Seeking a fine Christian romance

by
14 February 2007

Single, and fed up after St Valentine’s Day? Don’t give up hope. The Christian singles’ scene is developing fast, as Rachel Harden discovered

Looking for love: above: Christian singles suffering cardless Valentines now have plenty of options; below: a Christian Connection event

Looking for love: above: Christian singles suffering cardless Valentines now have plenty of options; below: a Christian Connection event

ST VALENTINE’S DAY will have been a celebration for happy couples this week, but there will also have been lonely people who felt that they missed out on something.

The day’s romantic customs are more likely to be rooted in pre-Christian paganism than in the history of either the bishop or the priest who are the two candidates for being the saint named in the calendar. But the cards and restaurant tables laid for two are a reminder of singleness which many would prefer not to see.

Nicky, a solicitor, who is 27, dreaded the arrival of St Valentine’s Day last year. She says: “I used to loathe Valentine’s Day. This was partly because it reminded me that I had no partner, and partly because I told everyone I was happy to be single, when in fact I was not.“For years, I had lived with the mentality of ‘praying for the right type of man’; yet he never came along. It was a married friend who was brave enough to point out that, just because I was looking for a Christian partner, it did not mean I had to sit there waiting. ‘We aren’t living in the Dark Ages any more,’ she told me.”

The day’s romantic customs are more likely to be rooted in pre-Christian paganism than in the history of either the bishop or the priest who are the two candidates for being the saint named in the calendar. But the cards and restaurant tables laid for two are a reminder of singleness which many would prefer not to see.

Nicky, a solicitor, who is 27, dreaded the arrival of St Valentine’s Day last year. She says: “I used to loathe Valentine’s Day. This was partly because it reminded me that I had no partner, and partly because I told everyone I was happy to be single, when in fact I was not.“For years, I had lived with the mentality of ‘praying for the right type of man’; yet he never came along. It was a married friend who was brave enough to point out that, just because I was looking for a Christian partner, it did not mean I had to sit there waiting. ‘We aren’t living in the Dark Ages any more,’ she told me.”

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Nicky was one of thousands of people who signed up last year to a website introducing single Christians to one another. She kept quiet about having joined. “I felt this stigma that I had been unable to meet anyone myself.” But she exchanged emails with various men, and eventually found someone she wanted to meet.

Nicky was one of thousands of people who signed up last year to a website introducing single Christians to one another. She kept quiet about having joined. “I felt this stigma that I had been unable to meet anyone myself.” But she exchanged emails with various men, and eventually found someone she wanted to meet.

“Who knows where we might be this time next year? Anyway, I now know there are other options than being on my own.” 

''The singles population has more than trebled in one generation’

“Who knows where we might be this time next year? Anyway, I now know there are other options than being on my own.” 

''The singles population has more than trebled in one generation’

Christian websites that offer a more anonymous way of connecting with others than a dating agency have developed the scene for Christian singles enormously in the past few years. From 15 to 18 May this year, for the first time, the national Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park will host Christian dating agencies’ stand, as well as host speed dating each afternoon (www.creonline.co.uk).

Christian speed dating has already proved popular elsewhere. Greenbelt, Spring Harvest, and New Wine are among festivals that now offer speed-dating sessions. These have led to weddings. Coventry Cathedral played host last year to a huge speed-dating event that sold out. The cathedral will be the backdrop to another speed-dating event tonight.

An internet search, or a trawl of small ads in Christian magazines, reveals increasingly numerous ways of meeting other Christians. New ventures start up all the time.

Many charge membership fees. Some internet sites are free, such as Fusion 101 (www.fusion101.com), a global network for single Christians, which has specific UK links and a new venture in the West Midlands (see link on site).

A non-denominational monthly event for Christian singles to meet for worship and to socialise began last month (www.lastfriday.com). Its first meeting was in Watford on the last Friday in January. The founder, Colin Ashley, hopes that its success will mean that other groups spring up around the country.

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Mr Ashley’s inspiration came from a similar group he was linked with in America when he worked there nine years ago. “It is still running, and seemed to have the right balance between focusing on faith and introducing singles to each other.” More than 50 people attended the first meeting, which on this occasion was at St Luke’s. Similar events are advertised at www.eventsforchristians.co.uk.

