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Most Churches Encourage Christians To Date Each Other, But Few Offer Programs, Events

Date: 2007-02-06

Carolyn Rehman rarely worries about finding others at James Madison University who share her Christian creed.

Meeting a fellow believer who could become more than just a friend, Rehman concedes, might require a defter shot from Cupid’s bow.

“It’s hard to find someone who has the same exact beliefs as yourself,” said Rehman, 19, a Lutheran and sophomore from Silver Spring, Md., majoring in hospitality and tourism management.

Rehman and other Christian students at JMU usually spend one night a week at the Haas House on South Main Street for a session of faith and food: a 45-minute service followed by an informal meal.

The weekly event, organized by the Lutheran Presbyterian Campus Ministry at JMU, gives participants a break from campus life.

Even in college, with arguably the largest pool of unattached folks that one may find in a lifetime, single Christians must often move past scheduled events to find companions. In an age when computers pair partners and iPods break the ice, a higher calling trumps the everyday when believers look for soulmates.

Loretta Vitt, 19, a freshman psychology major, has found no shortage of Christians at JMU. But in Vitt’s eyes, worship and courtship don’t necessarily mix. Campus ministry meals, said Vitt, make poor mixers.

While she hasn’t dated anyone she’s met at a church function, she knows others that have.

Alison Glace, a JMU sophomore from Baltimore, Md., isn’t attending in order to find a mate.

“I have some good male friends here,” said Glace, 20, an interdisciplinary and liberal studies major. “But I’m not necessarily looking for a date here.”

Kathleen Haines, campus ministries coordinator and an on-campus Lutheran pastor at JMU, says that Christians don’t need special functions to spark a relationship.
“By nature, a college campus is one huge dating pool,” said Haines. “Every day you might meet someone with whom you might have a long term relationship with.”

Churches can benefit, adds Haines, from recognizing college grads’ emotional needs.

“Young adults are not very regular church goers and, once they leave college, they’re not necessarily gonna start back up,” said Haines. “It’s important for churches to address the need for a single student ministry.”

Not Their Job

Jack Mercer, pastor at Harrisonburg Baptist Church, doesn’t think that churches have an obligation to put Christian singles together.

“There is no way for the church to function the same way as an online dating service, nor do we provide meetings for singles,” said Mercer, whose church had held clinics for divorced people. “I think the best way for Christian singles to find other Christian singles is to be around other Christian singles.”

Wayne Comer, pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Shenandoah, says that his church, while encouraging courting between Christians, has no official program.
“We emphasize Christian dating, and teach that in our church,” said Comer. “We try to instruct our people to date Christians. I know that seems like it separates them from everybody else, but it just works for Christians to do that.”

Some church leaders think that routine events at their buildings effectively create a climate for romance. Paul White, pastor of West Side Baptist Church, believes that people with their spiritual priorities in place will find the right mate.

“We certainly have couples that find each other, but that comes from them serving the Lord together,” said White. “For some, finding Mr. or Mrs. Right can be all consuming. If we put life on hold until we get what we want, life will pass us by.”

Sowing Seeds

Some congregations see the joining of singles as not only desirable, but invaluable. Newell Wright, bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward in Harrisonburg, insists that his church needs couples because the Mormon faith is family centered.

“Young people are the future of our church,” said Wright.

The Harrisonburg ward, said Wright, holds regular gatherings for young and older single adults. The first group, called Young Single Adults, or YSA, meets three days a week. Another singles group focuses on adults older than 30.

On a larger scale, adds Wright, groups of Latter-day Saints youths convene annually at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista for weekend conferences that involve worship and encourage friendships.

Families of faith can help their children by choices they make, Wright said. Wright’s decision to send his son and daughter to Brigham Young University, a large Mormon Church-backed college in Provo, Utah, stems not only from denominational ties but also from logic.

“They’re there for an education, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be around 30,000 other students with the same beliefs,” said Wright.
In morally turbulent times, said Wright, advocates for Christian marriage must take the offensive.

“Today, with so much in the way of sex and drugs being thrown at them, young people are under assault,” said Wright. “Churches need to take this seriously and provide for them a refuge from the storm that swirls around us.”

ByTom Mitchell

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