Archive for January, 2013









In the last week, I’ve heard the word “couples” at least three times, as in “Several couples came over for dinner,” or “It was a couples-only event.”  This from lovely, well-meaning people who must live largely in a married world. 

The word has taken on a negative association for me that most users of the term probably don’t have.  A Noah’s Ark theme of two-by-two, a club with restricted membership, a Fifties sit-com world where wives were cherished, husbands ruled the roost, unmarried women were “old maids,” blacks were servants, and gays absent from the scene entirely. For me – and I emphasize for me, “couples” reeks of exclusion.  It may be because being single (divorced) has intruded into my consciousness in a way that being married never did. 

I don’t recall thinking a lot about the reality that I was married (and I have spent 28 years in that state), as in—“Here I am …at church, at a party, celebrating a holiday, etc….. a married person.”  But single people – divorced, widowed, never married — think about their singleness a lot.

In fact, for better or for worse, we are at a cultural turning point.  National Public Radio cited a statitstic from the latest census: “Only 49 per cent of households are organized around a married couple.”

Singles are in the majority (granted, this probably includes partnered gay people who aren’t allowed to get married).  Just as the racial profile of the United States is changing radically, so is the marriage profile.

A recent article in The Living Church relates the experience of an Episcopal priest whose spouse died suddenly and unexpectedly.  Quite a while later, the person moved to be closer to children and started looking for a church to attend: “Over four or five months, I must have attended nearly a dozen churches…To be sure, the greeters at the door fulfilled their duties, sometimes with enthusiasm.  But in church after church I sat alone, and while I might be greeted with a desultory handshake at the Offertory, I came in silence and left in silence…It was almost like people thought widowhood and divorce were communicable.“

The writer observes that church membership is declining almost  everywhere and, while welcoming families with young children is something we’re good at (“Let me show you to the nursery!” “We have a great youth program!” “Your kids are darling!”), we are not doing well with what is now the major demographic: single adults.  And, the writer adds, most people can anticipate singleness at some point, if nothing else because of the death of a spouse. 

Some of the problem is language.  One person says that the word “partner” is ridiculous, like something out of a cowboy movie.  Yet if you don’t have one at the moment, others’ perception of you and your worth – and, if you’re not careful, your own perceptions as well —  can change drastically.  An irony is that we all know that loneliness is by no means related to being partnered or not, married or not. 

Like everyone else, single people struggle to find the dignity and integrity in their role in life, to feel accepted and valued, to be seen.  Sometimes, the memory of a spouse you have loved and lost will continue to provide a comforting core identity, but those who find themselves single by default can find it harder.  At the very least, church members should not, by acts of omission and thoughtlessness, reinforce their sense of separation and isolation.

Of course, it’s also the duty of single people to step up and make themselves part of things, but that often comes after an invitation and perhaps an offer from those of us who have been here for a while.  You know what Garrison Keillor says about shy people – not everyone has some Powdermilk Biscuits at hand to get done what needs to be done.

As always, it’s about mindfulness.  Recently, I received an unexpected, hand-made birthday gift from a single man who has been attending our services with this note: “Congratulations.  God has a place for you even as you found room for me at your Christmas table.” 

All I had done was invited the man to join the group where I was sitting at the St. John’s Christmas party. I didn’t give it a second thought.

Church growth?  Welcoming the stranger?

It’s intentional.  It’s follow-through. It’s about making room.   It’s bearing God’s love when you have other things to do.  It’s work.

And it’s our calling.  No mistake about it.

See you in church…


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