earna Ackord is not an Adventist, but she is single. The 22-year-old recently told the London Sun
that she has chosen a church for her wedding, a $1,700 gown, the menu for the reception, even the music for her walk down the aisle. What she doesn’t have—yet—is a fiancé.
Ackord, who spent six months planning the smallest details of her wedding, says, “Every girl grows up dreaming of their day; I’m just taking it one step further than most and making those dreams a reality.”1
Indeed, thanks to the counsel of no less an authority than God Himself, who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), most people harbor the desire to find a life partner and soul mate, marry, and, with or without children, live happily ever after.
But what happens if your dreams aren’t matched by reality? What happens if what’s supposed to be a lifelong commitment is cut short by divorce or death?
As much as most of us agree that marriage is God’s original ideal for men and women, the fact remains that a surprisingly high percentage of people aren’t living that ideal. In the United States unmarried households outnumber married households by more than 600,000 (50.2 percent unmarried households versus 49.8 percent married households).2
So how do singles, who are Adventist, see themselves in relationship to the church? And what can the church do, if anything, to serve the needs of those who are unmarried or never married?
Over several weeks I spoke to people who are single (female and male) and two married women, all of whom spoke on the record, but on the condition of remaining anonymous so they could be completely candid in their responses. They range in age from their 20s to 60s and are represented by pseudonyms in this article. I also spoke on the record to Claudio and Pamela Consuegra, directors of the Family Ministries Department of the North American Division.
A recent article in USA Today
reported that 38 percent of women in the United States have never been married. That’s up from 33 percent in 1995. And since 1982 the number of women in their first marriage declined from 44 to 36 percent.3
Part of that decline among both men and women, according to Claudio and Pamela Consuegra, is that nationwide more couples are in “nontraditional” relationships, which may include but not be limited to cohabitation before marriage.
The Consuegras also point out that couples are waiting longer to get married. For males the median age for marriage in 1970 was 23.2 years old; for females, 20.8. By 2005 the median age was almost 28 for men, 26.5 for women. They point to three possible reasons. According to Claudio:
“They’re having to postpone the decision because of financial reasons, because of bad marriage experiences they [may] have witnessed, and they have not found someone who has the same values and principles.”
The Consuegras also point out that the word “single” means different things to different people. As one young adult put it, “I’m not single. My mom is divorced and 52; she’s single. I’m just not married yet.”
And that’s a distinction the Consuegras are eager to make: In the North American Division the ministry needs of young adults, those not yet married and typically between the ages of 18 and 35, fall under the oversight of the Youth and Young Adult Department. But Adventist Single Adult Ministries is overseen by the Family Ministries Department, and in addition to those who have never married, it focuses on those who are single because of divorce or the death of a spouse.
So not only is it difficult to lump every single adult into one category—it’s also difficult for the local church to minister to such a large cross section of its members.
Most of us imagine growing into some kind of married state, either because of the family situation we grew up in or because of popular media images we’ve been exposed to. “When I was a little kid, I had this picture, the fairy-tale image, that you get married and live happily ever after,” says Joshua. “You have all these children, and you live in a big house with a nice yard, and that’s life.”
“I wanted to be the mother of three children, the driver of the vanpool,” says Robin. “I wanted to be the mom, the wife, the president of the PTA [Parent-Teacher Association].”
For all of those who do live this version of the American dream, there are a surprising number of people who, for a variety of reasons, don’t.
And for some well-meaning family members and friends, this is a problem in need of a solution. Says Joshua, “Just a week and a half ago at church an elderly woman asked me, ‘Did you ever get married?’ I said, ‘No.’ And she said, ‘You mean you’re alone? That’s horrible!’ I just walked away.”
Then there’s the guilt that goes along with being divorced. “Because of the generation I’m in, I really didn’t know how people would accept me as a divorced person,” says Monica, divorced after 29 years of marriage. This was especially precarious because she worked most of those years in Adventist institutions at which divorce was often considered scandalous.
She says, “I have never been put down or made to feel guilty because I’m a divorced person. In fact, all these little old ladies who I had worked with for 15, 20 years came up to me and said, ‘We know what you’re going through; we understand. We’re here for you.’ I didn’t even know they had been divorced.”
The Match Game
The challenge for those who want to be in a relationship among both the never-married and the single-again is how to meet people with similar interests and ideals. Many of us came of age when four years at an Adventist college and university not only guaranteed a degree and a job—it also greatly increased your chances of leaving school with a spouse.
