Making the Church a more welcoming place for the unmarried
A single friend who recently moved posted a note on her Facebook page: “Was trying out a new church on Sunday when the pastor announced that his November sermon series would be about marriage. ‘And what if you’re not married?’ he asked us. ‘Well, Scripture says “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”’
Not the most welcoming way of putting it. “Excuse me?” my friend responded. “In other words, singles, suck it up. Won’t be returning there.”
Most of the responses were supportive, as you’d expect from friends, but several dismissed her concerns or told her, in various ways, to suck it up and stop whining. Other single friends, including widows and single mothers who were single because their loutish husbands left them for Miss Suzy Cupcake, have told me they don’t talk about their struggles because the chances of being dismissed or patronized or even condemned are too high.
I’ve been in conversations when a single friend mentioned the difficulties of being single and people who were normally caring blew them off or even laughed at them, as if they were teenagers fretting over an almost invisible blemish. People surrounded by their lovely families will immediately counter with some statement about the trials of marriage and sometimes a lecture on the blessings of being single. Normal manners would require them to listen and at least feign sympathy, but they don’t.
The day after my friend posted her note, the Catholic blogger Katrina Fernandez wrote a poignant piece on the loneliness of being a single mother. “Church can be an incredibly lonely place. It was why I stopped going for a time. It’s why some Sundays I can barely drag myself there just to sit in the pew alone. Surrounded by families. And married couples. So many families and couples.”
A single working mother in her late thirties, she noted: “I’m too old for Young Adult Ministries, too divorced for Married Ministries, too employed to meet during the day for Mommy Groups, and I have no free time available to volunteer. In terms of service, I feel as a single parent I literally have nothing of myself to offer the Church, therefore I’m not even a blip on Her radar. Insignificant, unimportant, non-contributer, single-parent me.”
Listening to sermons, reading Christians writing on the web, and hearing others talk about single Catholics (when they do), I often feel the only single people of interest to other Christians are homosexual ones and they are only because they’re seen as a threat. But, of any conscious pastoral concern for those who aren’t married there is little evidence, other than the formation of singles fellowships, which might help, but also “ghetto-ize” the single people. It might be a gesture of care but it can feel like an invitation to go away—the whole lot of you.
Even the Extraordinary Synod on the Family failed to deal with single-parent families, or with single people in general (who, if they are on their own form a kind of “family unit"), although it was supposed to address “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” As Fernandez wrote of the Interim Relatio, “It’s all divorced and remarried Catholics and gay Catholics with their ‘special gifts.’” The synod’s final statement says only that “Special attention should be given to the accompaniment of single-parent families, in a particular way to help women who have to carry alone the responsibility of the home and raising children.” Big whoop. And of widows and their children, those of whom St. James said “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,” nothing.