of things that would help single people - and single parents in particular.

- recognize that we're part of the family. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another (New American Standard Version Romans 12:4-5)

- Help us out. Help can take many forms - even just a cup of coffee. Offer to include a single parent on a picnic. Better yet, a husband can include a fatherless child (and I'm including the children of some divorced moms) on a father/child outing with your church. Many single moms cannot afford a family outing to a baseball game - take an extra child.

- We're have gifts. And they don't just include being in the nursery during an even for couples. Make a real and purposeful effort to include singles in church planning (women's events, men's events, picnics, etc.)

- We hurt. Just like you do, only for different reasons. Please don't make being excluded one of those reasons.

- We don't necessarily want a "Singles Group" that is a church within a church. Many times, that just feels safer. Please help us feel safe.

We (like all people) recognize that it's not what a person says, it's what they do.

A single person can say all day long that they want to be included - but if they don't make themselves open to inclusion, all of their talk won't do any good.

Likewise, a married person can say all day long that they would include a single in their group - but if they walk by with a nod and a smile, all of their talk won't do any good.

It's not what you say, it's what you do: “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second son and said the same thing; and he answered ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the Father?” They said, “The first.” (ESV; Matthew 21:28-310)

How do you treat people who are different than you are? This includes single, married, white, black, whatever, impaired, "normal" (if there is such a thing).

How do you show Christ to those who are different?

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5 thoughts on “(Another) singles post

  1. Mary

    Ellen--Even though I am married, I think I experience similar reactions from people at church when I say I don't have children. I am not childless by choice, although it worked out to be a good thing in my life to live the roles of wife, daughter, sister and aunt more fully.

    However, I am finding that if I just participate in things that appeal to me, such as choir and the Life in the Spirit Seminar, I have been able to form good relationships with other women in my parish, regardless of our status as parents or non-parents. For example, last winter I went through the 8-week Life in the Spirit Seminar, then after it ended, eight of the women who had participated decided to keep meeting and continue studying related materials. As it happens, the women range in age from 28 to 50-something, some are single, some married, some divorced & remarried, 5 have children and 3 do not. And we've formed good friendships sharing our faith and our experiences, even though our lives are very different.

    I guess what I'm saying is, the barriers are there, but they can be overcome if we focus beyond them, on the things that nurture spiritual growth in our Church and parishes.

    Several friends in the parish are single women, by the way, and one told me recently that it is sometimes hurtful that no one joins her in a pew when she arrives early and is sitting alone. Since hearing that, I try to seek those folks out when I arrive at church, or to look for married friends whose husbands do not attend Mass with them. My husband seems to like meeting the people I know at church, so he doesn't seem to mind at all. I know that his accepting and open attitude is one of many blessings in my marriage.

  2. I (try to remember to) pray before I sit down that God puts somebody next to me that either they need me or I need them. When I remember to pray that, it works every time.

    I've actually been finding that if I'm a "pew warmer" at church, but ask God to send me to those who need me, He does. My greatest ministry is outside the church.


  3. NMH

    Hi, I picked up on this at jcecil's, and I just wanted to add a few thoughts.

    I'm not really personally familiar with being single and being part of a faith community. When I was single, I wasn't attending church, and then I got married fairly young, so I was always a married church-goer (when I was a church-goer - I'm not any longer).

    However, I do recognize a lot of what you've experienced. It's not just the single women. It's the pretty women, or attractive women, or fashionable women, too.

    It's also something that's not exclusive to the Catholic church or any church community, either. It happens in the workplace, in families, in neighborhoods, etc.

    It's a female thing, I think, and there's something about the way women have been classed in the Catholic church that intensifies and magnifies these attitudes.

    Personally, I feel that the church has treated women like second class, one-dimensional members for so long that they've had to create their own little hierarchy. Add to that the fact that the church has also allowed the women to run and organize every little thing, and you do end up with a very oppressive structure for women, and it ain't the men who created it. The men, poor dears, are just clueless to the whole thing, and that includes the priests (most of whom really just don't want to be bothered with that sort of stuff).

    It's also not just married groups excluding singles. It's married women with, say, 5+ children excluding those with smaller families (and speculating openly on why that is and how selfish and sinful those women are). It's the women who haven't exactly been exercising regularly and eating in a healthy way accusing the women who didn't let themselves go of seducing their husbands or being trashy, etc. It's the breast-feeders v. the bottle-feeders, it's the home-birthers v. the hospital-birthers. It's always something, and it's always about one set of women putting another set down (all in the name of Christian sisterhood and their call to admonish and instruct and being Titus 2 women, of course), and trying to tie it to some kind of Catholic teaching and spirituality. Thing is, it's just typical petty female bitchiness and jealousy, nothing more, nothing less.

    The guys are either oblivious or naturally shy away from such nonsense. The priests just want to get back to their dinner at the rectory. And some of the better women are lost. They walk away, feeling rejected, not wanted, condemned, judged, etc.

    Well, that's a lot of messy thinking and long-windedness. Just my take on that particular aspect of church community.

    Have a lovely Christmas, and don't feel bad about last-minute shopping. There've been fabulous sales all week, anyway. 🙂

  4. Yes, I did see a bit of that when I was married.

    What is it about women that seem to need to be like that?

    Singles do appear to get it a bit more, or at least from more people.

    I'm not Roman Catholic, but I do belong to a denomination that encourages large families, so there is a bit of that.

    Largely, I'm quite content to not be part of a "clique" or even in much of a large group at all - probably because I don't like very many women (for the reasons you state above). But God does send me singles that talk to me, so I do know that it's not just me.

    thanks for stopping and come back again

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