Ministering Angels

"They neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those what are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Are Singles' Wards Worth It?

By Sarita

This Sunday as I was sitting in my gargantuan YSA ward, I started to feel. . . cloyed. The dating arsenal was being brandished with a vengeance; the covert reconnaissance operations and carefully orchestrated strategic maneouvers made me claustrophobic.

There is so much display! display! display! in a singles' ward. This display includes wearing the right outfit (trendy and sexy, but still mostly pure), sitting next to the right people (seats in Sunday School matter the most), and--if you're fast enough to beat the herd to the pulpit on a Fast Sunday--saying the right things in your testimony (making a joke, acknowledging a minor fault and summing up with cheerful platitudes). In fact, the whole mess sometimes feels like a zoo. The animals are out a-courtin', wearing their best plumage and calling their best mating calls, and the pheremone stink is horrendous.

You know what else makes it zoo-like? All the YSAs are corralled away from LDS families, kept in a carefully controlled environment until they get married and are ready to be released into the wild. The zookeepers are kind, of course, and you can always leave whenever you want--but there won't be anyone like you outside, and you'll get a lot of stares.

Singles' wards have definite advantages. Obviously the biggest is social. There are activities with other single LDS folk ad infinitum, and, the bishop hopes, lots of intra-ward dating. Another advantage is that the sacrament is passed in absolute silence. Also, Relief Society lessons aren't always about diapers and curfews.

Still, YSA wards have some serious drawbacks. One is that many singles end up feeling isolated and broken, fundamentally lesser than the rest of church members. This is part of what makes the transition to family wards so difficult after turning 30. Family wards aren't used to incorporating single members, so they often end up being patronized or ignored.

Another drawback is that YSA wards generally tend to have many extremely talented and energetic members, and have vastly fewer needs to fill than family wards. So you end up creating fake callings (like the "Social Commitee" of my ward) and staffing them with exceptional people, just to make sure everyone has a calling. In the rest of the stake's wards, though, these social commitee members could be making desperately-needed contributions. In YSA wards, they just twiddle their thumbs.

Another benefit to disbanding YSA wards is that singles would finally have an easy way to develop relationships with marrieds. The current gulf between a 26-year-old who is married and a 26-year-old who is not is very deep in the church. There could be more mutual support, discussion, and even friendship between these two groups. That could go a long way to counteract the tendency to reduce identity to "married" and "single."

Church leaders often go out of their way to break up ward homogeneity. Boundaries are frequently redrawn to include greater economic variety, for example. So why are young singles the only church members given their own entirely separate organizations? (Langage groups are the exception, but that division seems to be a matter of practicality.) Of course, there is the hope that if we're all thrown together for a decade or so, most of us will get married. This works for many people. But if all singles were incorporated into family wards, you would still have singles finding each other--through stake and regional activities, as well as informal networking--and socializing. You might even have more socializing; a standard dating practice is to avoid members of your own ward ("Don't Dirty the Water Hole"). Alternatively, it could be argued that having 15-20 singles per family ward instead of 200 in a YSA ward would increase meaningful interaction between the single men and women and lead to more, and better-suited, relationships.

If YSA wards were disbanded, singles would benefit from increased opportunities to serve, interaction with families, and feeling like fully participating and fully enfranchised members of the church. As it is, we sometimes feel like teenagers kept in a holding pen until we either pass the marriage test or are declared with "Defective -- Over Thirty" and thrown out of the zoo anyway.

So, what's your take on this? Would you like to see church policy move towards treating young singles like their married counterparts? How would this hurt or benefit family wards, or singles themselves? Does anyone know how or when or why singles' wards developed in the first place?

While you think those things through, I'll be planning my outfit for next Sunday. After all, it's never too early to prune that plumage.



at 6/29/2005 1:18 AM Anonymous Dallas Robbins said...

What a great post. Your comment on plumage is spot on. Man of man, I could go on forever about that. I do believe singles wards should be disbanded. There nice, but not nessecary.

at 6/29/2005 1:36 AM Blogger Dirk said...

