Singles’ Wards Are Against My Religion

It’s rather peculiar that in the church adults are segregated by marital status. There are entire wards (and in some more densely populated LDS areas, entire stakes) just for the unmarried. And I don’t like it.

When I was a teenager at church, I noticed that there were a few elderly widows and the full-time missionaries but that I never saw any other single adults at church. I was taught in my YW lessons that a husband would be the inevitable reward for living a righteous life. It was whispered that occasionally some people might not marry, but it was always an afterthought. It was never really expected that it would happen to any of us. It only happened to “other people”.

Then I grew up and became other people.

I’ve visited singles’ wards on occasion for things like missionary farewells and homecomings or friends giving talks or performing special musical numbers, but I’ve never been a member of a singles’ ward. I was subjected to pressure to attend when I was younger, but I resisted, preferring to worship in a non-segregated setting. As I got older, the pressure lessened and then abated, presumably because after a certain age, I’m seen as a lost cause.

I live in a wonderful ward now where single adults are treated like adults. I’m a person who happens also to be unmarried, rather than being The Single Person. A few years ago, a neighboring stake started up a single adult ward for unmarried adults ages 30-45. Someone asked me if I was planning on joining that ward and I said no. They asked me why, and I somewhat flippantly responded “Singles wards are against my religion.” Sacrament meeting started so I didn’t get a chance to elaborate on my answer, and honestly I don’t know that I would have wanted to in the moment anyway.

Now that I have a blog platform to do so, I’m going to expand on my answer. Here are six reasons why singles’ wards are against my religion:

1. Singles’ wards show the youth of the church that there’s no place for them if they don’t marry.

Teenagers at church observe the adults around them to see what their future in the church will be like. With the popularity of singles’ wards, what they see is that upon adulthood, single people are sent away from the congregation and are permitted to return when they either have done the respectable thing and gotten married, or when they have failed at that task and are kicked out of the singles’ ward to return in disgrace.

Half the adults in the church are unmarried. If teenagers could see single members participate in the life of the ward and stake, then when they grow up to be single adults, they would see that there is a place for them in the church, and fewer of them would feel unwelcome and leave.

2. Singles’ wards perpetuate the notion of single people as “other”.

This is related to the first point. The church has a default assumption that adults are married. Any deviation from that state is seen as an aberration. I can’t even begin to count the number of Relief Society lessons that just assume that everyone in the room has a husband and 4.5 small children underfoot. I’ve been in wards who have referred to the Relief Society as “the mother’s group”, and I was in one ward that didn’t allow single people to hold callings. I was invisible because I was different. If singles’ wards didn’t exist, there would have been dozens of people like me in the congregation, and there is strength in numbers.

3. Singles’ wards deprive single members of opportunities to experience a diverse congregation.

In a singles’ ward, everyone is roughly the same age and in roughly the same stage in life, especially given that singles’ wards are, in addition to segregated by marital status, also segregated by age. The Apostle Paul (who, incidentally, was single himself) when using a metaphor of the body to describe the church, reminded us that

For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body.

1 Corinthians 12:14-20

Diversity is essential to the proper operation of God’s kingdom. God made people of all ages and all marital statuses. By segregating our congregations, we diminish God’s creation.

4. Singles’ wards deprive the rest of the church of the talents of single people.

Six days of the week, single adults are treated in our workplaces, schools, community organizations, and social circles as adults. But on the seventh day, we are treated as overgrown adolescents who need to be supervised by married people. We have jobs. We have bills. We manage a household without the help of a partner. We are leaders in our communities. We would be assets to our wards if given the opportunity.

My current ward and stake are fantastic about this. In the 7 years I’ve been in the ward, single people and married people have been equally likely to be the president of an auxiliary. Single people teach the youth and are on the high council. We have many things to add to the ward and stake. And wards and stakes that exile their single members are depriving themselves of a large talent pool.

5. There isn’t a separate Jesus for single people so there shouldn’t be a separate church for single people.

Ephesians 4:5 reminds us that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” We’re all in this together. There’s only one Jesus who saves, and He saves all who repent and follow Him.

6. Singles’ wards distract from the purpose of church.

The purpose of church is to bring people to Christ. The purpose of singles wards is to get people paired off. If people are sent to a ward whose purpose is to find a spouse, it’s easy to get distracted from finding Jesus. I’m not opposed to having ward or stake activities geared toward allowing single members to socialize (just like there are activities allowing other groups of members to socialize), but that needs to be a balanced part of a well-rounded diverse ward, not the purpose of the ward.

