I got married in the summer of 2022 at the glorious age of 37. This means that I was lucky enough — and somewhat surprised — to find a faithful and single Adventist man in a congregational context where most people in my age group were already long married, and where the number of unmarried young women far outnumbered that of young men. Besides all the joy of preparing for marriage, I sighed a deep sigh of relief last summer — I had truly beaten the odds!
I should be able to put the long years of singleness and loneliness — amplified by the demands of pastoral ministry and by my mother’s death 10 years ago — behind me. Yet I have found, with surprise, that I cannot stop thinking about them. Not because I miss singleness, but because these years shaped my Christian experience more than I could have thought. They also shaped the way I relate to the church community, revealing bittersweet dynamics that, as a single person, I never wanted to talk about. It was just too painful and personal for me to want to do it.
But the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that what our church really needs is ... gulp ... a singles’ ministry!
I know “singles’ ministry” is an emotionally loaded pair of words that more often than not makes singles shiver. But before I can say what I mean by it, I want to clarify what I do not mean by that phrase.
I do not mean the getting together of a group of church members who have a higher-than-average interest in other people’s personal lives, and the half-serious, half-mocking effort to figure out whom to “set up” and match. This kind of behavior is deeply offensive and does a lot more harm than good to singles in the church community.
Neither do I think of game nights for singles on a Saturday night, with board games and a mountain of pizza in the church basement. More often than not, people who live alone and have a lot of time on their hands have enough social connections and hobbies and do not need anyone to try to fill their Saturday evenings with activities. During my years of singleness, I read about 40 books and went to 30 classical concerts a year. Filling my time with pleasant activities was never a problem. Plus, as a deeply introverted and nerdy person, I never cared much for social events with many (half) strangers in attendance. So, board game nights are not what I mean by singles’ ministry either.
So, now I can talk about what I do mean by singles ministries and what my heart as a single person was aching for. I missed family connections and family time. I know that this does not apply to all singles, and my need grew partly out of the tragic loss of my mother. Yet, what I missed the most in the church community was just some family to open their home to me and invite me to have a Sunday morning pancake brunch with them. I missed someone offering to take me to the camp meeting in their car, listening to silly songs with children on the way. I missed movie nights and fancy dinners — in a family setting.
And when I say I missed them, it does not mean that I never experienced them. On the contrary, some of the brightest and happiest memories from my single days were from moments when someone cared enough and made a conscious effort to make me a part of their family, even if for the shortest of time. So, when I talk about singles’ ministry, I turn my gaze and focus on families in our church communities, encouraging them to reach out to the singles in their church, noticing them and opening their homes to them. These messy brunches with spilled milk and crying babies may mean a whole world to someone who lives alone. These family movie evenings with popcorn and silly comments may save someone’s faith and sanity.
My thoughts turn to the apostle Paul who, of course, was not your average single. He was so single-mindedly dedicated to his mission (also, literally knocked off his horse by Jesus) that he did not seem to have much time to think about family life as a real possibility. And yet, even Paul craved family connections. I am sad the name of this lady has disappeared into the fog of history, but we know that Paul once sent his heartfelt greetings to a lady whom he considered his second mother (Rom. 16:13). A mother! Somewhere in the freshly planted churches, there was a woman who opened her home, let Paul sleep in, made him breakfast, and let him, for a short while, forget about the demands of ministry. There was a woman who offered Paul a family dinner table and an extra bed upstairs. There was a woman who made Paul a member of her family.
If the super-apostle needed an extra family, the more ordinary singles in our churches surely need it too.
So here is my appeal to all the families — in your own small way, please start a singles’ ministry! Give someone an invitation to your home atmosphere, open your heart, and put an extra plate on your table for Friday evening. Your simple acts of inclusiveness and kindness may mean more than you ever know.The original version of this commentary was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.