Thursday, June 27, 2013

How can a singles ward on Sunday be more of a spiritual experience?


 Before I delve into this topic, allow me to say that my singles ward experience has been a positive one overall. I am grateful for having the opportunity to associate with people of a high caliber. And of course, I am acutely aware that this model is in place, partly so that I can interact with dateable Mormon men.

However, the advantages of a singles ward's structure can also be its greatest flaw as well. I want to focus on the susceptibility for single men and women to approach church meetings as more of a social gathering with ample flirting opportunities, rather than a time for them to strengthen their testimony of Jesus Christ.

I realize that Sunday meetings are an incredibly conducive environment for catching up with friends whom we haven't seen throughout the week, as well as meeting and attracting the opposite gender. But if we lose perspective on why we go to church, we reduce our capacity for spiritual progression. And over a long period of time, we miss out on a weekly opportunity to prepare ourselves to be spiritual teachers for others, including our future children. So what do we do?

While I certainly do not propose eradicating the social culture associated with singles wards on Sundays, I think that our singles ward model may force us to work a little harder to ensure that we remember our purpose in attending church. I, for one, would be hypocritical if I did not admit to falling into the wrong mindset at times. While I think that my church experience is meaningful, I am trying to figure out ways that it can be more spiritually enlarging. I am interested in hearing other thoughts as to how other singles have tried to get more out of their church experience.

Here are my ideas so far:

1. Spiritually prepare yourself for church the same amount of time that you get ready on Sunday.

I don't know what men do in the morning, but ladies, let's be honest. We spend about an hour (if not longer) to look our best and (hopefully) catch that young man's attention. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice, but for the most part, I find that my spiritual preparation in comparison is sadly lacking. Have I actually read the Sunday school or Relief Society lesson during the week? Do I go to church with a prayer for my heart to be receptive to what the Spirit is trying to teach me? Do I have questions in mind, hoping that they will be answered? Maybe, but not often enough.

In adopting this lackadaisical behavior, I find myself in danger of maintaining an attitude that I already know the gospel, and I don't have to study it. I forget that no matter how long I have been a member of the church, understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ is a lifelong pursuit. For me, I think that balancing my spiritual and physical preparation can lead me to have a richer church experience. So, as of this week, I have made a resolve to study the Relief Society and Sunday School lesson for 45 minutes--the same amount of time that I get ready for church on Sunday morning. Hopefully, I can avoid these pitfalls that I have just described.

2. When getting ready for church, ask, "Am I wearing this to maintain a worshipful attitude? Or am I wearing it to attract attention?"

It's an interesting conundrum at times getting ready for church on Sundays. We are told to dress nicely in order to maintain a worshipful attitude. Yet that same environment also includes a myriad of attractive men as well--and it is so easy to dress beautifully for them, rather than God. Yet in doing so, we risk reducing ourselves to merely a body that is meant to attract men (you can read my post on modesty for my expanded thoughts on this). That's hardly empowering. A friend of mine told me that she asked herself the question posed above while getting ready for church, and I have tried to adopt this practice.

3. Before making a comment in Sunday School ask, "Am I making this comment to get noticed? Or am I saying it because the Spirit directed me to?"

A friend gave me this advice, and it has been really helpful for me when debating whether or not to raise my hand. Sunday School can be such an ideal platform for us to overtly display our knowledge, or our capacity to have rich spiritual experiences. I have found that the best Sunday School discussions are those where people go with the intent to learn from others and contribute to the conversation as the Spirit directs them.

4. When speaking to others in church, give them your full undivided attention.
A friend of mine told me that when speaking to people, she strives to listen to them like they are the most important person in the world at that moment. I have been trying to incorporate this perspective, as I am often guilty of having the "wandering eye" when I speak to others. I get so interested in trying to find those whom I visit-teach and catch up with other friends, that I can get distracted when speaking to another son or daughter of God. I think that the more we strive to treat everyone like someone of infinite worth with something important to say, we help create a more Zion-like environment.

These four points are all things I am trying to work on. What else can we do to have a more spiritual experience in singles wards on Sundays?

Photo credit by mbush_utah.




16 comments:

  1. I like your comments and observations, Sarah. I would add a couple of things to your points that I have found to be helpful in my worship experience.

    1-Don't go to church only for yourself. Many days I go to church struggling with a specific problem and I want an answer. I need peace and direction. And I sit through the meetings and avoid people because gosh dangit, I'm going to get my answer and I don't really feel like socializing with people anyway. And I leave church feeling just as needy as when I got there. I have found that when I am focused on trying to help the many other people at church who are also needy, who are also seeking for answers or friendship or peace, God tends to give me a lot more answers and peace. Even and perhaps especially when they are not people that I would normally socialize with.

