I am single. I’m 35 years old. I go to a singles ward and have attended one for the majority of the last 16 years. My experience has recently prompted a few questions: Are singles wards the best way to minister to and leverage the skills of single adults? Are members of the church missing out on benefits of unity by separating singles from residential wards?
I believe there is inherent value in gathering singles together; however, my experience suggests that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be better off if we eliminated singles wards.
Let me first say that I offer my thoughts as a committed and believing member of the church. I believe in families. I want a family of my own, and I don’t have one. I firmly believe in the gospel and will continue to do so even if I remain single. And I believe that we should eliminate singles wards. Integrating single adults into residential wards will benefit single adults, strengthen families, and increase unity for all members of the church.
SINGLES CAN BENEFIT FROM RESIDENTIAL WARDS
Attending a residential ward will help single adults face head-on the reality of being single in a family-centered church. Being single in a church whose fundamental theology is based on exaltation of married couples can be disconcerting. Sometimes I catch myself trying hard to pretend that marriage isn’t my top goal to help me feel better about the lack of marriage and family in my life. This gap between gospel ideal and current life experience can be excruciating. But it is in the wrestling with this pain that we can find redemption in it. How do I grapple with the reality of being a single adult in a church focused on families if I remove myself from the opportunity of interacting with families?
Additionally, in a residential ward singles will see more examples of families, can learn how to love and support them, and may even feel increased desire to start a family of their own. “Conventional wards can also reinforce the important role of the family and the home in the gospel plan” (Handbook 2 16:1), I wonder what it would have been like if at age twenty-five, I was in a ward mixed with single adults, married adults, children, teenagers, and families of all shapes and sizes. Would the exposure to these family units have deepened my desire and testimony in the family? Would it have hastened my commitment to be intentional about building a family myself? I think so.
FAMILIES AND RESIDENTIAL WARDS CAN BENEFIT FROM SINGLES
With single adults fully integrated into residential wards, extended families would have more opportunities to learn how to interact with their own single children or siblings. While I love spending time with my extended family, it can be challenging because it forces me to confront the realities of being single in a family-centered family. This has resulted in many tears as I’ve grappled with my desires, others’ expectations, and the reality of my current state of life. Sometimes I’ve felt frustration with my family for their well-meaning advice or commentary on my life. But can I blame them? They don’t regularly interact with single adults because many of the single adults in their area go to a singles ward. And I don’t regularly interact with families who have single adult family members just like me. Couldn’t we learn a great deal from each other?
We can build greater bonds within families by increasing the regular interaction between single adults and families in residential wards. Families will have more exposure to the realities of being single in a family-centered church and hopefully be able to better support those who are close to them.
All members of residential wards can benefit from leveraging the unique skills and talents of single members. With fewer singles in their wards, not all leaders fully understand or appreciate the strength that single members provide. This needs to change. For example, what impact does it have on the young women when the majority of female examples in the ward are women who are mothers or elderly? Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to learn from women of all ages, marital states, and career stages who are actively seeking to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ? Can you imagine the positive impact of single members serving in every capacity alongside adults, youth and children? Single adults know what it’s like to be lonely. Singles can be authentic, open, and vulnerable. Can you imagine the impact of a single adult ministering to others who may have different, and perhaps less obvious, unfulfilled desires? There is strength and power that the church as a whole is missing out on when we separate singles from residential wards.
GATHERING TOGETHER IN RESIDENTIAL WARDS CAN INCREASE UNITY ACROSS THE CHURCH
A ward gives us ample opportunity to love our neighbors (Matt 22:39) and serve those in our immediate area no matter who they might be. The beauty of a ward is that the choice is made for us— we serve where we live. Eugene England in an essay entitled “The Church Is as True as the Gospel,” makes this point clear:
“The basic Church experience of almost all Mormons brings them directly and constantly into potentially powerful relationships with a range of people and problems in their assigned congregation that are not primarily of their own choosing but are profoundly redemptive in potential, in part because they are not consciously chosen.”
As we serve, we learn that our unique challenges are not that different from everyone else’s unique challenges. Single, married, divorced, widowed, young, old, middle-aged — we all yearn for love, acceptance and belonging. We are all learning and growing and striving to be more like the Savior. Separating singles only perpetuates the falsity that singles are different from the rest of the church, when in reality our differences are few. The more we interact with those who we perceive as different than us, the more likely we come to see that “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). We are all one body of Christ.
The heart and essence of the gospel is to gather Israel. In the modern church we gather israel where we are, uniting in small geographic regions. Elder Bednar has promised that “increased perspective, purpose, and power will be evident in our learning and living of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as we strive to gather together in one all things in Christ.” Rather than segment and separate singles and families, let’s unite and integrate to further the gathering of israel and increase our understanding and vision of our common purpose as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we gather in wards to worship our Savior Jesus Christ. Singles wards were seemingly designed to augment that worship with a social purpose that might distract from our central mission. However, with programs in the church now “becoming ever more home centered and Church supported,” and gradually aligning to a global standard, it seems natural that efforts focused on single adults should follow suit. Let’s simplify the ward options available and focus on bringing souls to the Savior.
If not through a singles ward, then how does the church support the sociality of singles? If we take away the current structure of a singles ward, I’m confident residential wards and singles will find formal and informal ways to regularly socialize. Singles are good at sociality. Firesides, mingles, potlucks, and other events do not need to stop. Wards, stakes, and regions can create singles committees to plan activities outside of the two-hour church block that foster social relationships. Many wards and stakes do this incredibly well across the global church.
Eliminating the singles ward would be a great cultural change, one that would dramatically impact a large population of singles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe that change would be wholly positive. And I believe it is possible.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these ideas, my experiences, or opposing ideas with anyone who is open to the conversation.