A new meme was posted on the UCC’s Facebook page recently. The image was beautiful—two brides on their wedding day. The photo itself reminded me of my pride in our denomination that supports the right of two people of any sexual orientation or gender identity to marry one another.
My eyes then glanced at the words on the meme. The caption read “Unbiased Community of Couples.”
Wait… I’m a single person in the church. Was this meme trying to say that our churches are for couples only?
As someone who didn’t find a healthy relationship before the age of 40, I often sat alone in pews, was the single person at fellowship events and felt awkward when a pastor would speak of marriage as the ideal state. I remember the discomfort of knowing that I was a single girl in a coupled world. And I recall that I was one of the only never-married people in my church.
While I was just fine with being single much of the time, there were instances when the church I was attending would hold events that seemed very exclusive to anyone not in a couple. The place in my heart yearning for a healthy relationship felt more discouraged. Does the church think something’s wrong with me because I’m not in a couple? God, why can’t the church accept me for who I am today?
Many of our sisters and brothers in Christ didn’t get married at 22 or 25 and are still looking for the right partner at 35 or 50. Others experienced a broken marriage and have been ostracized by their congregations for getting divorced. Widowed persons of all ages look for churches to call home after their spouse or long-time partner dies. And while the church often doesn’t like to acknowledge the existence of co-habiting couples, there are a number of them in our pews and on our membership rolls.
Some of our non-married friends are content being by themselves while others find it painful to be alone day after day.
I’ve heard that churches believe that young adults will come back when they’ve found a spouse and have children. But with the rising age of first marriages, we are missing out on including our unmarried friends in church life.
What we must remember is that Jesus was a single man.
He surrounded himself with people of a variety of marital statuses. His marital status didn’t define him or hold his ministry back, and God called him to be the Christ just as he was. Would our very single savior, Jesus the Christ, have felt welcome at our church’s “couples only” or “families only” events?
It’s time to start the conversation on what it means to be a non-married progressive Christian and how to be inclusive to those who are connected with our churches. What does it mean to sit alone in the pews or a single person in a coupled society? How does it feel when churches hold “couples only” or “families only” events? And how can couples and families be more inclusive of those worshipping solo in our pews?
If you are a non-married progressive Christian or supportive friend of one and would like to be part of the conversation, please join this new Facebook group, Single in the Sanctuary.
Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati, Ohio. Prior to ministry, Torigian worked in fundraising and marketing for nonprofits as her previous career. She graduated from Eden Theological Seminary in 2010. Torigian is the author of a number of articles on the Huffington Post Religion page including “Between Childless and Childfree,” a reflection for Mother’s Day. Recently, her essay “Always the Pastor, Never the Bride” was published in the book “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2015). Torigian regularly posts her musings on current events, justice issues, pop culture, and theology at www.michelletorigian.com.