Inspirational singles

Jesus is the number one role model for singleness and, throughout history, single people have made a great contribution to society. In this section we feature interviews with our co-founder Jackie Elton, Anglican minister Kate Wharton and Christian Aid regional coordinator David King  about life, faith and being single. 

Jackie has also contributed an article highlighting the stories of two different single Christian men, while Heather Tomlinson chooses her top inspirational singles

 

Interview with Jackie Elton

      

Jackie is a co-founder of Single Christians and successful dating website Christian Connection. She talks about her motivation and how the church can become a better place for singles

Why did you set up Christian Connection?
Often there are only a few single Christians in churches and I wanted to provide a means for them to meet potential partners. I also wanted to create something that gave Christians a better experience than other mainstream dating sites. The internet was emerging and dating seemed to offer great opportunities. It took off very early on. It is a really interesting world, full of challenges, human and technological, constant innovation, and also great personal satisfaction when I hear of people getting together and marrying.

What have you learned during your ministry?
Christian Connection is both a business and a ministry. I have to run it as a business to sustain it from year to year, but where it is about human beings and human needs it has to be also a ministry. What I have learned is:
- people are looking for Christian relationships and finding them is really hard, so it is great to help them
- listen to what people need and find ways to provide them with it
- everything is constantly changing, you can never stand or sit still
- stay practical and don't lose sight of the bottom line.

Why did you set up this website, Single Christians?
People who joined Christian Connection were facing lots of difficult challenges in their lives as single Christians. Many of their churches were not responsive or even aware of the issues. Some had even stopped going to church because they felt they weren't fitting in any more. I had also encountered some quite negative attitudes from church people regarding dating sites and single people in general. Some churches seemed happy to have as members only married couples and families. For example, at the Christian Resources Exhibition, many church people told us that they had no single people at their churches so they didn't need anything from us.

Is there evidence that the church needs to do more for single people?
There is indeed good evidence that the church needs to do more. Heather Tomlinson (now editor of this website) did an article about singleness for Christianity magazine and encountered some really painful stories. I wanted to see if these were just isolated problems from a few individuals or a much wider issue.

So in 2011/12 we embarked on a survey of our members asking about their life experiences and their experiences of church. 3000 people responded very quickly and filled out the long questionnaire. David Pullinger (now a director of Single Christians) analysed the research and then we published it.

We set up this website to create an environment where people could access the research and to find support and encouragement. The web provides a great opportunity in a way that hasn't been possible before for single people in the Church to get active and also to reach leaders and the wider church. So we don't just want to highlight the issues, but help people find practical ways of creating change for the better. And yes, I felt called - I knew this was something that needed to be done and that I was in a really key position to be part of it.

What kind of church do you go to?
In my church life, I have almost always been a "small" church person - I like to see the same people each week and I attend a small but growing early communion service in a larger church. I also value going to Grace which is part of the alternative/emerging church movement, where we worship in a way that is both creative and reflective.

What Bible verses have inspired you? Isaiah 40.31 “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Micah 6:8 “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

As a single person yourself, how would you encourage other single people in their walk through life?
Everybody is different. Single people vary so much from each other and are not all looking for the same things. But it is really important that whether we are single or married, that we live life the best way we can.

I am absolutely sure that God values us all the same - and doesn't look at our marital status. We need to do that too. Look at the advantages of being single, in personal terms, in our work and in our spiritual life. Value and enjoy those positives. There is so much freedom to do things you want to do, serve and enjoy.

Of course, accept there are also negatives - own up to them. And never be afraid to contribute in the way you feel called to do, just because you happen to be single. Don't let others put you down because of it. Don't just wait to be married - find the opportunities that are around you to make a difference in your church and community. And if you don't have children, and you feel that lack, then there are often young people around who need a bit of love and support.

What has your work taught you about what other single Christians are looking for, and how to support them?
There are many, many single people in society and many who are Christians. The numbers are growing as every year goes by. They want to be part of society and part of their churches. They want to be in a community that values them and they seek fulfilment. They need places to offload when they are feeling discouraged. They want to be happy and to serve God and other people. Through our websites we help to provide online community through discussion boards, opportunities to meet, events, and of course opportunities to date and meet the right person.

