Following on from Batty Towers’ excellent couple of posts [first post & follow up] about being single in the church, I thought I’d try and write down some of my thoughts on the matter. I wrote about something similar before, though I have purposely not re-read that post, as this is meant to reflect my thinking at the present time. Bear in mind, that my experience covers a number of different churches that I have been to over the last 10 years or so, so anyone from my present local church should not necessarily take it that everything I say concerns my present situation, unless otherwise stated.
In my experience, the overriding ethos regarding singles in the church is that they are a problem to be solved. Questions are posed like, “what shall we do with the singles in the church?” or “how do we try and incorporate singles into the church?”
The commonest way to solve the problem is to make sure there aren’t any. In other words, try and marry them off to someone. Then they can be a family unit and fit in, just like everyone else. I have left several such Stepford churches with some haste. The flip side to this is to simply exclude singles from many aspects of church life. While I have never come across a church that has been seen to do this explicitly, this does happen implicitly a lot.
The methods by which this is mainly achieved are by making everything “family focused” so that there is nothing on offer for those who are not part of a family. The other one is to time things so that non-family people can’t attend. As a working professional, my availability is very limited. Being unable to be everywhere at once is one of the reasons I choose to maintain an online presence. The majority of my day is spent at work or commuting to and from work. So making weekday meetings is a major hassle. To some, the idea of “it’s only 2 hours a week” doesn’t really chime with me, as that can be 50% of the spare time I have between Monday and Friday. Or having meetings as early as 7:30pm rules out people like me, as I’d have to take a half day holiday in order to make it on time.
One point Batty Towers made in her first post was that there is sometimes an assumption that single people have more time than others. In fact, the opposite is true. A problem shared is a problem halved, but if you live by yourself, there is no one else to rely on. If I don’t cook, I don’t eat; no one does it for me. I can’t “take turns” or anything like that. For me, the little spare time I have is a precious resource, so I have to use it carefully. The idea of casually being asked in church “do you want to come over for lunch?” is the worst example of this. If you had wanted me to come round to lunch, then why didn’t you ask me several days ago? Taking any kind of time out from a weekend needs careful planning, or else the household chores will just never be done. By all means, asking someone round for a meal is a friendly act, but by giving no advanced notice it’s inconsiderate.
I’m not saying here that churches should bend over backwards to help single people out. Quite the opposite, in fact. What they ought to be doing is allowing the time and space for single people to serve the church. By being overly family-oriented there is a risk that a significant set of resources and skills are being missed. As Batty Towers brought out, the church is a place to *be* family, not just a place *of* families.
However, I would differ in some respects. For example, I would never use the word lonely to describe my circumstances. I am content as I am. I commented on this to mypastor on Sunday when he inviting me for a session on “relationships” being run by friends of the church. There’s a session for the singles on a Friday and one for the families (particularly aimed at parents) on the Saturday. I did, however, wryly point out that putting a meeting on a weekday evening will mean I’ll probably have to take a half day annual leave to make it on time. I have not, at this time, decided whether or not to go. I think the pastor was quite keen for me to go, as I make up quite a high proportion of 20something single male demographic in the church!
With all that said, one cannot but look at the calendar and see the forthcoming tide of consumerist tat that is Valentine’s Day. While I would very much like to have gone to a Jurgen Moltmann lecture entitled “From Physics to Theology – a Personal Story” I think the evening will spent at home alone, with a glass of port and a DVD of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.