Singleness and Friendship at New Wine United 2019

20th August 2019

I always enjoy my annual visit to New Wine conference, but this year we were in a new location – Peterborough – and there was talk of God doing something new within the New Wine church family and beyond.

For me, I was struck that ‘Friendship’ appeared as a key theme for the week. There were two talks specifically on this subject by different speakers in different venues, and it didn’t feel like a coincidence. I believe that people are beginning to wake up to the need to invest in friendships and radical community in a time where uncertainty and division is present in our nation, and loneliness and isolation are on the rise. We have been saying this in the single community for a while – if singleness is increasing, then how much more do we as a church need to focus on becoming a true family of God, where everyone feels welcome, included and supported by other members. We also know from our research that having good friendships transforms single people's experience of church and helps them to thrive.

One of the talks was by Kate Coleman, a patron of Single Friendly Church! She spoke about friendships across difference and took examples from the Bible – Mary and Elizabeth (different ages but both finding themselves pregnant), Joshua and Moses, Esther and Mordecai, David and Jonathan. In their current situation they didn’t need their own peers, they needed someone who was different from them – these friends can support us in different ways and show us things we’d never have noticed if we hadn’t broadened our social circles. She encouraged us to cross boundaries and develop friendships with people from different backgrounds and situations. Single and married is one obvious example of this – our church communities become richer when single and married people mix and share life together, supporting each other in different ways.

The second talk on friendship was by Miriam Swaffield, who works for Fusion student ministry. She spoke about the need for the church to become a community that’s known for radical friendship. She challenged us that it is friendship, not romantic relationships, that are the most important, and that church teaching should reflect this. We have ample marriage courses, but where are our courses on how to be a good friend?

Miriam looked at Jesus' life to show how he valued friendship. Firstly Jesus questioned the definition of family – in New Testament times the idea of a nuclear family didn’t exist, the word used was “households” which included all who lived and worked in the house. Jesus challenged this further by saying that anyone who embraces the kingdom of God is “family”. Jesus was also friends with people who were different from him, including women – rumours didn’t stop him from being present with his female friends. If couples isolate themselves from the opposite sex when they get married they are surely missing out on important friendships. Finally, Jesus calls on his friends in times of need, like in the garden of Gethsemane. Who can we call on when we’re “in Gethsemane”, and how can we be present for our friends and church family in their times of need? It was a challenging and inspiring talk that seemed to resonate with many people.

Kate Wharton ran another great seminar on singleness in both weeks and Single Friendly Church provided resources for attendees. This year the tent was packed full, mostly by single people but there were a few married couples too which was encouraging. Kate spoke about about living a fulfilled single life in a marriage-focussed church, and answered people’s specific questions on being single. I look forward to hear her speak in more detail at our event in London on Saturday 21st September.

All in all it was a very encouraging week with good conversations had. I hope and pray that those who attended will have been stirred by the message about radical friendships, and take this home to their churches and communities.