Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom

We’re pleased to promote this event planned by friends of the blog Sharon Harris and Matt Bowman (bios below), and featuring our own Kristine Haglund.

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This is not your regular singles conference. While singles conferences have adopted more educational, service-oriented, and think-tank approaches in recent years—with Silicon Valley, Boston, and Northern Virginia singles conferences as notable examples—most of the time the idea of a singles conference conjures up either the spring break vibe of hundreds of singles scoping each other out at Duck Beach or the awkwardness of singles getting together in a gym to try to meet a special someone while dancing and drinking fruit punch. Basically, singles conferences revolve around creating situations in which singles are encouraged to meet, flirt, and date, and that underlying motive often seeps into all the other activities.

But what if rather than holding a conference designed to “solve” singledom, we instead held a conference designed simply to understand it? The growing number of singles in Mormon congregations is not simply a Mormon phenomenon; it’s happening across American culture, and raises several questions that Mormons need to wrestle with: Do we feel like single people are a part of the community, and fully treat them as such? Are singles wards helpful, or do they contribute to singles being out of sight, out of mind? Do singles and married people know how to talk to each other? (Back to the awkward fruit punch conversations.)  What is singles’ place in church leadership? Do we realize that there are single people of all ages and all classes in the Church? How can we best treat them as individuals, given the Church’s teachings on the family?

With over 50% of its membership as singles, the New York, New York Stake is poised to host a conversation around these questions. To that end the New York, New York Stake Relief Society (made up of 65% single sisters) is co-sponsoring a different kind of singles symposium, a day-long event on Saturday, May 16 for both single and married members of the church to consider the state and role of singles in the LDS Church today. Organized by Matt Bowman and Sharon Harris the symposium will host Clayton Christensen, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, Kristine Haglund, and Sharon Harris as speakers as well as a panel discussion of leaders. All who are interested are welcome to attend (open to those both married and single). Registration is free(!) Even if you won’t make it to New York, please participate in the conversation via this 10-minute survey and pass it around.
OfOneBody
Sharon Harris is an instructor of writing and English literature at Fordham University where she is also pursuing a PhD in early modern British literature. Last summer she studied the history of the family in Mormon culture with Richard and Claudia Bushman at the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University where she researched the history of singles wards in the LDS Church. Some of her favorite unmarried people include the youth she teaches in early morning seminary and her three hilarious and very smart nieces. See her previous guest post with us here.
Matthew Bowman is the author of The Mormon People: the Making of an American Faith. He blogs at Juvenile Instructor, and teaches history at Bowling Green State University.

Comments

  1. I think LDS singles all over the world would love to view recordings of these conference presentations online. I hope organizers consider doing this.

  2. I doubt that singles would be the only audience interested. As a married couple living in the boundaries of a singles ward, (on-campus) we have watched our records bounce around the stake, for the last 18 months. We apparently just don’t work well in the address algorithm, to the point where one clerk to get creative and tried listing our address as a post office in town. I suspect that until we are forced to live off-campus least, we will continue to get confused singles ward home teachers prepared to rebuke us for sharing a dorm (aren’t freshman cute?), and getting cutesy magnet left on our door. (A good strong magnet is always appreciated, even with glitter.)

    I think that there should be more growgrown-up adult conversation in Singles wards. I absolutely think there can be, but since bishops and stake presidents are married, I wish that there was more emphasis on being a good servant of Christ, and less on marriage and nuclear families.

  3. “We will continue to get confused singles ward home teachers prepared to rebuke us for sharing a dorm…” I had a bishop in a BYU singles student ward assign me to visit a young woman whose records had just been transferred in. Turns out, not only was she not active, but her live-in boyfriend was not happy I stopped by. When I reported back to my bishop, he was pretty pissed off at the family ward secretary who transferred her records in. Those records were quickly transferred back out.

    One of the big advantages of most singles wards–if someone’s not active in church, their records are just sent back to the family ward for the family ward to deal with…

  4. the other Marie says:

    In the survey, does “single members” include children? Or just adults?

  5. whizzbang says:

    I would LOVE to see a recording of it as well. I filled out the survey!

  6. the other Marie says:

    My question above sounds really dumb, but for the survey question regarding percentage of single members in one’s stake or the church, I found myself imagining my stake conference and trying to mentally estimate the number of people who were clearly married (sitting with a member of the opposite sex and with children), and assuming the rest of the vast congregation could be labeled “single.” But you’re probably only asking about those 18 and up, in which case my estimation technique won’t work. :)

    The conference sounds great–I wish I could be there. And I’m not a fan of singles’ conferences.

  7. I lived in a stake where inactive membership records of singles got bounced back and forth between the YSA and family wards. Whenever there was a change in leadership or a push to increase home teaching statistics, people who were difficult to contact got dumped to the other unit. This still continues, but has been curtailed (somewhat) by a stake president and YSA bishop who review transfers and determine where an inactive member is better served. In some cases the member is better off with their family, and in others, with their active friend in the singles ward. Focusing on the needs of the individual is much more important than improving the image of the HT/VT programs

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    This looks fantastic.

  9. “This is not your regular singles conference…most of the time the idea of a singles conference conjures up either the spring break vibe of hundreds of singles scoping each other out at Duck Beach or the awkwardness of singles getting together in a gym to try to meet a special someone while dancing and drinking fruit punch. Basically, singles conferences revolve around creating situations in which singles are encouraged to meet, flirt, and date, and that underlying motive often seeps into all the other activities.”

    Sometimes I feel like there’s this weird dichotomy between single people who are *all about getting married* (often something that’s derided, even as marriage is idealized) and single people who know better than to try so hard. The above language really doesn’t do much to break this dichotomy. I’ve already taken the survey, but if I were going to do it again I’d add a discussion question about acknowledging that the experience of being single can be a lot of different things, and that it’s really, really okay to want and try to date and get married, and also to not.

    Also, on a personal level – I’ve attended both Duck and the Boston conference without feeling at all like the motive of meeting someone seeped into all of the activities. It was a funny stereotype about Duck, but really, a 3-day weekend was never going to be anything other than a fun beach weekend with friends. Though I’m just a data point.

  10. (that said, the conference does look fantastic.)

  11. Thanks for the feedback, everyone! A, you’re absolutely right. Thanks for bringing it up. Also, thanks to juliathepoet and Tim. The questions about where records go and what happens with church activity across singles wards and conventional wards are also good to bring up. There are so many productive conversations like this that we could have and need to have. Hopefully this symposium can help create a space for them.

  12. The most fun was when they split us into different households. Lol

  13. Molly Bennion says:

    A recording or a detailed summary would be wonderful. Our ward and stake are majority single. We need new ideas.

  14. I already wanted to visit New York City …