It’s not easy to be single in the church, where the emphasis is usually on marriage and family. Singles, whether never married, divorced or widowed, are often pushed to the margins—or can even be objects of curiosity. I was grateful to be rescued from one awkward conversation by a wise church member who overheard the uncomfortable exchange and realized my boundaries were being crossed. Other singles have shared with me questions they’ve heard: Why aren’t you married? What happened? Have you heard of the dating website Christian Mingle?
As a single mother, I wonder why the church isn’t filled with single parents. Shouldn’t it be a refuge from the guilt of failing at marriage, the loneliness? A place where they are loved and rejuvenated as they spend time with mature Christians, while their children are being cared for by a Christian youth worker and growing in faith? Perhaps it’s because they don’t feel “safe” in church. Even when judgments remain unspoken, they are still keenly felt.
Singles are one of the fastest-growing demographics in Canada. In 2011, there were more single-person households than family households for the first time in history. And our churches reflect our culture, which has been overwhelmed by the impact of divorce over the past 50 years. God has brought these single people through our doors and it is our job to discover how to love them. We can begin by finding gentle ways to let them know they are safe and welcome in the church.
Discovering God’s Purpose
First, we need to remember that marriage is not the only path to holiness or Christian maturity. Jesus, after teaching about divorce, said, “Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons” (Matthew 19:11-12 The Message).
In Corinthians, Paul writes, “The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God. I’m trying to be helpful and make it as easy as possible for you, not make things harder. All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions” (1 Corinthians 7:34-35 The Message).
These passages encourage singles to embrace their freedom and live their best lives. Some singles come to church hoping to explore what Paul is talking about. Perhaps they have never married, or perhaps they were married and are trying to put the pieces back together. But I can’t remember ever hearing one of these passages preached in church, inviting singles to stay single. Choosing to be single takes courage, and we should respect and support people as they discover God’s purpose for their lives, and celebrate their gifts.
Other singles may want to marry, but are waiting for God’s timing. Whatever the reason, coming to church alone is not easy, especially when you are new. We need to encourage conversation in an inclusive way, maintaining appropriate boundaries. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t share. And if we don’t share, it is difficult to build relationships. But when we do achieve communication, the room shifts, the gathering relaxes and love enters.
The Richness of Solitude
In my own journey as a single, I started to crave a quieter, more contemplative life. Looking back, I see that I was trying to have it all—a social life and a time for prayer and meditation. But the Spirit within me was not at rest. I needed to clear a path through the world to get to that still, small voice. I had to sacrifice some of my precious personal time and let the world rush by me. I had to learn patience with the world, patience with God and patience with myself.
Every year, I became more comfortable with solitude as God showed me how to live my best life. As I journeyed, God brought to mind the areas I could strengthen and how he wanted me to be in the world. I discovered that I needed to be kinder and gentler with myself, as God is gentle with me. In the deep richness of solitude, I found my creative side and learned how to embrace my calling and my singleness. Everything I do and say—ministry, recreation, finances and family life—has been influenced by this foundational shift.
Investing in Relationships
But along with my journey into solitude, I have also invested in relationships that have strengthened my faith. When married people are struggling and need to debrief, they can encourage each other. Singles have to develop ways to motivate themselves. I began to seek out support when my children entered their teen years, and I have continued this practice for the past 30 years. I have been blessed to have a series of mentors and accountability partners who have come alongside me as a single. It’s important to develop a support system before crises come.
As a single Salvation Army officer, these support systems have strengthened me through every posting. Learning how to begin, maintain and end healthy relationships such as these has taught me to trust myself and trust God’s purposes. When there is a crisis in my life, ministry or family, I have a team of people guiding me in ways I never thought possible.
Single people are like everyone else—we want to be loved. When we choose God’s love, we get more than we thought possible. His love strengthens us, until we learn to live out of that love. Then, finally, we begin to share that love with others, and discover the secret. We are surprised to find that the lavish love of God creates resilience within us, so we can go forward, loving more.
Captain Brenda Hammond is a chaplain at Dinsdale Personal Care Home in Brandon, Man.
Five Tips to Welcome Single Adults
If you married in your early to mid 20s, your understanding of singleness is limited—don’t assume you know what it’s like. The challenges of the single life are different from those of marriage, but just as complex. Listen to the experience of others with humility.
- Keep Perspective
The church has responded to the rise in the divorce rate and cultural breakdown of the family by focusing on marriage. But it’s important to remember that marriage is not the goal. In Matthew 12, Jesus is speaking to a crowd when someone tells him his family is waiting outside to see him. He responds, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then he points to his disciples. “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” In the kingdom of God, the church is our family—one we enter not by marriage but by faith.
- It’s OK to be Single
God uses both marriage and singleness as a way to produce holiness in our lives. Whether married or single, we bear fruit when we are connected to God: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
- Create Community
Single people are often overlooked—be intentional about including them in the life of the church. Invite a single friend over for dinner. Make sure single people are represented in leadership. Plan projects that allow people with similar interests to serve together, rather than separating people into silos. Schedule Bible studies so single parents can attend. Focus on the spiritual life, not just relationships, for men’s and women’s ministry.
- Celebrate Single People
Single people are valuable members of the church, but their gifts and accomplishments are not often recognized. Celebrate what God is doing in their lives. Completing a degree, starting a new job, launching a business, faithfully serving in ministry? Find reasons to remember and encourage the single people in your community.