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Methodist Conference: Call to celebrate singleness in churches

05 July 2024

Pat Ashworth reports on proceedings at the Conference in Leeds

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THE Conference voted overwhelmingly to “welcome, affirm, and celebrate” the presence and contribution of single people to the Methodist Church, in the light of anecdotal evidence suggesting that they might not find churches positive places to be.

Communal assumptions and some liturgical language might reinforce this negative experience, the Faith and Order Committee’s report, God in Love Unites Us, suggests. More Methodists are encouraged to acknowledge that the terms “single”, “family”, and “household” encompass a vast array of situations and life experiences, and that everyone should feel welcome in the Church.

A narrow legal definition, simply reflecting marital condition, ignores the divorced and the widowed, and neglects people who are partnered or cohabiting but not married, the report says. “Whether legally or socially defined, moreover, singleness is not synonymous with solitude, nor with celibacy, and it may include parenthood.”

Church history, it says, does not offer a single template for household and relationships: “At different times, the Church has celebrated and affirmed the chosen solitude of hermits and anchorites, the single life lived in close community of the monastic tradition, a celibate priesthood, the ministry of widows, and the mutual responsibilities and obligations of an extended family.”

Churches have also echoed or reinforced narrowness by developing an emphasis on “family church” and “family services” in the decades after 1945. Local churches are invited to reflect on who is single in their congregations, and on issues of inclusion and leadership. Events such as Mothering Sunday, Father’s Day, and parenting courses can be more difficult for those who are single, the report suggests.

The Conference received the report.

The Superintendent Minister of the Oxford Circuit, the Revd Miriam Moul, a member of the working group, said: “In asking for this report on singleness, the hope was to highlight the experience of many within the Church who find themselves single for whatever reason, whether by choice or circumstance.

“I hope [it] will be a significant resource in the ongoing conversations around the welcome and inclusion of all God’s people within the Methodist Church.”

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