Church and the Single Girl
Parishes are wonderful, and sometimes perilous, places to attend.. dare I say belong. I have belonged to many and served in more. Each one, to some extent, has prided itself in being a 'family oriented/family friendly' church and I (for the most part) have been a single woman without children.
When a parish makes a decided effort to attract families, singles often get lost in the shuffle. Some of the singles are the young adults of parish families who come home during college breaks. They yearn to be acknowledged as grown individuals yet are saddled with a nostalgic image from their youth by others (oh, Billy I remember when you would run up and down the center aisle in your clip on bow tie and saggy drawers!)
Still other brave souls, whether unmarried or divorced, make a 'cold call' in a parish because they are looking for a faith community to worship with, perhaps even a community in which to belong. It is scary to make ones way into an establish group. That's not particular to a church... it's just group dynamics. It's much easier to find a place at the table if it is made perfectly clear - at announcements, in the bulletin, on the sign board in front of the church - that all have an invitation and all are welcome. Some of that welcome is spelled out and some is done with body language and action.
If asked - most parishoners believe that their own parish church is welcoming to strangers. Just to put this assumption to the test, I'm going to ask you to pretend that you are searching for a church and are coming - for the very first time - into St. Suchandsuch's Church (your parish). Look at your place of worship with new eyes and be attentive.
Are the doors open? Is the entrance well-lit and accessible? Does someone greet you? Are you given any necessary leaflets or books? Are you accompanied to your seat? Is there a subtle sense of quiet or bustle? Is there something to kneel on? During the service how are the acoustics? Can you hear what is being said? Do you have a clear view? Is there music and are the hymns clearly marked? Are announcements made and a welcome given to visitors? When the service is over, do members of the parish and/or members of the clergy greet you? Is there a guestbook that you are encouraged to sign? Does someone invite you to coffee hour - and if so, does someone accompany you and introduce you to others there(or are you left to your own devices)?
OK.... how inclusive and welcoming is your church? Anything you might do, or suggest, to enhance the hospitality in your own backyard?
Remember that no one has earned retirement from their Christian responsibilities of feeding, visiting, welcoming, breaking bread, praying. We can shake hands, introduce ourselves, listen, send a card. If there is any 'business' to be conducted on a Sunday, let it be the business of prayer, praise, worship and hospitality, not schedules, dues, meetings or complaints. Nothing is a greater turn-off for a visitor than overhearing trash being spoken by one parishoner against another or against the clergy serving there. You can save your complaints for another day and even be so bold as to address your complaint to the offending party themselves... just do that another day, or another place. Let Sunday be about fellowship and charity and community building.
Putting these principles into practice will drastically increase the probability that you will see the faces of those single people again... and again, sometimes bringing others with them.
Peace and blessings to you all in showing true hospitality to all.