    2-I go to church to worship God, not to find my future spouse. Now, I know that this one might be controversial. I'm not trying to say that church is not an excellent place to find a spouse, because it is. But the question to WHY I am going to church should not, in my opinion, be because you are trying to find a spouse but rather because you want to worship God. With this desire at the front of your mind, rather than the back, your relationship and interaction with everyone at church is changed, and your relationship with God is strengthened and fortified.

    I'm curious to see what other suggestions people have.

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    1. Breanne, I like both your suggestions. In point number one, I totally relate to what you mean about going to church only for myself and leaving just as empty as before. I feel I learn over and over again that part of dealing with challenges is resisting the habit to constantly turn inward. Yes, introspection is important, but being completely closed prevents any light from others to shine in; and sometimes, that light makes all the difference on a hard day. Brother and Sister Clark shared some great insights on the matter in their recent BYU-I devotional, if you're interested. http://www2.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2012_04_17_Clarks.htm

      Your second point is simply true. While the social aspects of a single's ward can arguably be a top priority, they are not The most important priority. Learning to worship God and renewing covenants in sacrament meeting is definitely number one. Sarah, I think you've addressed this well in all your points, particularly number one. I've recently started telling myself that a good day at church starts the week before. :-) Also, I think number 4 addressed it as well. Our gospel is about love. Sometimes the best way to show our love for others is to simply give them our time and attention. What better way to worship God and show we're striving to keep our covenants than by helping someone feel his love?

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    2. Yes! Thank you Breanne, for your comment about attending church for other people. And I totally agree--we go to church to worship God, not to meet our future spouse. Thank you! And thank you Katie, for your comments as well! Thank you both for reminding me about the importance of not being "closed" on Sundays. :)

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  2. One more comment. I would also suggest that interacting with single members of the opposite sex (and find a future spouse) is not the only reason for single's wards, although we often fall into the trap of thinking that that is their sole purpose. 18-30 year olds are a very vulnerable population religiously, and in many churches and religions their young adult population is difficult to reach and/or do not participate in church services. I would suggest that a key function of singles wards is to provide a haven of strength and worship that YSAs or SAs might not find anywhere else.

    I do wish, however, that there was a lot more interaction between Y/SA wards and traditional family wards. Maybe one day I will say more about that. :)

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    1. I kind of wish that instead of singles wards, the church would create singles emphasis wards within a family ward in the stake. I was in a family ward during grad school (because there was no singles ward or branch in my stake), and it was wonderful and inspiring to be around families again.

      I'm in a family ward again now because I "graduated" from the YSA program, but there are also lots of mid-singles in my ward. It is so great! Luckily my ward is very accustomed to singles and making us feel an integrated, valued part of the ward. In fact, many of the leadership callings are filled by singles because we're some of the more permanent ones in our highly transient ward. I know that may not be the experience in every family ward, but I think integrating Y/SAs and family wards more would have the added benefit of helping the entire church learn to integrate singles into their congregations well. (I'm kind of terrified to ever move out of my ward because I don't want to be exposed to some of the really hurtful comments and attitudes that others singles have experienced.)

      I may also need to write more on this topic :)

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    2. Amen. I am totally all for singles being integrated with families. I didn't delve into this too much, but maybe a future post is in order...Singles wards are hardly a reflection of real life, and I definitely miss hearing perspectives from those much older and wiser than me. And I miss Primary kids too! :)

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  3. By the time my YSA phase ended I felt quite satisfied with and grateful for everything I had experienced. The YSA wards (particularly at BYU, but even beyond) were an intensive learning laboratory for me. It's where I learned to really serve in callings, sincerely connect with people, create lasting friendships, and worship Heavenly Father and the Savior more personally and with heartfelt commitment. I think there are four factors (in addition to what you've already listed) that made the YSA ward particularly spiritual for me overall and on the Sabbath:

    First, service. I'm sure we've all heard Elder Uchtdorf's priesthood address titled "Lift where You Stand." In it, Elder Uchtdorf encourages the men to serve in whatever capacity is available to them. I believe understanding this concept is crucial to the YSA experience. When I first started attending the YSA ward at 19 I took with me a poor attitude. I had older cousins and siblings of friends who said the single's ward was nothing more than a social battle between the "cool" kids, whatever that means. I was quite defiant about my first calling (the temple and family history counsel) and even told my counsel chair that the only reason I had this calling was to supposedly keep me from falling away from the church. Luckily, this counsel chair took me aside and personally told me that if I would dedicate myself to serving, even if it didn't make a big difference, I would have a meaningful experience that semester. I'm glad my pride didn't linger much longer after that, because he was right. His gentle chastisement had opened the door of opportunity for me to learn how to forget about myself and serve others, and more important, serve God. By the end of the semester he became a good friend of mine, along with the many other great friendships I enjoyed while at school. But aside from the friendships, I gained an understanding of the saying "You get what you put in." I think single's wards, if pursued properly, radiates this concept. You get out of the single's ward what you put it into it. A YSA's first priority should be to commit to the experience, however long it will last. In reference to Sunday specifically, it is a wide-known truth that service helps open the windows of heaven; from personal experience I can say that in fulfilling my assignments with heartfelt purpose (not with the intention of getting a reward) I was able to experience more love, gratitude and other positive feelings during my Sunday meetings. This principle affected all my future callings, including visiting teaching; and it continues to drive my commitment today in the family ward.

