This guest post by Wendy Alsup explores how the local church can welcome, include, and minister to single parents. It is part of my “Welcoming…” series, which features first-person articles on how to welcome various demographics into our lives and church communities. Previous installations include “Welcoming the Hearing Loss Community” and “Welcoming the Eating Disorder Community.”
My little church plant in the Lowcountry of South Carolina has many single parents. On a given Sunday with 40 in attendance, at least 15 regular attenders are single parents and their children. Most are single mothers with primary custody of their children.
Single moms aren’t an anomaly in our church. In fact, I am one of them. We are an integral part of our church, providing food, leading Bible studies, offering car rides to those without transportation, and so forth. We are a part of the regular rhythms of ministry in our congregation. But we too have special needs, and part of the regular rhythm of ministry in our church has been ministry to US, even as we contribute in ministry to others.
Like many in the church, single moms experience financial pressure, physical needs, and emotional stress. Without a partner to bear these with them, churches have an opportunity to live out gospel community in beautiful ways with these families. In my church, such gospel community is the norm. When a single mom has an emergency, often the first place she speaks her need is in our church communication text. And I have yet to see a need put in that group that wasn’t met pretty quickly. Need a ride at the last minute to community group? Or worse yet, to the ER? Can someone watch your child while you are at the ER? Need help getting your apartment belongings into storage? A ride to the airport? A meal when you are sick? This kind of help is the norm in our church, because this kind of need is the norm in our church.
It Takes a Village
But there is an even more important need in a single mom’s life, one that my church has beautifully met in my own. It takes a village to disciple a child. If all were right with the world, each child would have two parents discipling them in the knowledge of the Holy One. More than any other loss in my life, the loss of a partner in discipling my children in the faith has been by far the hardest. I have been blessed again and again and again by men who have stepped in to take personal time with my boys – men who love God, love the Bible, and love me as their sister in Christ. My dad has stepped in this way, as have my boys’ uncles on both sides of the family. But my church family has stepped in this way too.
Every week, my pastor takes my oldest son out for breakfast before school. They talk and read Scripture together. It has become a favorite thing for my son, and I can’t fully put into words how much this has meant to me as a single mom. Our assistant pastor regularly talks to my boys as young men, building a true personal relationship with them, involving them directly in the discussion in our community group. The men in our church have gotten together monthly to host a men’s night at church that also includes the children of the church. The women then are free to drop off their children and go to another location for a kids-free women’s Bible study. My boys know to pack their Nerf guns, and after the short men’s Bible study, they end in a rousing game of Nerf that lasts until the women get back to pick up the kids. Oh, how the men in my church have loved and served the single moms.
The Real Goal
Have I whet your appetite for what is possible in a congregation? Any church can add programs to help single moms, but the real goal is gospel community that incorporates single parents—with both their gifts and their needs—into the family of the church. May true community in the name of Christ be our ultimate vision for our local congregations. It takes the community of faith to disciple a family in faith.
Guest Author — Wendy Alsup
Wendy Alsup writes at Practical Theology for Women, and is the author of Gospel-Centered Woman, Practical Theology for Women, and most recently, Is the Bible Good for Women? Wendy lives on an old family farm in South Carolina, where she teaches math at a local community college and is a mother to her two boys. She is a member of a local church in the Lowcountry Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. Follow Wendy on Twitter (@WendyAlsup).