Addressing a Deanery Synod

23rd April 2016

Amersham - not all about families

Amersham is similar to many other London commuter belt areas. It has a larger percentage of married couples than in general in the population. This could make those who are single feel even more isolated. However, there are still over 30,000 single adults in the Chiltern Local Authority, 41% of the adults rather than 53% across England as a whole. Those 41% are made up of 25% never married, 7% divorced, 2% separated and 7% widowed.  Just in case these percentages appear low, this means that 1 in every 4 adults you meet in this area has never married, and 1 in 6 adults you meet is divorced, separated or widowed, making 2 in 5 being single. (To get these figures, I followed the advice in How to find the number of single people in your area.

1. New to many!

At the end, the Chairman said that he had never heard a presentation before about single people and appreciated it as it gave him lots to think about. We believe this is common and would love to talk about it to groups and organisations.

2. It is relevant to many

Many people have friends, relatives or children who are single. This was reflected in comments such as: “I’ve got a single 30-year old son at home”, to which one of the other members immediately replied ‘I have a 28-year single daughter living at home, perhaps we should put them in touch!”  It was said jokingly, but with a real compassion and thought to exploring how such people could meet up. What could be arranged and organised that didn’t look inappropriate? We think that local groups supported by churches can be very beneficial socially and for those who want to find a life partner.

3. A changing society

There is a rapid changing mix of marital status in GB. 40% of adults (16+ not in education) are single. People are marrying later, still getting divorced and living longer so more likely to be widowed. Consequently the number of single persons is increasing. Some are happily single, others are not.

4. Church is not reflecting the changes

There is a much higher percentage of married people in the church than in society and a much lower percentage of single people in church than in society. The history of being ‘clerks in holy orders’, responsible for registering births, marriages and deaths gives a more regular touching point for families which does not occur for single people. What could be the touching points whereby single people come into contact with the church?

5. Families are exactly represented

The proportion of people in church in GB with dependent children is exactly the same as in society. However they often appear to be higher in number than they are.  Why is this? First, those with dependent children attend more frequently than married people without (YouGov survey 2014). Second, if we meet one member of the family we think we meet the family as a whole, so meeting another member doubles the sense of their presence.

6. The Number One that single people want from their churches

Single people say they want their churches not to make any distinction based on marital status — in any area of church life - leadership, illustrations in talks and sermons, programme of activities and  social life of the community - as well as dealing appropriately with Mothers and Fathers Days. For some churches this is reality, for others very much not the case.  What is yours like?

7. Unmarried = gay?

“One of the things I experienced as a single minister coming to this area is that people assumed I was gay because I was unmarried.” said one of the Synod members. That is not untypical, particularly in areas that are higher in marrieds than others. We found in our survey of over 3,000 single Christians that almost 1 in 3 men under 30 was assumed to be gay by someone they had met.

8. Respecting the wish to marry or stay single

The majority of single Christians say that they want to get married. Respecting that wish means finding ways to support them. Encouragement, prayer, getting alongside through the process are helpful. As are some of the practical ways: organising ways they can meet in a local area - perhaps a pub lunch after morning service (for all), relationship courses (why start only when engaged in marriage preparation?), being on stand-by on the end of a phone during a date, or childcare for a younger widowed or divorced person to go out. Equally those who have decided that they wish to remain single deserve respect. Many say that churches don’t understand this wish - despite it being Biblical.

9. But where are the men?

Not all who want to get married will do so. There are double the number of ABC1 (often called middle class) single women who go regularly to church than men.  That is partly because of the nature of jobs available in society, which means that fewer men require university level education to have a good career and partly because of the lack of men in church. Some women will remain single, despite their desire to be part of a family. What hope, what place in church and with what kind of encouragement can we enable them to flourish and be fulfilled? And how can we present the Gospel in such a way to be relevant and appealing to the under-represented ABC1 men?

10. Single people flourishing are a sign of the Kingdom

Single people flourishing is one of the main signs that the Church is not just another social organisation based on biological offspring, but one pointing to the Kingdom of God with spiritual heirs. Jesus introduced a new kind of community based around doing his words that was sharply contrasted to the extended family businesses that comprised the society of the day. Do our churches lift single people to flourish in such a way that they are a sign to others of the presence of the Kingdom of God?