Trudy

Trudy is a legal professional living in the southwestern US. She has three cats who allow her to live in their house in exchange for a steady supply of food and treats.

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17 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    Fantastic and important post. Thank you.

  2. it’s frustrating how much energy is spent trying to coerce/force people to do so many things on “the covenant path”. Priesthood, missionary work, temple, marriage, kids; they all tend to be treated like things that we feel the need to push people into, rather than things that may or may not happen in this life, nice to haves that those who want such things can pursue.
    Making opportunities for singles to meet each other is a good service; fencing them off from the rest of the members is certainly not.

    • M says:

      In my opinion, those waystations on the covenant path are designed to bind one to the church, not necessarily to God or the Savior. I resent it deeply.

  3. Adrienne T says:

    Thank you for this perspective. I hadn’t really considered it. I currently serve in my ward’s RS presidency, and I will do better about respecting sisters’ decisions to attend/not attend YSA ward and not pressuring.

  4. Elizabeth W Neipp says:

    Wonderful post, Trudy.

  5. Em says:

    Thank you for this perspective. My ward is currently a magnet mid-singles ward — that is, it’s a family ward, but single people from all wards 30-45 are also in my ward. Though of course they can choose to stay in their geographical ward. I think the idea is to create community? I feel grateful to have these awesome folks as part of our ward, with different obligations/schedules/needs/abilities. It has enriched our ward a lot. I don’t think a ward of entirely single people would be so great though.

    That said, I do feel like maybe there is a difference between areas with a large LDS population and a small one. I met my husband in our local singles ward. I have virtually never met a Mormon in the wild in my town — that is, working with or some kind of independent social activity and then realizing we’re both members of the Church. If I want to meet a member of the Church, I have to first find them at church, and then hopefully do non-church things together as we have common interests. I certainly do not think that single people should be forced into segregation, and I definitely think singles wards can be weird little habitats. But from my own experience, I’m grateful that they exist where I am. Every LDS person I know who got married to another member in my area met their spouse at the singles ward. That is including now-senior citizens who met their spouses there fifty years ago. The purpose of Church is not to pair people up. Singles wards should not be pushing that. But also if you WANT to meet someone and get married, in many parts of the world the only way to do that is through church, and your odds are greatly magnified through a singles ward.

    • Stacy says:

      Stake activities, magnet wards, etc. are all options that don’t necessitate a singles’ ward, nor the stigma of being kicked out of singles’ wards when you get “too old.” Many of us were asked to “move on” as if we were overstaying our welcome rather than that it was literally the only place we WERE welcome until we suddenly weren’t.

    • Stacy says:

      (Like, I don’t think you’re quite getting that being in singles’ wards for 20+ years and then being told you’re no longer worth spending resources on, but then the family ward you’re shunted to doesn’t know what to do with you except to assume that your purpose in life is to serve married people because it’s not like you as a single person might have needs or anything, just perpetual servitude because that’s your role in the kingdom until you become worthy enough to get married–I don’t think you’re fully grasping what that does to someone who is single past 31+, especially when you start hitting further decades.)

  6. Bob Cooper says:

    Great article! But you left out one reason why the church wants singles separated from the married folk and it is that married women look on single women as competition. After all we know how easy it is to tempt married men.

  7. Fairy says:

    Excellent article. And yes, people don’t have to be in a separate ward. They can always have activities where they can meet. I never have understood the whole point of Singles’ Wards.

  8. Ziff says:

    Great critiques, Trudy. I think especially your first point hits home to me. I grew up in a ward that had few-to-no single adults in it, and as a result I definitely underestimated how many adults in the church were single. Like you, I saw married people and figured that therefore pretty much everyone was married.

  9. Cate says:

    Love this. There were multiple reasons why I did not enjoy my singles ward experience. To your point, among my frustrations were the way we ALWAYS got the worst meeting time (ie., 3 to 6 p.m. for years on end with no respite) and were repeatedly told it was because we “wanted it that way” (a complete lie); and the time it was announced, back in the days when General Conference came in over satellite, that our ward would provide babysitting in another part of the building on the Sunday morning so that parents could go and listen to the session with no distractions (and, NO, nobody checked with us ahead of time to see if we even wanted to do that). The message was, over and over, that we were somehow lesser.