London Christians advertise specific events for single Christians in the London area (www.londonchristians.co.uk).

The membership of web-based Christian singles’ sites varies widely in age. Some older singles — including widows, widowers, and divorcees — still prefer a traditional dating agency.

Angela was 48 when she decided to start dating again. She was divorced, and her two children had just left home. “I preferred the idea of an introduction agency rather than one that allowed me to chat online. I felt that that was the sort of thing my kids would do.”

Angela filled in forms, and the agency sent her details of men in her area that might fit the bill. After a number of meetings, ranging from “quite interesting” to “desperately dull”, she met Harry. “We both wanted a friendship to start with — we were not looking for marriage and family, as we had both done all that. Two years on, we are a couple, but are taking things very slowly. We both still have our own lives.”

Sue Saxon began New Day Introductions, a dating agency, 13 years ago out of concern for friends who felt that there was little provision for finding a suitable Christian partner once they were past student age.

More than 500 people have met their spouse through the agency, ranging from couples in their 20s to those in their 70s. But Ms Saxon always warns clients that the main aim is to widen their circle of friends, not to find “the right one” immediately.

Jackie Elton launched one of the early sites, Christian Connection, in 2000. More than than 34,000 people have used its services since then. While the scene may have developed a great deal, in her opinion the Church does not do enough to recognise and support single people. In the United States (with the UK not far behind), the singles’ population has more than trebled in one generation.

“It’s a lost opportunity. Many of our members frequently say that they feel marginalised by their churches. Many church leaders are not even aware of the number of unattached people in their own churches, let alone what their needs and contributions might be.”

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Theology and advice about being single can be patronising and diverge widely. One recent book on the issue by Debbie Maken, an American author and a former lawyer, sets out to challenge the Christian notion that to be single is a gift, and that marriage is God’s fundamental design.

Precise statistics on the number of single people in the UK, or in the Church, are hard to come by. The 2001 Census shows that just over half the adult population (aged 16 and over) in a first or subsequent marriage, but there is no breakdown for the remaining 49 per cent (this includes those who have been widowed and divorced). They may not be married, but are they single?

Church of England attendance figures do not specify marital status. But anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more single women than men in church. Those running internet sites for Christian singles confirm this.

When internet agencies started, generally more men than women used them, as men tended at first to be more regular computer users. Currently, about 39 per cent of Christian Connection members are male. At the time of going to press, Coventry Cathedral’s speed-dating event was still short of men.

Despite the lack of official statistics of single men in church, evidence suggests very low numbers. A survey published in the 2001 UK Christian Handbook shows that only five per cent of men in the UK regularly attended church.

Exceptions to the rule include large city churches like Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London. At that church, half the 2500 who attend are single and aged under 30; and there is a reasonably high ratio of men to women. Many new church members attend the Alpha course, where the average age is 27, said a spokesman, Mark Elsdon-Dew. Mr Elsdon-Dew said that the church was a place of worship, not a matchmaking agency. But, as one member of the congregation said, “I have genuinely found a faith here, but that does not mean you don’t hope to meet someone.”

For single Christians struggling to meet others, there are now other low-key ways of making contact. Jane, a Church of England priest in her early 40s, tried the Spring Harvest French Houseparty — which, although not specifically a matchmaking venture, is aimed at those travelling alone or without children. “Of course, it was at the back of my mind, and I will probably go again, but it was a very enjoyable way to spend a holiday and meet others.”

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There are so far no specific UK internet dating sites for Christian lesbian and gay singles. “I think this is more to do with the fact they are a small percentage of the Christian community, but this does not mean they are not important.

“I guess the whole issue of what is and is not acceptable in the relationship would come into play, which is maybe why no one wants to be the first. And there are secular sites around anyway. But of course, things may change,” said one Christian internet dating agency.

But lesbian and gay Christians who are particularly interested in meeting others have opportunities to do so socially through groups such as the long-established Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, as well as in congregations that have become known as welcoming through more informal networks.