I have to heartily disagree, however my reasons will have to wait a day or two. It's late and I have to be at work early tomorrow. I will post an actual opinion on this when I get more time. But let me just state that the Singles wards do serve a very important purpose, and have helped many people avoid inactivity due to feeling like they didn't fit in a family ward. Oh plus if we all go to our family wards that leaves just a couple of us per ward, we've grown up together and probably already decided we don't match. So how are we supposed to meet that special someone? (Other than on Navoo Forum or similar sites.)

at 6/29/2005 8:18 AM Blogger Laura said...

Dirk, I look forward to hearing your reasons. In quick response: if singles were regularly a part of "normal" wards, I think the alienation factor would be eliminated. Also, with 100+ singles in the stake, I think there would still be socialization. You could do stake singles' FHE, for example.

at 6/29/2005 10:42 AM Blogger Sarita said...

While I think you make an excellent point in many respects, I still wonder about those who dont attend activities. I used to abhor my singles ward until I moved to SLC, and a single ward with a little more of a mature attendance. Most everyone has their career, and or school plus several other responsibilities. Many just don't have time to attend other activities regularly, and so never would have the opportunity to meet many members their age. Not a reason to keep em around per say, but an issue to be addressed.

at 6/29/2005 3:36 PM Blogger Melinda said...

I loved my singles wards! Even the weird ones, which were rare. I love my singles wards even more now, when I'm still shakily trying to transition into a family ward. In a singles ward, there may be a lot of dating and socializing, but when you have lessons and talks, they tend to be about the gospel of Christ, and living the gospel. Once I got into a family ward, it seemed that much of the teaching focused on practical aspects of parenting. The rest of the ward needs that kind of stuff (see, I'm trying not to be so me-focused), but I find it alienating. If it wasn't for the base in the gospel that I did develop in those singles wards, I might get the idea the Church really is all about marriage, and therefore not for me. (and it's all about me! me, me, me!)

Keep the singles wards!

at 6/29/2005 5:45 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you may have missed a positive of singles wards to factor into your assessment. While some callings tend to be somewhat less substantial than you might find in other "normal" wards due to the activity rates in singles wards, I've long been of the opinion that the church is doing good things for itself down the road by letting people in their 20's take on callings normally reserved for more "mature" members such as counselors in bishoprics, relief society presidencies, elders quorum presidencies and the like. It isn't often you get to see 25 year-olds serve in these callings in a family ward, particularly in places strong enough to have signles wards. I think the church has found an effective training ground for those who will be in "big" callings down the road.

at 6/30/2005 1:47 PM Anonymous Barb said...

I only had the opportunity to attend the YSA ward when I was 29. Okay, that is not the best age as most of the singles are younger than you at that point. I did have some comfortable friendships. I thought it was a neat experience going to Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, and Relief Society with all singles. At one time my regular ward had a special Sunday School for YSA. I was a YSA rep at the time so I gave quite a few lessons. We would also let anyone in the class have the opportunity to teach. The brother who was also a Rep was so surprised that I was able to get two of the more shy members of the class to teach lessons while he was a way. We really had such a cohesive unit. I think being smaller in size helped. Although I did gain a lot of friendships through the YSA program where we met with the entire Stake and often with nearby Stakes. I would like permission to be in a platic bubble and have people wheel me into a ward. I may get stares but I would feel more apart of the group that way. Long story. If I could be in a plastic bubble, I could be equally happy in a married ward teaching primary, Relief Society, or Young Woman or a YSA ward. This is provided that I was not shunned by the populas as a whole.

at 6/30/2005 6:14 PM Blogger Dirk said...

Okay, here goes my attempt to explain my thoughts in full.

