Single Women - challenge to the church?

All I did was to pick this up out of curiosity at Cliff College and the lady next to me said I had to buy it! Should I, a man, be reading a girl book? Was I prying? I can now tell you that, whether or not men were in mind as readers, they should read it. Singles, and especially single women (because there are more women than men in churches) are a big part of our lives as an ecclesia, a gathered-together community, and I had simply not realised how out of community you can feel when the churches’ priorities and life experience lie elsewhere. It is a fascinating book. It will be enlightening to anyone not in that position and no doubt reassuring to those who are.

The book was developed from the author’s MA dissertation and looks specifically at single women in evangelical churches, especially younger singles. The author acknowledges that the age focus means that the conclusions do not necessarily hold for other single women, especially those who are older, separated, divorced or widowed. They will also not necessarily hold good in all respects for single women in Methodist churches, given our age profile and our mixed churchmanship.

The first two chapters review the position of single women in society and in the church, with some very revealing data. These findings raise the pertinent question addressed in the third chapter, ‘Husband-hunting?’: how do you find a Christian husband when there are so few single men in the typical family-dominant evangelical church? And how do you cope with the black looks you get if you consequently date a non-Christian? Good point.

The next, not especially profound, chapter looks at the biblical and interviewees’ approaches to singleness. Chapter five is a more substantial treatment of the theology, and although some sensitive issues are addressed, I felt that the theological case was not always consistently argued and sometimes seemed a little off-course.

The closing chapter of ‘Recommendations’, an accurate but not exactly gripping title for some highly thought-provoking writing, discusses ten proposals for how the church should relate to single women: consider their differing needs (never-married, divorced, separated, widowed, single mothers, non-Christian husband); give them a voice and listen to them; let them use their gifts; involve them in leadership; use and support them pastorally; seek to be a community in which they are involved, loved, supported and needed; think through biblical ways in which their sexuality can be expressed and celebrated; do not put marriage on a pedestal; develop an evangelistic focus on singles in their various states; teach a positive biblical view of singleness.

Many of these sound like ‘motherhood statements’ but the helpful discussion shows that they are not. And it is not hard to discern that the context for a good part of the recommendations is in evangelical churches that are both family dominated and give a lower status to women in leadership than Methodists usually do.

There is a lot of data, with quotations from interviewees on almost every page and a lot of statistical material. At many points it reads too much like a dissertation and not enough like a paperback. But I think that it was right to include a good number of interviewees’ responses because they are so frank and revealing, raising real-life issues that many married or male leaders may never have thought of.

If you are a man, or a married woman, you may start reading this book like I did, worrying that people will think you are either nosy or patronising, but I doubt that this is the way you will feel at the end, and for that reason it’s well worth a place on the bookshelf.

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