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Asking the Clergy: Is it hard to be a single congregant?

Just as being single in a couples' world can be difficult, being a single congregant has its own hurdles. This week's clergy discuss being single and how congregations can make the status easier or harder.

The Rev. Judy Stevens, pastor, East Meadow United Methodist Church and the Bellmore United Methodist Church:

I'd like to answer this both as a single pastor and as a pastor dealing with single congregants and married congregants. I find that the single and married congregants envy each other. The married congregants envy the freedom of the single congregants and the single congregants envy the security of having a partner.

The congregation should work together in the body of Christ and use the skills and graces of the Holy Spirit to help singles feel comfortable and fulfilled. Whether being single is a good thing or troublesome and burdensome depends on the assumptions the pastoral leader and the congregation leadership take.

One assumption is that a single person isn't interested in family-oriented activities, that they're only interested in singles events. They often aren't invited to family or couples events other than the general invite to all. If they do show up -- and God forbid they bring a friend -- there's discussion the entire evening and people asking whether it is a "serious" relationship. It becomes more a fish bowl than Christian fellowship.

Others also assume singles aren't whole because they're not part of a couple or a family, or that they can't understand the social or political issues of couples or families. Others start to wonder what is wrong with the person. Why can't he or she find someone?

Everyone mistakenly thinks the single person has more time, so you can ask them to be on every committee.

The pastor can set the tone to make the environment more comfortable for single people. He or she can encourage congregants to let single people be single. Don't matchmake. Don't make assumptions. Don't sign them up for everything. But, the single person has to be proactive. Learn to say "no."

Pastor Scott Kraniak, Centereach Bible Church, Centereach:

My little church has quite a few singles, mostly women. Some are congregants whose spouses have died, others because of a divorce.

It is up to the rest of us to make sure singles don't feel left out. Being single can also be a wonderful time to focus on one's ministry. Those who are alone can give great insight to those who are married or are members of families.

Being single can be a blessing, as singles may have more time to put into their personal ministry. Sure, singles can be taken advantage of when it comes to working in the church. Those who aren't single can mistakenly think singles have more free time to devote to the church.

In addition to not overloading them, you have to make sure they don't feel excluded. We don't have exclusively couples or family activities. We want singles to understand they can come solo to couples events and family events.

Another assumption is that a single person wants to get married. Fellow congregants think they should fix the person up. I don't want to be a matchmaker. That's not my calling.

Rabbi Steven Conn, Plainview Jewish Center, Plainview:

I think there are two sides to the coin. The way our communities are constructed is around families. Families moved to the suburbs and joined congregations and stayed with that congregation for a long time.

That reality is changing. There are many more singles now. You have single individuals, single parents, those who are divorced and those who have lost a spouse. Synagogues have been slow to adapt to that reality. We have to have a broader range of programming for singles.

A lot of the things we do educationally and spiritually cut across demographics and appeal to everyone. We're a great place for singles and couples to get those needs met. We have more work to do socially.

We're not in the matchmaking business, but a house of worship is a great place to find someone with like values. That said, we don't want to just assume a single person wants to get married.

The other side of the coin is that it is sometimes difficult for the single person during the holidays. We started a community second-night seder last year.

Those who are single may or may not have a place to go. Many singles in our congregation are invited to holiday activities by families within the congregation. We want to create a support group for those singles. There is no reason a single person should have less of a spiritual experience than married congregants or those with children. Singles are a part of that nontraditional family structure that congregations are grappling with serving.

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