Catholic singles wonder about their roles in parish life

COLUMBIA — Single. Catholic. Adult.

Those three words describe a life that can be both enriching and challenging, according to adults who fit this growing demographic.

In a church that is largely focused on married couples with children, single adults in their mid-20s to late-50s often find themselves feeling left out of parish activities and programs. College-age singles and senior citizens have groups, they say, but those in the middle have trouble finding an outlet.

In response to these concerns, several groups that cater to the needs of single adults are currently up and running at parishes around the state.

They distinguish themselves from those that cater to Catholic young adults because those groups also include couples. Singles might also attend young adult gatherings,  but in general they say they need an outlet where they can interact with other individuals for fun and support.

Diana Cripps, a member of St. John the Beloved in Summerville, started attending an area singles group called Catholic Singles 40 Plus about a year ago. The mother of two has lived in Summerville for more than 20 years, and said sometimes it is hard to feel welcome in her faith community.

“It’s so hard when you’re a single person, because the church really revolves around the family,” Cripps said. “When you’re a single Catholic, you often have no way of knowing who the other singles are in your parish. You could be sitting next to another single person and never know it. These groups are a way for single Catholics to find some camaraderie.”

Catholic Singles 40 Plus members have a bowling team, play team trivia together, eat dinner out frequently and attend Mass as a group. Cripps said they hope to start doing community service projects in the next year.

She helps organize some of the events for the Summerville crew, and stresses the fact that it is meant to be a social and spiritual outlet, not a dating service. She said some people make the error of thinking all singles groups are simply glorified matchmaking efforts.

St. Peter Church in Columbia has sponsored Columbia Catholic Singles since 2006. Members range in age from their late 20s to 50s, and participate in social activities such as hiking trips, mixers, dinners and spiritual formation, said organizer Emily Hero.

Hero said she frequently hears from people who attend events and want even more programs because the need in the Midlands is so great. She said catering to adult singles, especially those in their 20s and 30s, is challenging because jobs and other circumstances in their lives change frequently.

“Singles are often mobile, and they might not necessarily even register at the parish where they attend Mass, but go from parish to parish,” Hero said. “It’s a little different than other groups because you have a lot of transience and people passing through.”

During Lent, the Columbia group meets regularly to reflect on weekly Scripture readings and enjoy a light supper. Like other singles groups around the state, they also attend Mass together and then go out for a meal.

Hero said Columbia Catholic Singles helps people meet their peers by putting groups together based on age at large gatherings. The clusters often end up intermingling by the end of an event.

“You begin to see a generational exchange, which is important because people can learn from each other,” she said.

In the Upstate, adult singles from parishes in the Greenville-Spartanburg area connect through the GSP Catholic Singles network, which includes age-specific groups. Events are held almost weekly, and include everything from dances and hiking to museum trips, dinners and service projects, said Joe Kirsimagi, who organizes their publicity and handles the 40s-50s set.

Kirsimagi has been involved with the network since 1994, and says it helps fill both a spiritual and social need for members.

“Through social activities, we hope to bring Catholic singles closer to their spiritual roots by helping them meet other people like them who are also very much involved in the church,” Kirsimagi said. “They can see how other Catholic singles live their lives.”

Single Catholics also have a lot to offer in promoting the church’s values when it comes to dating, family life and life issues, said Kathy Schmugge, family life coordinator for the Diocese of Charleston.

She said single adults are often some of the most dedicated volunteers in the pro-life movement and in post-abortion ministry. They also have a lot to contribute when it comes to promoting values-based programs such as Theology of the Body.

“Single adults are definitely one of the great untapped resources when it comes to promoting life and values,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without the single adult volunteers who help with the pro-life activities.”

Cripps said she hopes more focus will be given to singles in the Catholic church. She noted that many people comment on how Protestant and non-denominational churches often have large, thriving programs for single adults, and some Catholics can be drawn away to these assemblies.

“I just think that the church as a whole has to look at its members, and realize that singles, whether never married, divorced or widowed, need to be able to fit in,” Cripps said. “A lot of singles feel like there’s nothing for them in their parish, and if they feel like they don’t fit in, they’re going to go somewhere else.”