What could British churches do better, to serve the needs of single adults?
In a nutshell - welcome, respect, listen to and support single people, and be glad they are there. In detail:
- measure the number of single people in both their individual churches and in the local area. Are you reaching single people?
- ask single people what they want and encourage them to be visible and to lead. Keep listening.
- send out clear signals throughout the church that single people are really welcome. From the website, to the type of signs, to the after church coffee, the sermon and prayers.
- create social events and places that single people want to go to and can get to.
- avoid sermons which are too full of "family" stories.

Any final words?
The words "it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness" really inspire me. Often it is tempting to have a bit of a moan about the attitudes, experiences and sheer frustration one can encounter as a single person in Church or outside Church. Value the positives.

I have discovered, that often what's needed is to step up and challenge the situation in a positive and constructive way. It really can work! And other people may well step in to support you.

Jackie Elton founded dating website Christian Connection over 14 years ago and is also a co-founder of Single Christians, the organisation behind this website. She enjoys playing and watching tennis, theatre, social bridge, long hikes with friends, and anything to do with medieval history. She is single herself and lives in West London.

 

Two very different stories of single men receive deserved recognition

Jackie Elton explores the lives of two single Christian men as shown on TV. They are very different people, but both have much to teach us about the goodness that transcends stereotypes, prejudice and the pressure to conform

It is often easy to feel rather dispirited by the current state of the media even if one admits to enjoying much of it with a certain guilty pleasure.

 

So I was really delighted to see my particular TV highlights of the year getting the honour they deserved at this year’s BAFTA awards. Both were dramas inspired by true stories about Christian men who also happened to be single.

“Marvellous,” which won Best Single Drama on TV (pictured right), was indeed utterly marvellous and moved me to tears of pleasure, pain and humour. It told the story of Neil Baldwin, who is a man with learning difficulties but actually understands more about happiness and goodness than many of us ever will. Brought up by a Christian Scientist mother, he later converted to the Church of England where he is an enthusiastic member of the choir and a great friend of his very patient vicar.

After being sacked from his job as a clown, he embarks on two important though unconventional roles. He turns up at the University of Keele, which is in his neighbourhood, and welcomes and befriends various students, though he was completely unasked and unpaid. He becomes an integral part of university life and makes a real difference to the lives of thousands of students.

He also gets taken on by Lou Macari, manager of Stoke City FA, to be the mascot for the team. He clowns around at the beginning of each match and travels with the team. Stoke City rose to the heights during this period, and Lou described him as his “best ever signing”. What shines through is Neil’s ability to bring real happiness and sunshine into people’s lives and help them believe in themselves. His incessant demands for favours helps to bring out the best in them.

The second story is very different. “The lost honour of Christopher Jefferies” tells the story of the retired school teacher who for a few days was a suspect in the brutal murder of his tenant, Joanna Yates. The tabloids feast on the fact that he is single, slightly eccentric and somewhat pedantic, which seems to fit all their stereotypes of what a murderer should be. After this ‘trial by tabloid’ Christopher’s life is turned upside down, with three days of interrogation and then months of seclusion to hide from people who think he is a criminal.

Fortunately for him, the real murderer is revealed. Vincent Tabak at first excites little suspicion because he is young, “normal” looking and has a girlfriend. Does this tell us something about our society’s prejudice against single men?

Christopher Jefferies has to rebuild his life. Fortunately with the help of friends and his own resilience, he becomes a spokesman for other tabloid victims. He too is shown to be an active churchgoer and a decent, thoughtful human being. He too is able to count on his friends who help shield him from the media and have full faith in his character.

In both stories, society can be shown to be casual and disregarding of those who do not fit the conventional image of what a person should be. Some are tempted to believe the worst. Both TV shows demonstrate how many good, thoughtful decent people there are, and how people who may seem a little odd or different, or even single - can be those who bring out the best in human nature.