That still happens, but not to the extent it once did. And even if it did, divorce or the death of a spouse can send someone back to square one.
Kenneth moved to suburban Washington, D.C., in 1972 after finishing a graduate degree in another part of the country. Still unmarried at the time, he admits he chose the area because he thought he could meet single Adventist young women.
His search for someone with whom he could share his life led to another passion: providing a safe place for single Adventists to meet other single Adventists. He noticed the problems that resulted when family and friends dated and married people outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He felt that a spiritually and scientifically based matching ministry would be useful. Adventist Contact (now AdventistContact.com) was the result. Forty years later Kenneth is still trying to match Adventist men and women who have similar interests.
Taking seriously the biblical counsel about not being “unequally yoked,” Kenneth says, “We match only single Adventists.” He points out that some online dating sites have the name “Adventist” in them, “but many are matching Adventists and non-Adventists. Marriages have a better chance of being successful if couples share the most important values—the spiritual ones.
“Adventist Contact is 100 percent Adventist, period. We are Seventh-day Adventist-owned and -operated as a ministry, a soul-keeping ministry.” According to Kenneth, Adventist Contact has a record of successfully matching unmarried Adventists age 18 and older since 1974.
Of the people I spoke to, several had met people by using Adventist Contact, but only one met the person he would later marry.
Sherry met her husband on an Internet site other than Adventist Contact. “There are nine bad eggs out of every 10 eligible people on the sites,” in her opinion. “But if you’re smart, you can find the good ones. My husband and I met online in November 2003, met in person in December 2003, became engaged in February 2004, and married in May 2004. We’ll celebrate eight happy years and two beautiful children this May.”
On the other side of the coin, Claudio Consuegra states flatly, “I’m not a believer in online dating services of any kind.” With a background in pastoral counseling, Consuegra observes that online dating allows people to wear “masks” when corresponding with each other. “People don’t see [the other’s] true self until the masks are removed, and that’s when they spend time together.”
He says they often hear reports of people who met their mates online, but he says, “We have not yet seen all the negative results of online dating.”
As with individuals of any demographic group that is part of your congregation, once you get to know them, ideally, you stop thinking of them in terms of categories: “single,” “Black,” “old,” “Asian,” etc. You just know them as Samir, Juanita, Victor, Jerry, Samantha, and Wally.
And that’s what the singles I interviewed want from their church: a place to belong.
They may admit to the value of regional or national gatherings at which unmarried Adventists from other locations can meet and make friendships, but they appreciate more local congregations that allow them to be themselves in open, affirming settings, such as worship, study, and fellowship. They resist the stereotype that says, “If you’re not married by age ____, something must be wrong with you.” And they wish friends and fellow church members would get past that as well.
And although most of the singles I met are open to meeting someone with whom they could spend the rest of their lives in a committed, loving relationship, they all admitted that they’re comfortable with their “singleness.”
Monica said it well: “It’s important with any individual that you are happy no matter what situation you’re in. You have to be happy and content wherever you are, at the moment you are. If you’re married, that’s wonderful. If you’re divorced and single, or you’ve chosen to be single, you have to be happy where you are. . . . If you think being married is going to make you happy, it’s not.”
Citing the example of the apostle Paul, who ministered as a single person, Claudio Consuegra mentioned that single people often have more to offer than married people in terms of ministry. “Singles are vital to the health and ministry of this church,” he says.
Robin agrees: “[After my divorce] I really got to stretch my wings; it was almost a blessing. I realized there was a lot I could do as a single person. I don’t have children, so I could reach out to children at church and in the neighborhood. I started a single women’s Bible study at my house.
“Although I go through times . . . when I feel lonely and wish I had somebody, there’s also a blessing in being single and being able to share my faith or participate in things.”
A Perfect Match
The singles I spoke to don’t see their “singleness” as a problem to be solved. With few exceptions they understand and appreciate God’s ideal of a lifetime relationship of love and commitment. But they also understand (some from firsthand experience) that being in a relationship with the wrong person can lead to a lifetime of regret.
They’re willing to patiently wait for Christ to lead them into the future. All they ask is that the churches they attend accept them as they are, provide opportunities for them to grow spiritually, emotionally, and socially, and make them feel they are part of God’s larger family.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 American Community Survey.
3 USA Today, “Nearly 4 in 10 Women Have Never Married,” Mar. 22, 2012.
Stephen Chavez is coordinating editor of
Adventist Review. This article was published May, 17, 2012.