Shepherdess

Can a Single Person Be a Part of Your Church? Five ideas for moving singles from the periphery to the mainstream of church life.

Patricia Horning is associate editor of Listen.

Dear Shepherdess: This month we are focusing on the women in our churches who are single, either by choice or because of death, divorce, or separation. Patricia Horning, associate editor of Listen magazine, gives some suggestions that may help us smooth the path of those who live without a marriage companion.

Marilyn McGinnis, in her book Single (published by Revell), has written a guide for single Christian women to help them make the most of life. She suggests, "The secret of a happy single life is simple: first, discover what God's plan is for you during your single years and secondly, follow it through with all your might. Jesus has promised us an abundant life and that means a balanced life because your will is aligned with His. The difficult times in life are easier to bear when your life is aligned with Christ's."

We also have the Saviour's promise that at all times and in all places, in all sorrows and in all afflictions, when the outlook seems dark and the future perplexing, when we feel helpless and alone, the Comforter will be sent in answer to our prayer of faith. With love, Kay.

In a day of increased attention to all kinds of special-interest groups, it is still fair to say that the church in general hasn't given much thought to the particular needs of single people. Occasionally it may feature a never-married woman who has devoted 45 years to foreign mission service. Yet the same week the same congregation routinely overlooks the lonely divorcee or the newly widowed father.

Fortunately, this trend is slowly changing. Pastors and lay leaders are discovering that single people can play a vital role in the life of the church. As they analyze the situation most are amazed at the number of singles in their churches—both members and potential members. In my own congregation single adults compose approximately 10 per cent of the 3,200 members! In most churches the percentage would be even higher if the needs of singles were being met.

I'm a single woman who's never married, so that's the viewpoint I bring to this article. A divorced parent would perhaps choose an entirely different emphasis. And an older widower would have another perspective. Yet we all share some of the same experiences and frustrations.

Let me hasten to say this article isn't a pitch for singles groups or clubs within the church (although they have their place). Nor is it a way to let off steam about "unfair" treatment. I look at it as an avenue for sharing five specific suggestions that I believe can make the single person—regardless of age or the circumstances of his or her singleness—feel more a part of your church.

First, singleness is a viable life style for the Christian. I'm glad for the increasing emphasis that the church is giving to the home, but we need to be careful about insisting that marriage is the only acceptable life style. It's not. God Himself may have performed the first marriage in Eden, but His Son spent His life on earth as a single person. Matthew 19:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:8, 9, 26-28 are Scripture passages that approve of singleness.

There are many legitimate reasons for singleness, and no person should be made to feel a second-class citizen—or Christian—because of marital status. (A side note that ministers' wives might mention to Mr. Minister: Please pause to reflect how inconsiderate some well-meaning remarks can be. "Why isn't a nice girl like you married?" almost always hits a raw nerve. One woman may be recovering from a broken engagement, another may have just ended a tragic marriage, and yet a third may want to be married—but isn't.)

The church needs to accept singles as ordinary people with the human needs basic to all of us. Sometimes singles have been shunted off to the corner to fend for themselves. A better plan is to integrate them as fully as possible into the mainstream of the church. Believe me, their differences are fewer than their samenesses. One of my favorite books on the subject of singleness points this out clearly:

"Singles have essentially the same needs and struggles as do those who are married. All persons must find their own individual identity, must come to terms with themselves in their aloneness. They search for security, a place to belong, a home, a 'family' in which to love. They reach out for intimacy, for closeness, touch, union with another. They strive for achievement, a sense of accomplishment, of mission, to give life mean- I mg.

At this point I may appear to be talking out of both sides of my mouth by saying that singles have particular frustrations within the church and then claiming they have the same basic needs as marrieds. But I think both concepts are valid. Human needs are felt by every person. However, because of the structure of society, singles may have more difficulty in identifying these needs and finding Christian avenues of fulfillment.

One way I believe these needs can be met is by friendships with different segments of the church. Singles clubs can be a blessing, but unmarrieds also need to mix with children, married adults, and the old—just like every other member of the family of God.

