There are simple steps Church leaders can take to make sure single Catholics feel included.
The number of single Catholics is at a historic high, but in many places, parishes and ministries have been slow to adjust to this shift.
“There are so many single Catholics, and sometimes people just don’t realize it,” said Anastasia Northrop, Founder and Director of the National Catholic Singles Conference, in an interview with Aleteia. “The median age for marriage has gone up so much over the years. In some places, single adults make up more than 50% of leaders of households. They make up a large portion of the Church.”
About 31% of American adults are single, and that number includes many Catholics. Although there are so many single Catholics, local parishes and ministries often fail to account for this substantial demographic in programs and messaging.
“The general feedback I get from single Catholics is that they feel invisible,” Northrop said.
Parish and ministry leaders want to make every member of the community feel welcome, but they might not know the best ways to support single Catholics.
Northrop shared these 3 strategies that Church leaders can follow to make sure single Catholics are fully included in the life of the Church.
1Acknowledgment from the Church
Many parishes have ministries for young adults, families with children, and seniors. But single Catholics often don’t fit into any of these categories, and as a result, they are often overlooked.
Simply acknowledging that single Catholics exist goes a long way to making sure these valuable members of the Body of Christ feel fully included in the life of the Church.
“Even just awareness that they’re part of the Church community helps,” Northrop said. “Knowing these people are in the pews, leaders can ask, ‘How are we going to make sure they feel included in the life of the Church?’”
One easy way priests and deacons can include single Catholics is simply to mention them during the homily, along with other groups that make up the parish. Northrop said,
The homily always seems to address people that are married and have a family. If the priest can mention single people from the pulpit, that means a lot, for example if he’s giving ideas of what people can do for Advent or Lent. Then single people are aware that you’re talking to them, that you know that they exist, and you’re thinking about them. You want to feel that the priest is addressing you as well.
It sounds so simple, but even a small act of acknowledgment means a lot.
2Events open to everyone
Because many parish events are aimed at a specific demographic, such as young parents or seniors, it’s not uncommon for single Catholics to feel that there isn’t a place for them.
“If there aren’t events at the parish that include single people, they feel like they’re the only single person there,” Northrop explained. “You could go to Bible study or other events, but it can be isolating if you’re the only single there.”
Of course, it’s not only single people who benefit from inclusive events. Everyone at the parish is enriched by spending time with one another and coming together as the Body of Christ.
“It helps to have a good mix of events for formation, prayer, socializing, and community,” Northrop said. She particularly recommended study groups as a great way to build community with more depth than casual social events.
One common concern with scheduling events, Northrop said, is how to deal with a wide age range. Young adults in their 20s and older singles in their 50s often have different interests. A mix of ages is often enriching, but it’s also natural to enjoy separate events at least some of the time.
“The best thing I’ve seen is to do overlapping age brackets,” Northrop said. “For something ongoing like study groups, you could break out and have things for particular ages, as well as events open to everyone.”
3Invitations to contribute and be welcomed
Northrop especially hopes that parish and ministry leaders can realize what valuable contributions single Catholics can make to the Church, if they are given the opportunity.
“We are all called to make a gift of self, regardless of our state in life,” she said. “If people in ministry realized that, they’d find that singles were more active in the Church and could be really helpful to them.”
A simple invitation to volunteer or to take a leadership role is very encouraging. “A lot of people might not take the initiative, but if you invite them, that is huge,” she said.
This spirit of welcome should extend throughout the entire parish. Couples and families can reach out to single Catholics in their area to build friendships and community.
“It’s really life-giving if couples invite singles into their homes,” Northrop said. “For those who can’t have kids or don’t have them yet, being around kids is really a big gift.”
The pandemic has worsened the isolation that many singles experience, especially if they live alone. As we look forward to the coming end of the pandemic, the time is perfect to reach out to single people in our local communities.
“If you know someone that’s single, reach out to them; invite them to dinner. It’s nice to be welcomed into a family environment,” Northrop said.
Sometimes the simplest actions can make the biggest difference. Each of us in the Church can do our part to include and welcome each other.
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