Singles mingles, a ministry idea for the ages




Christy Hayashi recently kicked off a singles ministry at First UMC, Port Orange, with a dance-off contest that rocked the house to a Christian beat.

Nearly 170 single adults 18 and older came together for a good time. Hayashi hopes to give singles a place to mingle in a safe environment each month. The ministry is an idea she began thinking about nearly two years ago. 

Senior woman and younger woman close together giving thumbs-up sign
A singles ministry can target a particular age or interest group or offer activities appealing to people of all ages and walks of life. Photo from Bigstock.com.

"I want it to bring people off the streets and into the church community so they see there is more to it," says Hayashi, who is First UMC's church secretary and the singles ministry's director.

"You can unite and talk more about God, and also there is actually fun at church."

She has a passion for reaching out to single adults who might feel alone or disconnected from church life. It is something she knows firsthand.

Hayashi is a single mom who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several years ago.

"I have come through a lot, but it has brought me closer to God," she says. "If you can stay strong and go through things and stick together you can get things done."

That is the message of First UMC's ministry, "Singles Helping Singles."

Singles ministries are something the General Board of Discipleship would like to spread to more churches. The UMC agency serves as a leadership and training resource for all church ministries and new church development.

Hayashi's efforts are one example. At Sun City Center UMC, church member Ellie Passino is heading up a singles ministry for senior women who live on their own and sometimes face limited options for transportation. 

Young people turn out for dance contest at Port Orange singles ministry
People of all ages turn out for a dance contest sponsored by Singles Helping Singles at First UMC, Port Orange. Photo from Christy Hayashi.

It can hold them back not only in church attendance, but in getting out and being with friends.

So on every third Tuesday of the month, the members of SWAG, or Single Women Always Going, make a special effort to venture outside their southern Hillsborough County retirement community for lunch.

Out of necessity, Passino and a friend, Ann McMullen, are designated drivers.

"There is hardly anyone else who will drive out of this area," says 88-year-old Passino.

Some never drive at all, unless it's in a golf cart. Sun City Center is known for its cart traffic that zips along the streets and beats a path of convenience to nearby golf courses, shops, grocery stores, pools and any of dozens of on-site activities.

The women mix it up among restaurant choices. Brandon, about 20 miles to the north, is about a far as the group usually ventures. 

"We have a good time talking," Passino says.

Passino puts a notice in the church's monthly bulletin as a reminder of the date and time.

Fun and companionship are the ministry’s purpose, but church officials -- and Passino -- see a broader mission of making singles welcome at church and opening doors to friendships.

These ministries can help strengthen ties to the church and to their faith.

"We have a good time," Passino says. "It's been a chance for me to meet these ladies, which I would never have done going to church. We've formed a nice friendship." 

Hispanic dad on an outing with preschool-age son
Some singles ministries target the needs of single parents, while others may focus on seniors who find themselves without a companion in late life. Photo from Bigstock.com.

Passino says SWAG's members, around 10 to 20, increase as Sun City's "snowbird" residents settle in to enjoy Florida during fall and winter.

United Methodist Communications offers a how-to guide on creating singles ministries, and the denomination's General Board of Discipleship provides some resources at its website, www.gbod.org. Click here for the adult ministries page, and then click in the box for "adult singles."

One requisite for a successful ministry is finding a leader with communication and organizational skills. Social activities should be age-appropriate, whether for young, old or a blend of generations. And sensitivity may be needed for singles who are coping with a recent divorce or death of a loved one.

Matchmaking is something the board cautions against. If friendships should deepen into love, they should happen naturally, the board advises.

Hayashi is very clear about her church's ministry. "It is not a dating site or dating group," she says.

The dance-off drew a mixed crowd ranging from late teens to the 40-somethings who enjoyed pizza and a band. The top three dancers won cash prizes. Child care was provided for single parents.

The ministry’s next outreach will be an Oct. 10 get-together at Jakob's Well in Daytona Beach, a Christian-based coffee shop and bookstore with live music on weekends. Anyone age 18 and older is welcome.

The idea is to find places where singles can enjoy themselves in a Christian atmosphere, Hayashi says, adding that people want someone to talk to and a place to go.

"People are in need. Some people get lonely. They want to fill the void," she says. "I've seen it all the time. I want to reach out to people. I was there once."

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa.
 




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