An especially touchy problem for the single Christian is the need for intimacy and touch. And I'm not talking about sexual intimacy, but rather intimacy of the spirit—a friend who'll willingly share the important aspects of life. A simple touch of affirmation can be vital to someone out of the mainstream of family affection. Brothers and sisters in Christ can help supply these ordinary human needs without overstepping Christian propriety.

Put them to work. Just like married people, singles have different talents that the church needs to discover. Don't assume that a single person has no homemaking skills. Some single women—and men!—are gourmet cooks; some are natural leaders for children and youth. People without heavy home responsibilities may have more time perhaps even more money! and will devote these to church activities if they're invited to participate in something that challenges them. Challenge is the key word.

Include singles in family life. Individual church families can provide immeasurable support for singles. For me, one of the greatest blessings at my church is couples who claim me as part of their extended family and accept me enough to let me see them at less-than-their-best.

Singles need homes where they can drop in and be accepted into whatever the family is doing. Mealtimes can be lonely for a person who lives by himself, and most are grateful for families who will share even a meager meal—with lots of companionship. Especially at holiday times single people need to put their knees under family tables.

Singles need children in their lives. Some of us have no nieces and nephews, so we must look beyond our natural families for meaningful relationships with children. A single person who's close to your child can give him extra love, affection, and attention. Trips to the zoo, a weekend camping trip, a special birthday party, extra hours with storybooks can be precious memories for both the child and the single adult.

Singles need spiritual and physical nurturing. In addition to the basic spiritual problems common to all Christians, singles may have some that are unique. Too many singles have been taught that God's plan for every life includes marriage—and that their lot is simply to sit and wait for that ideal person magically to appear. What a warped concept of God that idea leads to when you're 40 and still single!

If not chosen for marriage, some people feel inferior and unloved. Divorce or death of a spouse can also cause this feeling of special aloneness. Singles need the assurance of unconditional acceptance by God—and the church family. Yet conveying this message of acceptance may not always be easy. People who've conditioned themselves not to feel, not to love, may put up a barrier against acceptance. Work with these people slowly and lovingly.

Encourage singles to concentrate on whatever gifts and talents they have. One of those gifts may be singleness! The freedom a person has as a single Christian makes possible greater avenues of service. And it also brings responsibility to develop other talents to their fullest.

Physical nurturing is more than an invitation to dinner once a year, much as that's appreciated. Singles of both sexes, and especially single parents, occasion ally find themselves in situations where they need a helping hand. Buying or selling a car, moving, furnishing an apartment, or even fixing a ripped seam can be tough to face alone. Sometimes it's hard to ask for assistance, so if a friend can anticipate a need and offer help, it'll be gratefully appreciated.

Implementing these five suggestions into your church life will certainly cause the singles in your church to feel they really belong—not as an oddity on the periphery of church life—but as an accepted, bona fide part of the body of Christ.

Prayers from the parsonage

by Cherry B. Habenicht

We understand the nagging apprehension when a mysterious lump is discovered. We know the anxiety of waiting for appointments and lab results. Frightening questions demand answers. What are the chances of malignancy? If the tumor is not benign, how rapidly could it metastasize?

In moments of panic we have reassured each other, conquering fear through faith. We've forced ourselves to consider the worst and have reviewed the best of our lives together.

"Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust" (Ps. 143:8).

The night is over, and nurses begin their morning routines. Soon a bright needle will make Dick drowsy. Then the anesthetic will cause him to sleep as the surgeon skillfully probes and cuts.

"Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul. While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being" (Ps. 146:1, 2). O God, thank You for years of health! The very foreignness of these medical procedures testifies to how seldom we have needed to consult a physician. Thank You for skilled professionals and modern facilities. We can expect excellent care. Thank You for all the prayers ascending from family and friends. Sympathy and offers of help have encouraged us.

Until we know the final diagnosis we will not let thoughts of complications, treatments, and illness trouble us. "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee" (Ps. 56:3).

Thy will be done.


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Patricia Horning is associate editor of Listen.

November 1979

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