First of all after re-reading let me note that I think a big part of the problem your seeing is the size of the ward. Gargantuan YSA wards to tend towards the atmosphere you describe. And at one time my current ward was starting to get to that point and the bishopric was struggleing at times to come up with enough callings for everyone. Then other wards began to be opened in the area and while we were often sad to lose friends to those other wards, the ward returned to a more manageable size.

Now as to are the wards needed. I've been attending my ward since it was founded in 1998 (except for the times I've been deployed) Prior to that there were no YSA wards in nothern Davis county. There had been but a few years prior the church realized that there were over 2000 YSA's in the north Davis area who the church had no idea where they were. The ward hopping was totally out of control, so they closed em all down except for one branch in Kaysville that somehow managed to stay open.
So what oportunities were there in the area with no wards? Each stake had a YSA program. I was a ward rep. We combined with another stake for a YSA Relief Society and Sunday School each sunday evening. A very good week would get about twenty people out. And though we enjoyed it, it meant another hour (or two for the sisters) of meetings. Also we had what ever ward callings we had, to take care of plus being involved in the lessons. We ward reps had it easy as the YSA were our callings, but it meant that much more for others to have to work into a typical busy singles' week.

As to the activities, the YSA council planned mulitple activites each month both with just our stake and with others. We planned and worked and tried every ounce of creativity we could to make the activities fun and enticing, but for most activities the attendance was just the council. And while we certainly enjoyed each others company and our activites it was extremely frustrating to put the effort in that we did and see absolutely no support, or recognition (a very key point).
Drop it down a level and the singles in my ward at the time consisted of three male RM's(no-where near the 15 to 20 you mentioned). One was the Stake YSA co-chair, I was the ward rep and the other was an extremely shy kid who was my favorite project to drag out to stuff. There was also a pair of sisters who chose not to participate in anything. The ward was and still is an extremely transient family ward. Most of the subdivision consists of small starter homes so most families didn't stay long. So there was no social scene there. On the stake level outside the reps there was little activity.

Now I contrast that with the two YSA Congregations I've been a part of. Oceanside Branch in Santa Cruz CA, and the current ward. Both have pulled singles from multiple stakes together. The friends are numerous, the dating opportunities are great but not the primary focus of either group. As you noted the reverence during the sacrement is awsome. It's gonna be hard to adapt to when I have to attend a family ward.

You asserted that singles wards leave singles feeling isolated and broken. Prior to my finding the branch in Santa Cruz, I was attending the family ward where I was stationed (I was active duty Army at the time)I had attended that ward for over a month and still didn't know anyone but the other single soldiers, and the YSA advisor who was a platoon sergeant in my company. So for three hours a week he was Bro. So-and so the rest of the time it was proper military honors. I was tired of it and was beginning to waver on attending church. Then I found the branch. I came out after the first meeting on a first name basis with most of the branch and never looked back, even though it was 40 miles one way.
I hear more singles say they feel isolated and broken or at least ignored in family wards.

Which brings your next point. Callings: In a family ward you the single may get the great opportunity to be a primary teacher or Nursery leader, or a support calling in the young mens or womens program. And on rare occasions a calling in the EQ or Relief society presidency may occur but they are extremely rare. Obviously there are times when the Lord will insist that a single be given one of those callings but they don't come very often. Contrast that where every calling but the Bishopric is filled by a single. It's my opinion that singles wards actually do more to prepare future church leaders at times when certain aspects of their callings aren't so critical. I.e. being Sunday school president (a calling I've had) in a singles ward give the opportunity to learn how to run such an organization, without having the challenge of spending most of every sunday chasing teenagers out of the halls. Thats one simplistic example.

You comment on the difficulty Family wards have incorporating singles after 30 (thankfully my bishop doesn't kick us out), yet you fail to consider that they have the same difficulty prior to that magic age. and it isn't just because the singles are elsewhere. More often the Ward memebers have a hard time recognizing that the annoying or rebellious teen they used to know is grown-up and can be trusted with a responsible position. And thus they end up being ignored or patronized.