    I also felt that my singles ward bred self-absorption (don’t know if that’s true of others), but I won’t go into that.

    Interestingly, one of our bishops was doing the annual marriage talk in Relief Society, and he said that although singles wards are intended to provide a forum for men and women to meet each other, they can be counterproductive. His point was that if you look around you and see plenty of competent, capable, interesting people whom you admire, whose lives appear to be full and rich, that you find role models there, then you might not feel the need to look for anything else in your own life. In some cases, I suspect that’s true.

  10. Jenny says:

    Amen to everything! Especially about being treated as adults for 6 days of the week in our professional lives, but not on Sunday. That hit so hard once I finished grad school and began working. I was in ward council in my YSA ward and the bishopric would mention how “when we became adults.” It didn’t help that all of them had kids our age. I was still treated as a child who needed immature activities and chaperones to socialize. The activities were literally the same as youth activities. Very few people at this point even date, let alone actually marry, someone in their ward. I became well aware how I didn’t want my social life to come from church anymore at ages 27+. I couldn’t wait to be 31 and kick myself out of the singles ward. I should have done it way earlier. I refuse to go to the mid singles ward because there’s no point, plus the sheer size is unfathomable for my introversion. Eventually I’ll be too old for that ward too – then having to join a traditional ward at 45 after 25+ years? No thanks.

  11. Abby Hansen says:

    Great post! The way you lay it out, I can’t think of any valid reason to not get rid of the dumb singles wards. They make no sense at all.

  12. M says:

    Amen. God and one make a family according to an old talk by Elder Ashton (“Be a Quality Person”) and I’ve held to that.

  13. JC says:

    Student wards were fun when I was in college, but I found myself feeling **over it** the closer I got to graduation. After getting my degree, I switched between my family ward and YSA wards with mixed results. I felt out of place in my old family ward, but some YSA wards were either downright hostile, cliquey, and unwelcoming to people who weren’t part of the “in crowd”, or gave off such bad energy that I couldn’t hightail it out fast enough.

    There ARE good YSA wards out there and I was fortunate enough to land in one for a time before moving to a different state for a new and better job. However, so much of that is dependent upon having a good, solid bishopric who knows how to connect well with single adults and doesn’t create or enable an environment where cliques and exclusivity are allowed to fester. Outside of that, the biggest problem with singles wards is that they infantilize grown adults and treat them like children. FHE and single adult activities are a continuation of the Mutual and Primary programs, single adult dances feel too similar to stake youth dances even with nice venues and attempts to make the event more formal, and single adult conferences are too similar to EFY in their format even with more enhanced activities. The other problem is that single adult activities, conferences, and special events are about meeting new people, but everyone stays in their own friend groups and no one makes an effort to reach out. It defeats the purpose of putting those activities and events on in the first place.

    Church leaders also act as “chaperones”, which is problematic in that single adults aren’t seen as real grown-ups in their church and spiritual lives, and it’s also problematic in that nothing is done to enforce the age limit for YSA activities. I’ve seen men in the 31-40+ age range hitting on and pursuing 18-year-old girls at YSA activities, conferences, and dances, and nothing is ever done about it.

    Get rid of the singles wards and put the single adults to work in meaningful ways in their family wards. Don’t put them in Nursery or Primary, because that’s just another way to isolate single adults and make them feel like they don’t belong. Make church about the Savior above all. For activities, I don’t know how that problem can be solved. Single adults need better activities and don’t need church leaders babysitting them, but it’s also not appropriate for people who are 31+ to attend YSA activities and it creates a lot of liability issues. I don’t know how that can be enforced when people are on their own, and I think the reason as to why church leaders don’t do so now is to avoid hurt feelings. I also think student wards need to have a policy in place where attendees need to show concrete proof that they’re in some sort of higher education program (associates degree, bachelors degree, masters, doctorate, business/dental/law/medical, trade/vocational school) in order to attend with the age limit being 18-30 and strictly enforced.

    I transitioned to a family ward upon turning 31 and relocating. Since then, I’ve been put in callings (NOT in Nursery or Primary) where I feel that I’ve been able to make a good impact, and I really like the family ward I’ve landed in. It’s been nice to attend church with and learn from people who have life experience, and to have my Sundays focused on worship as opposed to marriage.

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