There is so much pressure to conform, in our society. The Bible warns us gently of not seeking the praise of people, but instead the praise of God. We can be who God created us to be, when we are free of these pressures to conform and we are able to embrace our own, unique identity in Christ.

Jackie Elton is the founder of Christian Connection and a director of Single Christians

An interview with Kate Wharton

We talk to Kate about her single life, her ministry, and how to include and value single people in church. She is the author of a well-known book about singleness.  

                                                                      

Kate Wharton is single and has been ordained as an Anglican minister for 10 years. She is currently Priest in Charge of St. George’s Church in Everton and Area Dean of Liverpool North Deanery. She has spoken about singleness at Spring Harvest, New Wine and other Christian festivals.

What’s it like being a vicar?

I love my job! St. George’s is a small-ish, friendly, loving congregation which is very much part of the local community. We have a church school, The Beacon, where I am Chair of Governors. Across the road is a pub, the Merebank, where lots of us are regular visitors! The church is a 200 year old Grade 1 listed building (the first Iron Church in the world), and is amazingly beautiful. We’re proud to have members of our church in every decade of life, and it’s a lively, fun community. Our strapline is ‘St. George’s Everton – A beacon of faith – Living and loving like Jesus’. That sums up how we want to be as individuals and as a church.

What about your work in urban ministry?

Alongside my church work, I’m New Wine’s Urban Ministry Leader for the north, which means, among other things, that I co-host an annual forum for church leaders working in urban estates and inner cities, and co-host a venue at the New Wine summer conference aimed at people from these urban areas.

How did you get into singles ministry?

A number of years ago I was asked to do a seminar on singleness at New Wine. I said no! I wasn’t at all sure how to make a singleness seminar something worth going to. The following year (after a dream where I came up with the titles!) I agreed to do not just one but two seminars – ‘Living a God-obsessed life in a marriage-obsessed church’ and ‘Living a God-obsessed life in a sex-obsessed world’. They seemed to be well received, and people said how much they appreciated my honesty in tackling the subject.

After four different seminars over a couple of years my best friend suggested I was well on my way to a book. The idea sounded ridiculous to me – how could I possibly find time to write a book? But the idea didn’t go away, and I found myself in conversation with Monarch, and before I knew it, the book became a reality – much to my surprise!

Tell us about your book ‘Single-Minded: Being single, whole and living life to the full’?

My hope for all single people (well, all people in general!) – is that they will discover who they’re meant to be, and live the full life that Jesus promises, whatever their life circumstances. I want everyone to understand and recognise their worth, their value in God’s eyes – a value that comes simply from the fact that they are God’s precious children, made in his image, and is nothing to do with their marital status.

I want to help people see what the Bible has to say about sex and marriage and relationships and singleness, and to help them to work out how to live their life in a way that follows and honours the teaching of the Bible. I want to challenge churches to be places of real welcome, where single people feel included in the family. I want to encourage single people not to put their life on hold for a hoped-for marriage that may or may not happen. Yes, there may be times that are really tough; yes, life may not turn out as we’d dreamt of or hoped for; but there can also be amazing blessings, and incredible joy and freedom in the single life.

What could churches do better to include single people?

I think that most churches, most of the time, are wonderful, friendly, loving places. At least on a good day! However, sometimes they can be places where certain people can feel very excluded and unwelcome (I realise it’s rarely the case that this is intentional, but nevertheless it can happen). Rightly, I think churches are keen to promote and support marriage and family life. That’s great – those are very good things. I think however that sometimes they have done that to the perceived exclusion of single people, who have felt that they don’t matter, or they aren’t welcome. I think churches need to actively think about how they engage with single people, to ‘mind their language’, and to seek to be places of real, genuine, honest love, grace and accountability.

What’s your favourite Bible verse?

I’ve got a few favourite Bible verses, and my number one changes from time to time. I’m a great fan of Psalm 91. I love Habakkuk 3:17-18 with its reminder to rejoice in God no matter what else is going on around us. I love Philippians 4:8 and its call to purity and holy living. However if I had to pick only 1, it would be 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Grace is simply my most favourite thing! The grace of God totally blows my mind. It really is enough, even in the light of my weakness.