How do you propose that singles develop better relationships with marrieds. Marrieds who often cannot fathom why a single is still single, after all they were married at 18 or 19 when their sweetheart came home from his mission. Or they earned their Mrs. Degree during their first or second year of college when that cute new RM sat in class next to them.
Then, while we are starting our careers, traveling, and trying to enjoy the lives we've been given. They are starting their families. Of course there is a divide. Ideally there would be no divides, but I am glad that the church recognizes that my needs are not easily met in a family ward.

Well I'm not sure all that made any sense. I agree with Melinda's point on how lessons seem to actually be based on the gospel, not what the kids did this week.

I do also agree with you on the being kicked out at 30 issue, and wish there were more SA wards around. For the time being though I am lucky to attend a YSA ward where the bishop recognizes that problem and doesn't kick anyone out. And I hope to (as the joke in my ward goes)find someone to Graduate with.

Ultimately though I think Barb hit the nail on the head in that we need to feel like we belong, I for one do not feel like I belong when I get the opportunity to visity family wards. I can't relate to the members as well. And there are no where near as many flirting opportunities. ;)

at 6/30/2005 6:16 PM Blogger Dirk said...

Oh also one more comment in response to your first reply to me Laura. I've yet to see a stake with 100+ singles (except for the college stake at Weber State) Maybe such numbers can be found in SLC or Happy valley but not up north, and definately not outside of Utah.

at 6/30/2005 8:07 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, Dirk. I've lived in California, Boston, Chicago and NY. There are hundreds of singles in the many wards there. Wherever there's a good grad school program, there are hundreds of eligible singles. Not all of them come to church anymore, but there are lots of single LDS out there, and wards are created to serve them.

Oh, and there are few singles wards in the DC area, too.

at 6/30/2005 10:45 PM Blogger Dirk said...

Ahh but not every single lives near a good grad program. UC Santa Cruz could only support a branch. Monterey with a decent supply of LDS soldiers as well as a few schools had not even a branch.

And most importantly, many singles are finished with school and may no longer live near a school. Or if they do, they may either be prohibited from attending a student ward (as was the case with the Weber State student wards at one time) or may choose to avoid those wards as the average age in them is much lower than in a non school based singles ward.

at 6/30/2005 11:39 PM Blogger Laura said...

Very interesting comments, all. Especially Dirk--your experience in the no YSA ward stake is really interesting.

I'm in a gigantic ward in DC. There are several out here, and I tend to forget that there's a much higher concentration of LDS singles here than in the rest of the world. If my YSA ward were dissolved, our ward would have at least 30 singles, but I recognize that's not true everywhere.

Several people have pointed out that leadership training in singles' wards is easier to get than in a family ward, and that's a really good point.

Mostly, I am curious as to why singles' wards were started in the first place. Also, I think they perpetuate the divide between marrieds and singles in the church. Melinda referred to this divide in her comment--I wonder if dissolving singles' wards would change it. That would be my main reason for supporting disbanding YSA wards.

at 7/01/2005 12:08 AM Blogger Melinda said...

I vaguely remember reading something in Elder Maxwell's biography about his involvement with creating singles' wards. I'd go look it up, but I loaned the book to someone and it never came home. IIRC, singles' wards were originally for LDS university areas, where the family wards were simply overwhelmed by students and their transience. Then it spread . . . like fungus . . .

Just kidding. I like singles wards.

at 7/01/2005 12:01 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought they were created for much older singles. I vaguely remember the term "Special Interest" as a designation for singles over 30, and there were special programs created for them.

I fear that the prejudice and segregation of singles in wards is related to several factors:

1. The "special interest" nomenclature. This alone is a "weirdo" stamp. Many people in the Church think that a righteous single person (i.e. an abstinent, active single Latter-day Saint) is weird, and perhaps gay. Hence the shunning or perceived shunning.