As for the future of internet dating for churchpeople, Ms Elton predicts more changes. “The sites themselves have become much more sophisticated. When Christian Connection started, there was basically a library of profiles you could search through: now, there is instant Chat, more integration with text messaging, and additional services. Many predict that the whole of the internet dating industry will happen via mobile phones and handheld computers.”

www.springharvest.com/houseparty

www.christianconnection.co.uk

www.marriageintroductions.co.uk

“I HAD been divorced for four years before I felt ready to move forward with my life. Previously, much of my energies had been taken up with keeping in contact with my three children, and getting over the shock of being on my own.

“As a Christian, I was hoping to meet a lady with similar values, but how? While having a meal with friends, I put this to them and someone suggested joining a Christian dating agency. I did not know where to start, and wrote down numbers I found in a Christian women’s magazine.

“When it came to the question ‘How far was I prepared to travel?’ I said: any distance. By the end of my first year’s membership, I’d met many ladies and travelled many miles. It had been fun, but there had been no chemistry with anyone; so I decided to give it a break. I rang the agency and explained — joking — that, ideally, I would like to meet a blonde who lived near me.

A month later, I received a call from them saying that they had a new lady on the books who lived near me and was, in fact, blonde. I signed up with them again, and in fact got three new names. 

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“Claire lived only six streets away, but she was out when I rang; so I contacted the others. But, once we spoke on the phone, we soon clicked, and talked for over half an hour. We met at a pub, and talked a lot over a good meal, sharing our pasts, and briefly touching on hopes for the future. Fourteen months after first meeting, we seriously discussed our future, and four months later we were married.”

Christine, 34, met her husband on a singles website

Christine, 34, met her husband on a singles website

IN JANUARY 2005, I wrote a piece for The Independent on Sunday about Christian Bridget Joneses. I knew what it felt like, because I was one.

The author of Bridget Jones, Helen Fielding, had launched her newspaper column (later a book, then a film) in The Independent ten years earlier.

And before Renée Zellweger became synonymous with Bridget, the book’s original cover featured a woman with a glass of wine and a fag in hand, seductively silhouetted by a window.

I was asked to “recreate” the scene. But gone was Bridget’s signature glass of vino. . . instead, they handed me a Bible. Thankfully, the picture was never used.

I was 32, and although I didn’t have a problem being asked out, I did have a problem meeting men who were Christian. In the end, I met one man who was interested in Christianity. He was also funny, creative and poetic. We fell in love.

There were times, though, when I cried myself to sleep, exhausted with the sense of being torn between two great loves. Because if we were honest — and eventually we had to be — all my talk about God irritated him. And I was longing for someone who could share my life’s passion.

After the break-up, I signed up to a free Christian singles website just to see if single Christian men existed. Perhaps it’s not as romantic as bumping into someone gorgeous in a wine bar, but then, meeting over a cuppa after church isn’t exactly thrilling, either.

There was no stigma involved, as the people on the site were also looking for ways to connect with other Christians. Though I did feel, sometimes, as if I was almost advertising myself for sale. But I wouldn’t pray for a job and expect to do nothing to help it to happen. If I made the effort, I felt that I could be happier being single and trusting in God for the rest, whether I met the right man or not.

Simon wrote to me after I had been on the site for more than year. I had made lots of mistakes writing to people, including hurried replies which I later cringed over, and sounding too much like a wino. (Bridget and I really did have many things in common.) In the same way as meeting someone in a coffee shop or a bar, first impressions count on the web, too.

I had already met one man via the site. We remained in contact for a while, but the chemistry wasn’t right.

When I checked out Simon’s profile, I could tell he was a really good man. Our subsequent emails revealed more and more about who he was. Writing to him was fun. When you get internet dating right, and someone knows how to communicate with words, writing your thoughts, your life, your experiences is an amazing way to get to know someone — something, I imagine, all those writers of love letters know well.

I had agreed to meet the first man after months of emails. I met Simon after about three weeks. We just clicked. He was widowed aged 41. On our first date we told each other something of our own life stories. I cried my eyes out.

It was the strangest date ever. We lived 200 miles apart. But thereafter we talked on the phone every day.

We were married last November. This year’s St Valentine’s Day was rather different from the others.

Writing a profile that reflects who you are is a real art. I have since helped friends to write theirs, and am happy to help others. I am also researching singles’ experience in church. You can contact me for more details by email singlesresearch@yahoo.co.uk

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