What do you do when you’re not being a priest?

My favourite thing to do on a day off would be to have a lazy lie-in (I’m so not a morning person!), then to spend the day with good friends, maybe going for a walk, or meeting in a coffee shop, or playing with my godchildren. I have 3. They’re fabulous. Then the evening would be spent again with friends (did I mention I’m an extrovert?) eating lovely food and then sitting in a pub with a pint of real ale, chatting late into the night. Other hobbies include playing badminton, watching football, doing cross stitch, taking photos, and travelling to exotic places.

How did you become a Christian?

I’ve been a Christian since the age of 12 when God spoke to me in a (pretty dull!) church service, and I first learned that Jesus wanted to be my friend. In the 25 years since then, he has indeed been my friend, through all the ups and downs of life. There have been some tough times, lots of fun times, and many great adventures. I couldn’t have begun to imagine then what my life would look like now, which is probably for the best, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Kate’s twitter handle is @KateWharton27 and her blog is www.katewharton.blogspot.co.uk

 

Interview with singles minister David King

We talk to David King, the Single Adults Co-ordinator for the New Testament Church of God in England and Wales, about life, faith and singleness.

Can you tell us more about your ministry?

I work full-time for Christian Aid as regional coordinator for Birmingham, Sandwell & Wolverhampton.

I am also the national coordinator of single adult ministry (SAM) for New Testament Church of God, England & Wales, which primarily involves inspiring, equipping and resourcing SAM coordinators within the local churches.

What have you learned during your ministry?

That ministry to singles is complex, very challenging and at times, bizarre...which might explain why so few stick with it long term. Only those who sense a calling to singles ministry tend to continue with it for more than a year or two. Yet, singles ministry - in all its forms - is one of the most important within the church and that's not going to change any time soon.

As a single person yourself, how would you encourage other single people in their walk through life?

My encouragement to singles is to find your place in Christ and in a local church, identify your gifts and serve as best you can. Whether you desire to marry or to remain single, life has to be lived now, so make your life count. If you are seeking marriage, then you are more likely to find a suitable person along life's path if you're an active Christian (and vice versa).

What has your work taught you about what other single Christians are looking for, and how to support them?

Most single Christians desire marriage. Some freely admit it, others are less forthcoming. However, most singles want to deal with the matter (of their quest for a partner) in a private manner. Hence, whereas a decade ago we organised many 'singles' events, these days we do that less and instead try to work singles ministry into the existing programmes of the church. That way we reach and support more singles, and do so more effectively.

What could British churches do better, to serve the needs of single adults?

Embed more teaching about single-related themes into the mainstream Bible teaching programme of the church. There's lots in the Bible about it, yet it's hardly touched on by Bible teachers. The single greatest need of singles is education, i.e. sound, bible-based, practical teaching on handling the issues which confront them.

What kind of church do you attend?

I attend a large Pentecostal church.

What’s your favourite Bible verse?

Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

What do you do in your spare time?

My SAM coordinator role is voluntary, so that takes up much of my spare time. I also attend lots of Christian conferences throughout the year and I manage a gospel website called Grand Central Gospel.

Can you tell us something amazing God has done in your life?

Yes, my day job! I almost didn't apply for it, because it was part time, temporary and involved relocating from my native Birmingham to Manchester. But, I took it in faith and within eighteen months the job was relocated to Birmingham, became full-time, and shortly thereafter, permanent. Thirteen years on and I am still in the role. I work with hundreds of churches across the region, engaging Christians with God's heart for the poorest communities of the world. Hallelujah!

Can you give some inspiring examples of what single people have done in serving the Lord?

I will give two. Last summer our north London singles group organised a missions trips to Grenada, where they spent a very fruitful and fulfilling time volunteering in community health projects, prison ministry and street evangelism.

Another example is as follows. For 3 consecutive years, my church's singles ministries in the USA and UK, along with the Assemblies of God (USA), organised singles cruises to the Caribbean. It brought together singles from the UK, USA, Jamaica, Canada and Belgium, to spend a week holidaying together and ministering to each other on the ship via workshops, song and reflections. It was a truly unique project and experience.

