I recently had dinner with three fabulous girls. One is married, the other two are single. Our conversation turned towards the single life and we discussed how one of the most difficult things for a single girl is attending Sunday Mass. You walk into church and find yourself in a pew surrounded by families on all sides, or worse, you find yourself sitting completely alone. No one talks to you and no one reaches out. One of my friends said, “Sometimes I feel like I smell or something, people don’t even sit by me.”
I know the feeling. There are countless of Sunday Masses that I sat through alone, the only words exchanged between my neighbors and me were “Peace be with you”. Ironic isn’t it? The one place we are meant to be in communion – with Jesus, the church and one another – is the one place where we can feel the most isolated.
My friends and I talked about how some of our Protestant brothers and sisters have got it right on. Have you ever attended one of their services? You instantaneously become their best friend and find yourself at their house the following Tuesday for Bible Study and the next Friday for a cookout. They get it. They reach out. They understand fellowship.
I think more recently priests have tried to reach out into their parishes as well. Some will invite the congregation at the beginning of Mass to stand and greet their neighbor. Others might initiate coffee and donuts after Mass. These are great efforts on the part of the priest and the parish, but they still fall short. What matters is the people.
I understand that I need to take initiative too. I have made efforts. I have volunteered (a great start to get plugged in) and have willingly introduced myself to others. But again, it falls short. We are made not for surface relationships but something greater.
So what is the answer? What is the church to do? There are efforts with young adult groups and the like but I think the answer comes down to family. We are a church family and we belong to one another.
In the past 16 years, I have been welcomed into countless of families all around the country. From Texas to Colorado, Virginia and Minnesota. My friends Margaret and David whom I lived with in Texas back in 2003, and more recently lived near in the past two years, have generously opened their home and hearts to me. At least once a week I would spend time with them, having dinner at their house, attending one of their kids’ swim meets, or just stopping by in the late evening to play a game or to chat. It was being a part of this family that made it much easier for me to live so far away from mine. I am grateful to them and the other countless families that have taken me in over the years like my friend Shawn and her two daughters, the Kings and the Birds out in Aspen and Margaret and David both in Texas and Virginia.
Families are the bedrock of society and are integral to the Church.
“‘The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason it can and should be called a domestic church.’ It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church, as is evident in the New Testament.” – CCC 2204
I wish the church would offer more programs where we could incorporate families and singles together, and not just for the singles because it works both ways. You become sort of like an adopted aunt. In the past two years Margaret knew she could call me to watch the kids, stay overnight, check on the mail, pick up some groceries etc. But she also knew that I needed them: to help put the Christmas decorations up, to be a part of their Thanksgiving tree and to get the late night ice cream. I am grateful for that.
So what can we do? Reach out to a person who is single in your church. Invite them over for dinner. Invite them to Sunday Mass with you. If you are single, look for a family who might benefit from having some extra hands. Offer to babysit or run an errand. Or just let them know that you are around if they need anything. I can just imagine the moms out there reading this right now. “I would give anything for one Mass with no distractions.” The grass isn’t always greener and we must give ourselves the room to grow where we are planted. However, if we can cultivate a place for true community, perhaps the singles won’t be so alone and those moms might be able to steal some much needed moments of quiet meditation.
What are some other ways for the church to reach out to singles? How can the church create a better sense of community? What are your ideas?