2. The "avoid the appearance of evil" makes it difficult for single and married LDS people to socialize.

3. The culture of gossip in the Church (need I say more?)

4. The practice of bishops' interviews, HTs/VTs, etc., makes it incredibly easy for people to interfere in the lives of single adults. Some singles want either solitude or the ability to fraternize with people who understand why they might want to live alone, buy their own home, etc.

at 7/01/2005 5:45 PM Blogger Dirk said...

Wish I had known where some of those DC area singles wards were when I was back there during the month of May. I was actually up in Columbia MD, but would have traveled a ways to get to one.

at 7/07/2005 5:29 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in a singles ward that was so large it was split first into two and then into four singles wards. I didn't like it. We were always given the worst schedule. We were expected to provide free babysitting, and to staff stake events to which we weren't invited. Everybody thought that we had nothing but free time. I felt isolated in my singleness. And as for the ward itself, as far as church matters went, I felt invisible. As far as social matters went, I felt as if I were being sized up, and then I felt invisible. Fortunately, I was in a very competitive graduate program, from which I graduated with honors, and where people seemed impressed with what they saw as my abilities. Fortunately, I went to work in a company where I have friends and where members of the opposite sex seem to find me attractive. I wouldn't go so far as to say I felt rejected by my singles ward because I wasn't; it was full of good people. But I always felt as if I were being tried and continually found wanting.

Then one day I decided I'd had enough, and I changed to my geographic family ward. I hadn't realized my singles ward was a stressful event, but I was amazed at how non-stressful church in the family ward was. I guess it makes sense: church is church, but when you're in a singles ward, it's also a three-hour social event. I'd intended to come in to my new ward and be a backbencher, but I was given a high profile calling, at which I like to think I've been pretty good. People are interested in what I have to say. Nobody's in competition with anybody else. I infinitely prefer my current family ward to my former singles ward.

But that said, I'm glad I had the choice.

I thnk as single adults we need to make our own choices. What worked for me might not work for you -- what worked for other people, after all, was painful for me. And I do think that my fammily ward is something unique. For that reason, I say keep the singles wards. They provide a niche a lot of people need. And if you don't like them, hey, you can always jump ship.

at 7/10/2005 11:03 PM Blogger Andrea said...

I agree that the huge size can be the problem. I was in one ward in SoCal with 400 sacrament attendance (but I've heard of a few even worse, farther north). It's hard to form any real community when the odds of your seeing the same people two Sundays in a row are about 30%. And once a ward gets a reputation as a social "party" ward, you get all sorts of flakes ward-surfing, who dilute the experience even further. (Note: My roommate recommends attending choir to meet more of the stalwarts. Same tends to go for FHE, but my favorite is Clean the Building day. Talk about the salt of the earth...)

However, more on topic, I think singles wards, when kept to a manageable size (I recommend about 175, based on experience in many wards of various sizes) can be a great thing. It lets you build friendships with people with similar schedules, interests, etc. (have you ever tried to plan an outing with parents of young children? Can be fun, but it's hassle enough to make them fairly infrequent). Ditto the above comments on leadership opportunities, although (again, when the ward gets too big) sometimes callings become a bit ridiculous--my friends and I laugh at the "morning orange juice coordinator" variety.

at 7/11/2005 10:49 AM Blogger Sarita said...

I once heard of the University 2nd Ward I attended in Vegas referred to as "Club 2nd" charming.

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at 7/14/2009 10:58 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I found this blog by looking for a singles ward. It was well thought out and had many points I wouldn't have even considered. I can't speak for everybody, or even without bias, but I think I like singles wards better. I've been active in 2 different wards, one with mostly old couples and a few young couples, and the other with a ton of young couples and a few old couples. The former doesn't have many YSA's in it anyway, the latter would probably have most of them in 1st ward instead. I like singles wards better because in family wards I feel like the odd one out. I'm not married, don't have a family of my own, don't have the experience that others have. No matter what ward you're in, there are always going to be those who don't feel as righteous as others, that's just the way the church is, I grew up feeling this way and it had nothing to do with the demographic.


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