David's email is sam@ntcg.org.uk and the SAM website is www.singleadultministry.org.uk

 

Inspirational singles

by Heather Tomlinson

Sometimes it can feel as though being single is strange, out of the ordinary, or that we’re somehow missing out on something. But that’s not surprising, when we look at all the role models in our society and in our churches: they’re usually married. From politicians to church leaders to celebrities, everyone seems to be in a partnership.

Yet throughout the years, single people have contributed massively to society, and some might not have been able to do this if they were not single. That’s particularly true in the Christian community. So let’s get inspired by the lives of people who were not hitched and never let it stop them do anything.

Jackie Pullinger

Although she was married for a few years before her husband died, for most of her nearly 50 years of ministry, Jackie has been a single woman. Through her ministry in Hong Kong, thousands and thousands of people have been introduced to Jesus and many set free from addictions and the bondage of poverty and illness.

Pope Francis

If you’re from a Catholic tradition this will seem obvious, but Catholic inspirational leaders are nearly all single. And top of the list for inspiring Catholics of the moment is Pope Francis. Breaking all the stereotypes of what it means to be Catholic and Christian, the Pope was hailed as the Time Magazine “Person of the year” in 2013. Whether it’s kissing people with deformities or getting rid of some of the more extravagant trappings of being the Pope, he’s been making waves. It’s easy to forget that this is one church leader who is on his own.

John Stott

Almost unique amongst evangelical leaders, Stott was a well-known single. He was highly influential in inspiring British evangelicalism to be more concerned about social justice issues, and he wrote many helpful books before his death in 2011. Stott had girlfriends in the past, but never felt it was right to get married. He’s reported to not have been overly enthusiastic about singleness, and always encouraged marriage in others. Nevertheless, he was living proof that marriage is not the default state for an evangelical pastor.

Helen Prejean

Ever watched the film ‘Dead Man Walking’? It was inspired by the story of Sister Helen Prejean. Like the film portrays, this nun left her work helping disadvantaged kids to minister to people awaiting execution on death row. Her experiences led her to write a book about the subject, whose title gave the 1996 film its name. Since then she has campaigned hard against the use of the death penalty in the US.

Mike Pilavachi

The well-known Soul Survivor leader has never been married and it’s never stopped him. In this interview he said: “I’ve stood up in front of… a thousand teenage boys and said, ‘I’m 51 years old, and I’ve not slept with anyone, animal vegetable or mineral, and I’m OK, I’ll survive’. And they all clapped and cheered. We need to say, there’s a tyranny in this world, that bombards us, from the magazines, the tv, the films, which is that you’re less than a human being if you’re not sleeping with someone, and that defines you. That’s not what defines a follower of Jesus. The best way to make marriage work is to embrace the gift of celibacy until the gift of marriage.”

He then points out that being single has meant he can have more friendships than he might have done if married – and that marriage is hard work, as the single life can be too.

Corrie ten Boom

Famous throughout the Christian community, Corrie and her sister Betsy have inspired millions with the sacrifice they made to save Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. Their work was credited with saving the lives of more than 800 people, but they were sent to a concentration camp for their trouble, and most of Corrie’s family was killed. Corrie and her sister were not married. Arguably their singleness enabled them to do the work and take the risks that they did. Corrie travelled the world telling people of her experiences and the importance of forgiveness, and of how Jesus was with her in the darkest of places.

Jesus

It goes without saying that the most inspirational single of them all is also the most inspirational human of them all. We talk a lot of being Christ-like, yet being single means being a bit more like Christ was. Being single means that we have the time and the energy to spend more time on our relationship with God. And if Jesus lived his life single, he’s also the best person to show us how to live a good single life.

Bear in mind there are scores of missionaries, monks and nuns that could have made this list: Amy Carmichael, David Brainerd, Maria Skobtsova, Helen Roseveare, Gladys Aylward and Maximilian Kolbe to name a few.