“For me, one challenge of being 30-plus in the Church and single is [that] most activities in the Church are geared towards having an eternal family. This can make the Church one of the most isolating places to be when you don’t have that yet,” shared Erin Johanson, who attends the Gilbert Single Adult (SA) Ward.
Johanson may feel isolated, and she isn’t alone. Many mid-singles struggle with their place in a family-oriented church. But there is hope! In recent years, the Church has been expanding its programs and options for mid-singles.
Being a single member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a new concept. However, the number of Church membership included in this demographic has increased over the past generation, whether through death, divorce, or simply never marrying. The Church is recognizing the specific needs and strengths of mid-singles as they differentiate from their younger cohort.
While a single adult is technically any unmarried person 18 years of age or older, a couple of subsets have been designated within the Church. Young single adults, more commonly referred to as YSA, are single adults aged 18-30, and mid-single adults, or MSA, are single adults aged 31-45. Single Adult Wards are specifically for the latter.
YSA have a long-standing and far-reaching establishment throughout the Church, as evidenced by the widespread presence of YSA wards, Church-sponsored activities, and various educational opportunities such as Institute programs. The same cannot always be said for mid-singles, who may grapple with “aging out” of YSA programs.
As Kathy Varga, Gilbert SA Ward attendee, shared, “Some are disappointed to leave the YSA without a spouse. They feel like somehow they have failed . . . they can struggle with self-worth, especially when close family and friends are critical of their single status and quick to point out what they think the single person is doing wrong.”
According to midsingles.wordpress.com, a blog maintained by Matt Campbell, who attends the Huntington Beach Single Adult Ward, “Currently, over 50% of singles who were once active at age 30 in a YSA ward go inactive in the Church by the time they turn 34, if there’s not an established mid-singles program, activities, and/or ward in their area.”
However, church participation for mid-singles now takes many forms. Presently, there are three options for mid-singles church attendance, including single adult wards (which include multiple stakes), magnet wards (limited to a single stake’s boundaries), and family wards, the most widespread and traditional option.
In 2018, three single adult wards were created in Arizona, covering 55 stakes across Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek, and San Tan Valley.
“I knew there were a lot of mid-singles in family wards that I didn’t know, but I had no idea how many,” commented Varga.
“The mid-singles ward is such a blessing to me. I finally feel like I am surrounded by people in the same situation as me and not like an outlier,” says Johanson.
Single adult wards are specifically for singles aged 31-45, and anyone in the age range is welcome to attend their activities. One strictly-observed rule is that only mid-singles without children or who are non-custodial parents can have their records in these wards. If a mid-single has kids or is responsible for kids, they are welcome to attend the Sunday block of meetings; however, there are no auxiliaries for those 30 and under. Members who live outside of the designated ward boundaries who wish to have their records in a single adult ward need to consult with their current bishop.
Prior to the organization of the single adult wards in the Phoenix area, options for mid-singles church attendance was limited to magnet wards and traditional family wards.
“Often mid-singles are strong participants in their family wards. Singles and marrieds can learn a lot from each other. Sometimes singles have spent so little time in family wards that when they are required to attend one, they are out of practice in making friends with people who are living with very different life circumstances. Marrieds may be unsure of how to make a single individual feel welcome and valued. We all forget how much we are all really the same. I enjoyed the associations with older members of the Church from whom I could learn and gain valuable insight . . . I felt that they learned from us singles too,” shared Varga.
Magnet wards are family wards that work well for single parents because their children may also attend. The defining characteristic is a mid-singles Gospel Doctrine class taught by a mid-single which follows the Church’s standard Gospel Doctrine lesson manual.
As of August 2018, Arizona has 5 magnet wards across the state. Magnet wards are a great option in areas where the mid-singles population does not qualify for the creation of a single adult ward.
Bishop Guymon, of the Desert Hills (Magnet) Ward in Scottsdale, shared a few thoughts regarding the magnet ward’s benefits: “The mid-singles enjoy being together and sharing similar experiences. They enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of a Sunday School class, and those who have struggled previously with activity have felt really welcomed in the mid-singles’ Sunday School class.”
Outside of church attendance and activity, there are other challenges for mid-singles. One of the biggest struggles walking this road as a solo act is trying to incorporate gospel teachings effectively, especially when it comes to Family Home Evening and the Church’s new Come, Follow Me curriculum. What do these challenges mean with the shift to a more home-centered, Church-supported curriculum?
“[It means] that we can study together, and when you learn something, you can share it with other people,” stated Brother Curtis, a member of the Gilbert SA Ward bishopric.
Ward members are encouraged to organize amongst themselves. Eric Mortensen, also from the Gilbert SA Ward, noted that this is “not a complete individual effort—we encourage study groups. Get together with your peers to study.”
Elder Quentin L. Cook, in his October 2018 General Conference talk, noted that “it would be completely appropriate for young singles, single adults, single parents, part-member families, new members, and others to gather in groups outside the normal Sunday worship services to enjoy gospel sociality and be strengthened by studying together the home-centered, Church-supported resource.”
Whether one is on the giving or receiving end of ministering in working with singles, there are many opportunities to serve, love, and connect with others.