As many of you know, I got engaged on June 28!!! It was an exciting moment in Door County when Aaron proposed to me. We are working on planning a July wedding in Columbus, OH where his family lives.
It happens that we are both getting married for the first time in our 40’s. Not finding the right partner until I was in my 40’s was both discouraging and enlightening. In my 20’s and 30’s, I became aware of how many churches interacted with single people.
My single early-thirties self would drive a mile up the road to a church I had truly loved for a few years. Each week, I'd enter the sanctuary by myself, having not yet met a significant other. I'd look around, noticing that I was pretty much the only single person over the age of twenty five but under the age of 65. Sometimes there was one or two others. But primarily couples and nuclear families surrounded me each and every week.
Unfortunately, I experienced social events that were open only to parents with young children. At one church, I was corralled to the singles group because, according to some people, married people and single people should not fellowship together. One pastor used his sermon to elevate marriage to the ideal standard.
Experiencing life as a solo person can be segregating. Some churches can then become an isolating place for people who are young and coming by themselves. Even when we say that we want “young families” in the church, we don’t realize how this sounds. Does a single person who is 25 fit into that category? What if we look at changing our wording: we hope to grow the church with “younger people” (instead of “young families”).
And what about our unmarried middle aged and older adults? I’ve seen how one’s relationship or marital status change quickly when their spouse dies or they get divorced. Their friendships shift. Their ability to afford a home and life’s necessities are challenged. It can be lonely in the pews, at tables, and at social events.
How do our programs ensure that all people feel welcome and that our worship experiences are inclusive to people of all relationship statuses? I’ve seen how St. Paul UCC does a phenomenal job surrounding our widows with love after losses and sitting with solo individuals during coffee
hour. How can we take our care of individuals to the next step? How can we be the church for people who are unmarried without families in the area?
Even in the process of wedding planning, I still feel the call to my years-long project of writing my book of prayers called Single in the Sanctuary. I had the chance to lead a small workshop on this at General Synod this summer.
And each time I recall my previous experience of being excluded from any event based on marital status I think to myself - Jesus wouldn’t have been included at this event because he was single too!