Tag Archives: Single person

SINGLE CHURCH: A CONVERSATION ABOUT SINGLENESS IN CHURCH AND SOCIETY by Jenn Collins, WTS, 2012

A confession:  The article I wrote for the fall edition of The Persistent Voice titled, Issues of Justice, Family, and the Single Person was written out of that traditional Lutheran category that gets the better of us from time to time, angfechtungen!  A senior in seminary knows that the journey from internship back to “life together” is an odd journey filled not only with the grief of losing people that you served and that sustained you for a year, but also homework, and call paperwork, and resumed relationships, and the like.  Contextual theologian that I am, I wanted to ask the question, what does this journey look like in my own embodiment as a single person?

Something else was happening out in society while I was over in my corner of the church contemplating all of this.  The Pew Research Center came out with a study on marriage trends at the end of 2011.[1]  The study results were published under the headline, Barely Half of U.S. Adults are Married—Record Low.  The study gathered results in four categories: Married, Never Married, Divorced or Separated, Widowed.  The study reports, “In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are.”[2]  The study also shows that the median age for entering into marriage is on the rise with women on average marrying at 26.5 years of age and men marrying at 28.7.[3]

This study made it in the headlines of major news outlets once it broke.  Kari Haus wrote an article for MSNBC.com, Where is Mr. or Mrs. Right? Matrimony Suffers Slump—Report Shows.[4]  NPR jumped in the conversation too with a report titled, When it Comes to Marriage, May Say Don’t.[5]

Café, on on-line publication of the ELCA had an article written by the Rev. Kelly K. Faulstich in February of 2012 titled, Not Better, Not Worse, Different. Not Harder, Not Easier, Different.[6]  The Café article beautifully articulated the source of my angst.  Faulstich writes about “singleness” in scripture (Moses goes up the mountain, Jesus goes to pray).  She writes about the freedom of choice a single person has over even the smallest decisions in their lives.  She ends by recognizing what is true of us in our baptism: “We are complete.”[7]

In January of this year I took time to gather my own thoughts on the subject of singleness in the church.  I dug into scripture, looking at the way that the two creation stories address the relationship between men and women.  I read back in history of monasticism studying the companionship of Jerome and Paula.  I studied Luther’s view on marriage and read through blogs that talked about singleness in more evangelical communities.  I studied the marriage rite in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and read the work of professor and social scientist, Bella Depaulo.[8]

Here is what I came to find regarding my initial angst:  It is about vocational dignity.  The LWF Chicago Statement on Worship and Culture so eloquently reminds us that our baptisms, experienced within a community, verify our “dignity” and our “vocations in Christ.”[9]  I found the exercise of this study to be powerful in my own understanding of singleness and marriage—not only the ritual moment—but also marriage, the vocation.  Never before had I considered my own singleness to be part of my current vocation.  Singleness and marriage are two vocations among many given to the baptized. 

 I appreciate how the rite of marriage found in the ELW points to the commitment the couple makes one to another, the faithfulness of God, and the support of the assembly.   Even in my singleness, I experience the community of the church similarly: there is support of my vocation, the faithfulness of God is likewise for me, and the support of the assembly is graciously given. 

ISSUES OF JUSTICE, FAMILY, AND THE SINGLE PERSON By Jenn Collins, M.Div. Senior

“Now that I’m good at staying in the lines—I’m staying in the lines for you.”

My nephew, Ben, who is six years old, told me these words while he colored a picture that he called “grassy pickle.” What he drew looked nothing like a pickle, and the colors he chose were purple and orange. But I didn’t care. When he was done coloring the “grassy pickle,” he cut the picture in half and said, “you write your name on half and I’ll write my name on half.”

I don’t know what it is to be part of a couple. But I do know what it is to have relationships that are sustaining and meaningful. Ben stayed in the lines for me. My nephew Ben and I met when he was born—May 25, 2005. I held him and told him that I loved him. This was the first time I remember an instant connection with another human being. When I left for internship, Ben had just turned five and had started kindergarten. I told him that I was going to school in Colorado, so I wouldn’t see him until the first grade. Leaving him was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Over the year, I would talk to him on the phone and he knew exactly where I was. “How are you doing in Colorado?” he would ask. When I came home from internship, Ben called out my name and leapt into my arms for a huge hug.

Why do I tell you this? 

Throughout my seminary experience and into the ministry of the congregation, I have experienced a new kind of definition for family. I get the impression that the definition of family in the church is the family that is created through marriage. Specifically, a man and a woman who marry and have children. Here are some examples of statements I have heard and read.

  1. In the entrance form for candidacy there is an entire page labeled, “family information.” The only thing I needed to do on that page was mark the bubble for “single.” 
  2. When we say, “families are included” at Wartburg, what is implied is, “families who are here”—which in most cases includes only partners, spouses and children.
  3. In our society there is primacy in the spousal relationship. If you are not a spouse, your relationship with any given person is not priority. (This makes sense to me, completely. But it also means, for me, that I am no one’s priority).
  4. In my previous lay ministry experience, I worked the holidays because, “I didn’t have family.”
  5. I have been told/asked, “I don’t understand why you’re single. Don’t worry, you’ll find someone,” “You need to just jump back into dating—have you thought about meeting someone on-line?” And then the question that all single people in ministry are faced with, “Are you sure you’re not gay?”
  6. People assume that I’m lonely.

I feel like I need to apologize for even writing this because I don’t want to be perceived as another single person who is unhappy in life.

Seminary is hard for anyone—and there are different challenges to being married, being parents, or being single. But the single voice isn’t one that is often heard, understood, or given much real concern. I wonder where is the injustice in the church that comes about based on marital (or single) status? Where is the actual injustice that takes place for the single person? In the call process? With regard to financial aid, internship income, insurance, etc? And perhaps the macro question is, “How does marital status impact our life together here at seminary and in the church at large?” I’m hoping to spend January thinking about this in an independent study. 

But here is a call for now, beloved church: Please remember that just because I am not married—this does not mean that I am without family. After all, Ben colors in the lines—for me.