Let’s get down to it.
Nine months ago I began attending a newly created mid-singles ward (ages 31-55). I had pretty much decided that I would never be in a singles ward again because I like family wards and I have always had a good and welcoming experience there—until my most recent family ward experience, which is why I was prompted to try the mid-singles. I am definitely not using this as an opportunity to harp on my family ward because I’m more rational than that and I trust that if I had stayed there I would have figured out how to make it a better experience. I’m not a needy person or looking for special attention by any means, but I dreaded going to church because I was uncomfortable there and it’s the first time in my life that I have felt that way. As a side note, I have relied on the Lord to teach me why this ward was so much different than my other family wards—because I didn’t want to become dramatic and judgmental about it. I feel like I have gained some helpful insights that I won’t go into here, but I think it’s worth mentioning the importance of not allowing ourselves to exaggerate our experience by assuming the motives of those who are involved. There are never circumstances when we should deal with other human beings without love and understanding.
So I attended the mid-singles ward and I felt such relief when I walked into the chapel that first Sunday and saw a room full of people who understood my single person experience at a certain level. I needed more friends and I have found them there, I desperately needed to serve and I have had that opportunity, and overall I feel very grateful for the ward and all its quirky personalities and kind hearts. I did not go with any expectation that I would find a husband and to be honest I think that has made it a more meaningful experience. I just wanted to make friends and serve…if I met someone in the mean time, then great, but it wasn’t my sole purpose in attending.
I do think the purpose of a ward is to create community. We are organized so that we can take care of each other and learn from each other and because community is so vital to our happiness. It’s beautiful to have a group of people with whom you can worship and serve. It’s also beautiful when someone finds their spouse in a ward, but the primary purpose of a ward is not to be a dating service. We are organized so that we can serve each other which creates community which helps us feel purpose and also helps us feel supported. In reality you should be able to find a spouse in your community because these are “your people” so to speak —whether it be your church community, school community, work community, or whatever other community you are involved with based on common interests and hobbies. What’s interesting to me is that we don’t leave our work and school community feeling short-changed if we don’t find a spouse there, because it’s obviously not the primary purpose. However, we do seem to leave our singles ward church community feeling disappointed if we don’t find a spouse, even though it shouldn’t be the primary purpose there either.
So here’s the predicament. Single people attend family wards and often don’t end up feeling involved in the community aspect of it because families don’t always know how to include single people and single people don’t always know how to include themselves in families. It can be awkward for everyone if you’re caught up in marital status. So we miss out on these valuable opportunities to get to know and care and learn from each other. I see the talents and abilities of singles in my ward and think of how influential they could be in the lives of youth in a family ward. And I think of how much I have gleaned from the perspective of married and elderly people in previous wards that I’m not getting now. How sad for everyone! Thousands of single people end up going inactive in family wards because they need community and they’re not feeling it at church. And if no community, what’s the point? To be fair, single people certainly bear the responsibility of making it work just as much as the married people in the ward.
Thus the creation of the singles ward…meant to create a community for single people to feel comfortable to worship and serve with their kind because certainly church leadership is mostly just concerned about having active, covenant-keeping people (single or not). I’m guessing marriage is less of a concern than just getting us back to church so we can have the blessings. The leaders of our church are certainly not responsible for our social life, but they are doing all they can to keep us!
So the singles come along and either forget that church is not a dating service and end up complaining about the lack of prospects there, or they feel like their worship is impeded upon by this pressure to meet someone in the ward and get married. Or even worse—they forget about families because they’re not serving with them and get very comfortable in the singles scene and end up neglecting the opportunity to make a commitment to potential spouse whether in the ward or not. We are impossible!!!
So here’s an idea. Remember how Christ said, “if ye are not one, ye are not mine?” I think we need to take that command more seriously. How about we just figure out how to invite everyone to belong? I do think a family ward is ideal for everyone because it’s far more natural to worship with people of all kinds than to set up a situation that includes only single people. And it’s not called a “family ward” because you need to have your own family to exist there. It’s a family ward because it’s a group of very imperfect individuals trying to figure out how to love and care for people in all sorts of different circumstances—regardless of how vulnerable and uncomfortable that can be. Through the very real effort of letting go of our own pride and insecurities so that we can be at one, this group of people should feel like family at the end of the day.
Am I being too simple here or is love the answer (again)? Shouldn’t we all just be able to feel at home and at one with the people in our congregation—those from every walk of life and marital status? If we can’t figure it out with people who hold the same religious beliefs, then how can we ever figure it out on a larger scale?
Your thoughts are most welcome.