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/ 15 January 2016

Single-parent friendly church

Mother with daughter lighting a candle in church

How do we best welcome single parent families into our church? This story, from a single mum living in North London, provides us with a challenge and some advice on how to start.

More than a quarter of families are headed by lone parents: numbering over two million households in the UK. Your church will undoubtedly have some lone parents in its congregation or community but sadly, however good your family provision, it may still be tough for them to come to church.

I started my journey as a lone parent on New Year’s Eve 2012, with an overnight bag on one shoulder and a four-month-old on the other. My church was amazing: supportive and non-judgmental, but I still had to wrestle with a raft of problems that weren’t visible to even that most pastoral of churches: loneliness, accidental exclusion, shame, financial and emotional stress, and an isolating curtailment of my contact with others.

My own experience is that with less than a handful of ‘babysitter’ nights a month, I’ve found it hard to stay connected into a church community which values small-group, evening relationships. It’s been equally hard to feel part of the more family-focused activities as, with no partner to share the load, I frequently end up caring for my young daughter rather than engaging with others.

There is no perfect solution, and it’s impossible to find the right fit for every need, but we do need to spend time thinking how we meet the needs of this growing and pressured group.

Every situation is different but here are my top five personal thoughts on welcoming lone parents into your congregation:

  1. Acknowledge the person’s status – and how tough life might be for them. While not wanting to be defined by my single-mum-ness, I appreciate people recognising that it’s a struggle.
  2. Try not to make midweek groups the only place where ‘real relationship’ happens. The 10am Tuesday baby group or Sunday late-arrival at church may be the only time the individual can be involved.
  3. Consider forming a babysitting group so lone parents can have regular evening fellowship (or a trip to the cinema!). If they are happy to host, having small groups at single-parent homes can be a godsend.
  4. Constraints on time and money are often tougher for lone parents. There can be embarrassment and a sense of letting your children down. Involving lone parents with your own family outings is a precious and much-valued gesture.
  5. Make them feel valued: I’ve loved being able to help out with ad hoc jobs in church. I can’t commit to rotas but I still want to contribute.

If you’re interested in creating provision specifically for single parents, you could do worse than contacting your local Gingerbread group (volunteer support groups), and they can tell you what the needs near you really are. There is bound to be plenty you could get involved with!

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The diocesan communications team provides support to the network of clergy, churches, parishes and other worshipping communities that comprises the Diocese of London, as well as to the staff teams of the London Diocesan Fund.

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