What does it mean to be single in the church?
Valentine’s Day is this Thursday. Yet for people who are single, Valentine’s Day can be complicated. Do churches contribute to the challenges that single adults face? What can we do to better care for all people, regardless of their marital status? To find out, I sat down with FHBC member Janna Edwards to get her perspective.
Andrew: Do you as a single person see a difference between your identity in Christ and the way society might identify you?
Janna: Yes and no. I don’t necessarily feel that way at Forest Hills in particular, but as a Christian in general I do. I think society and the workplace identify me as a failure because I’m not married, don’t have a family, or don’t have the “perfect” life that everyone else has.
And it’s hard as a single woman to not let other things influence me—to think that my life is somehow not as good as everyone else’s. I know we all have our struggles, whether there’s a family/significant other or not. For me, because I grew up without a father, I lean even more on Christ as the male role in my life. I take that relationship in a different light, and it means much more to me than it might mean to others.
Andrew: Is there a character in the Bible/Christian story that you most relate to?
Janna: Martha (Lk 10:38-42). I am such a Martha! I think so much about her. I busy myself, worrying about others and worrying about the details. Mary focused on the relationship with Jesus, and Martha focused on details. Details are important, but sometimes you have to focus on the relationships and let those details go.
I’m generally busy—though I hate that word—so maybe I’m “on the go.” I feel like Martha probably was too. Because I am single I feel like I have the time to volunteer a lot at church and do things that others can’t do. I’m happy to do that while I’m in this season of life. Sometimes people at church tell me that I might be in this season of life because I do so many things and never take time to meet anyone.
Andrew: Where do you fit in the church as a single person?
Janna: This one is a really hard one for me, because I don’t know that I do fit. I don’t know where I would fit as a single person, if that makes sense. I feel like I fit in at Forest Hills not because I’m single, but because there’s a strong group of people my age. I also think I fit in because I’m involved in leadership.
But I never feel ostracized. I appreciate how many people at Forest Hills include me in their lives or let me hang out with their kids, and don’t make a big deal out of it. I also appreciate that at Forest Hills we don’t pick out single people. In some ways I would appreciate a singles group for support, but on another level I don’t want to be part of a singles group—I want to be part of the church.
Andrew: Does the church do anything that discourages you as a single person?
Janna: “Discourage” is a very strong word. As a generalization for all churches, so many things are focused on newlyweds or young families. It seems like there’s never anything that’s just focused on younger adults generally—we’re always focused on just one subset of the young adult age group, like young families.
Furthermore, when people do focus on singles ministry they tend to focus on really young singles or on people who are divorced or widowed. But there are people who are in my age range that don’t really fit in a single adult ministry at most churches…there’s no ministry for that category. How we do that I don’t know.
I think about how we help when we know someone’s divorced or widowed…we help with childcare, take meals, or do other things. But do we take the time to do that for people who are just unmarried—people who are doing life alone, and who’ve never had a spouse or partner to help them?
Finally, some people have told me things like “if you spent more time with God then you’d have a husband.” That’s baloney. People say things like that because they think it’s being helpful, but it’s not.
Andrew: How can the church best support you as a single person?
Janna: For me, support feels like being included—to make me feel like you’re not going out of your way to include me because I am different.
But in some ways, I don’t know a good answer to this question. I think it’s something we need to figure out, because I know there are people like me out there—even if there aren’t too many at Forest Hills, there are in the church and society as a whole. If we continue to prioritize future generations through the Growing Young initiative, it may become more of an issue; it’s more and more common for people to delay marriage until much later in life, so there are more single people out there.
—Andrew Garnett, Minister for Serving Christ