    Second, attendance. Part of having increased spiritual experiences in the single's ward is actually attending the single's ward. This includes activities during the week, as well as all Sunday meetings. Please note that I am not saying every person must attend every single activity. For the working professional or grad school student, this is likely not reasonable. However, being thoughtful about supporting activities planned and prepared for by fellow ward members helps create a sense of community for the YSA and the people around them; and that sense of community can help open one's heart to feeling an increase in love and gratitude in all aspects of life. As for ward hopping (which I don't detect to be an issue with the people in this forum), don't do it. "Shopping" for the best situation will waste a YSA's time, and it promotes a sense of entitlement that will get you nowhere quickly. My suggestion it to plant your feet and start attending. Make a change when you feel prompted to do so or when circumstances require it.

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  4. Third, knowing the leaders, especially the bishopric. Because I did not have priesthood influence in my home during my college years, it became necessary for me to seek that kind of relationship from my priesthood leaders in my YSA wards. Through faith and prayer, I learned to confide in my bishops and their counselors. From dating advice to missionary service to graduate school to career, I viewed my bishop as one of several trusted sounding boards. While I can't say I developed a personal relationship with all my bishops or their counselors, or that I took ALL their advice on more practical issues, I did experience many blessings in viewing them as trusted servants of Heavenly Father who cared about my well being. Please note that getting to know the bishopric isn't about name dropping or boosting your status in the ward (yes, people do that unfortunately). It's about taking advantage of an opportunity to seek a relationship with someone who has current partial stewardship over you. If pursued appropriately, it is quite a blessing.

    Fourth, practicing faith in the process through obedience. Part of the YSA experience, particularly on Sundays, is exercising faith in the fact that by attending church and participating in your ward you're doing what God has asked you to do. Because of that, he will bless you. As your intent to obey progresses from strict adherence to a love for God and the Savior, your heart will change too, and the Lord will teach you specifics about your purpose during this time in your life -- which might just include how to appreciate your given time in the YSA ward. In fact, if you ask, he will even teach you how to better enjoy your Sabbath day.

    On a humorous note, enjoy your sabbaths now because once you go back to the family ward it's a totally new adjustment. At least it was for me.

    Forgive me for expanding the conversation beyond Sundays. I tried to tie each point back to the Sabbath day :-)

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    1. Thank you again, Katie, for bringing up service (I definitely neglected that part), as well as the importance of practicing faith as well as knowing the leaders personally. Wise counsel from a wise woman. :)

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  5. Does this mean I can't wear my sparkle sweater to church anymore?

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    1. No! I just think that balancing physical and spiritual preparation is important. And maintaining a worshipful attitude. :)

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    2. Agreed. You should definitely keep wearing the sparkles :-)

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  6. I think maintaining reverence in the chapel before and after sacrament meeting is really important, but it totally doesn't happen in singles wards. It's so tempting to set up that visiting teaching appointment or catch up with that friend or even chat with that new person in an effort to fellowship instead of sitting quietly before the meeting starts or exiting the chapel quickly after it ends.

    Arriving to sacrament meeting a bit early is also important, as it helps us to mentally ready ourselves for the sacrament and for worship. A bishop of my family ward once said that arriving to church on time means arriving 15 minutes early. I don't take that as doctrine, but it certainly is a good idea.

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    1. This is great, Melanie. Thank you for contributing your wise words. :) I have been trying to adopt this practice too of getting there early.

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  7. Although I investigated in a family ward for my first 9 months where there was no one my age, I've only known singles wards for 6 years (1yr at University of Florida, 5yrs in DC2nd).

    My first thoughts:

    1. As a guy, I have never cared how a girl dresses at church.

    2. I feel the spirit more when someone is sitting next to me than when someone is not. Not everyone always has a crew they can find in the chapel to sit with. And I would think the first thing Jesus would do if he came to church would be to seek out those who need someone sitting next to them, and not just because they might be the newest date potential. This is more for the girls to try than the guys since I think girls are more supporting to each other and guys tend to keep more to themselves.

    3. Preparation the day before and morning of is very important (I don't do it enough).

    4. Singing the Hymns and having a good intermediate musical number has always rushed the Spirit in more than the talks usually. I can't be sure why sometimes we as congregation sing more fully on some songs than others, but when we are ALL belting out the song, you get a good sense of ward unity. But lots of people don't sing (I've been there in my early days).


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  8. Thanks for your thoughts, Alan. I am glad you brought up the idea of inclusivity at church; I think that is super important. And singing the hymns definitely helps too. :)

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