One of the questions we ask on our parish surveys is if the parish has ministries, programs, and events for a whole list of different categories of people. Two of the categories on that list are Single People and Single Parents. I also know from my surveys that about 20 to 25% of parishioners who complete them are single, separated/divorced, or widowed. The data I glean from these two questions is that 1/4 of parishioners are unmarried and less than 50% of respondents believe there are adequate ministries for unmarried people at the parish.
There are many comments about how those who are divorced feel unwelcome in the parish. Many who are single in their late 30s and older feel like everything is either for couples or families at the parish. While no parish would specifically say that “Single people are not welcome here” – their actions tend to betray them. Our whole world, not just our parishes, is designed for traditional families – but more and more, our world and our parishes are not composed of traditional families.
So what can we do to welcome single people and single parents? As per usual, I’ve got a few ideas:
- Offer child care during events and even Mass. This is particularly important for single parents (although all parents in the parish will appreciate it) as attending anything at the parish requires them to find and pay for a baby-sitter. If you’re able to provide childcare you can eliminate an obstacle to their involvement.
- For Small Groups or Home-Based Faith Sharing Communities, have a group specifically for singles to attend. Some parishes avoid this because they don’t want to single people out (no pun intended) – but as a single person, it’s nice to be around people who face the same struggles as you. I’ve been part of both types of small groups – and they’ve got their pluses and minuses – but having the option is always appreciated.
- At dinners, fellowship events, or card parties, provide intentional opportunities for mingling. I love watching Downton Abbey and I’m continually fascinated by the Edwardian rule for seating people at dinner that separated couples around the table. “The minute you get married, you get separated, and you eat sitting next to others. The idea is to circulate more, to break up couples, and to talk to as many other people as possible.” (source) This is not our modern way of seating couples, but I think it could prove interesting for events at the parish – where people are intentionally mingling with others who no one feels left out.
- Pray for those experiencing loneliness or searching for their vocation. Vocations to the married life, religious life, and priesthood are often included in the Prayers of the Faithful. While I’m not personally a fan of a formal declaration of the “Single Vocation” – praying for those who are experiencing this way of life is important. Some may feel like they have missed out on the great joy of married life – never being included in the Church’s prayer just adds to the heartache.
- Remember these individuals when doing Mother’s or Father’s Day blessings. As a single person, I’m reminded each Mother’s Day of my friend Meg’s post that shares so much about the hurt and sorrow that day and these blessings can be. I encourage you to read that and take time to reflect on how your parish sees the single people who aren’t able to stand out from the crowd for a blessing on those days.
I hope you don’t read this post today and think I’m writing this as a request for sympathy for me as a single person or any of the other single people in your parish. I’m writing it because we are a Church wo remembers those who are forgotten or passed over by society. It’s our role as Church to embrace the brokenhearted, the forgotten, and those who have “no one to pray for them.” It’s not going to happen by accident so we’ll need to be intentional about it!