I feel that one of my functions at BCC is to be the voice of the single community within the church. Not that you all need to know the details of my dating life, which although at times entertaining, are not blog worthy. But once in a while something so momentous happens that I feel I need to blog about it. Last time, the momentous occasion was me noticing that dating in a singles ward is like being on a crappy reality t.v. show. That was marginally big. This time I’m serious, it’s BIG! Here’s the news: I’m old. I’ve been banished. I’m on my way to being a cheap Sheri Dew imitation. The drama and angst is perhaps too much to handle…forgive me while I wipe my tears and daintily blow my nose….
…and we’re back.
Okay, here’s the thing. I’ve been going to a haven of a singles ward for the past several years. The kind that let you grandfather out of the "over 30 and your out" rule with a wink wink and a nod. I never really appreciated it until I turned 30 last year–then I thought "hey this is great–I’m sure I’ll go to a family ward some day, but it’ll be when I’m ready." Being clinically socially immature, that time has not yet come, and I really didn’t expect it to come for several years. (Let’s face it, part of me unrealistically thought I might actually get married and avoid the issue altogether…but life, as it is wont to do, mocks me with a cruel, french-accented laugh. Hanh hanh!)
A few weeks ago insidious rumors started floating… in the form of a freaked out ward insider "They’re kickin’ us out!!!" (Shout out to the occasionally lurking gossip monger…you know who you are!) Many hours of anguished talk followed. "Don’t they realize the median age of our ward is 28?" "The whole ward leadership is leaving." "This might be fine for Utah, where everyone gets married young, but we live on the east coast! We’re not freaks!" "Do they realize we’re totally going to be marginalized and people will go inactive?" "My entire social life revolves around this ward, and only a handful of those people will be in my family ward." "How could they do this to us?" "I totally wasn’t ready." We were all about to embark on a rite of passage that no one actually wants to have–aging out of a singles ward. Akin to a heart attack at age 40, or getting drafted, or getting caught shoplifting. The kind of thing that happens to other people but not you. It’s humiliating. It’s an institutional stamp of failure. "You’re 30 and not married, and we don’t know what the heck to do with you, but you’re not welcome here." Looking ahead, we could only see humiliation and marginalization. Ick. Ick. Ick.
Well, that was a pretty dramatic build up. And as is normal in life, things usually aren’t as bad as you expect them to be. After some loving coaching from the singles’ ward bishopric, and some kind eyed calls for obedience, the official diaspora took place last week. Here’s how it went. I got totally overstimulated in sacrament meeting by all the children. (I’m hoping they were hopped up on easter candy, but I fear that perhaps the energy level was not too unusual.) I really couldn’t concentrate, but the kids were a hoot. So, at least I probably won’t sleep in church. That’s good. Then sacrament meeting was over, and we were all sitting in the gym overflow looking at each other. Finally I said, "this is weird." Nervous chuckles. Then some guy who looks to be about my age walks up with a big smile. "Welcome–we’re thrilled that you’re here. I’m the bishop." (Such an angel faced bishop…wow…I guess he’ll develop the requisite facial crags in a a year or two, as he was only called a couple weeks ago.) He pulled all 11 of us up to his office and got a little misty eyed, and said the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. "We really need you. You’re an answer to my prayers." And I realized that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I’m used to being needed at church and I was terrified that I would be the sloppy seconds in a family ward…a problem rather than an asset. Bless this man who has been listening to the spirit, because he melted all of us right then and there. He gave a little speech about the ward, and how excited they all were, and how they were going to put us to work immediately, and we headed off to Sunday School with our hearts a little lighter and our fears quelled.
Since Sunday both the Relief Society Presidency (headed by a single RS President!) and the entire Bishopric have been over to the house to visit us. We’re getting callings, and they just keep telling us how much they need us and how excited they are. Plus, and this is a bonus close to my heart, the bishopric could seriously take their routine on the road…they are hilarious. Nice, funny, warm, and caring. I think I’m going to like it here.
I don’t know how representative my experience has been. I think there are still some (both in the family wards, and those left in the seriously smaller singles ward) who are having a hard time. These are tough issues. Is 30 really the age of reintegration? Is single segregation the answer in the first place? How do you meet the needs of people who are "different" from the perceived demographic norm? As a church leader, how do you handle the feelings of those put into this, at times tender, situation? As a member affected by this policy, how do you handle the transition, especially if your experience is not smoothed by the kindness of others? Singles in the church–what to do?