By Fred Gori

When I was growing up (and that is not so long ago), the church had very clear, if simple, membership categories based on age and marital status. During the Sabbath School programme and sometimes on Sabbath afternoons, members would split according to these categories to ensure the teachings and discussions corresponded with age and need.

So we got children’s class (from 0-14) then Junior Youth (the adolescents). From here, people would graduate to Youth Club. Youth club is rather flexible and often obtains until people are married. Sometimes it will have a special category known as ‘Senior Youth’, especially where a church has a notable number of adults who are considered to have delayed in getting married. After youth people were expected to automatically graduate to the married club. I was a Pathfinder Leader when I was a little boy in primary school. I also remember being an active Junior Youth in the period between High School and early university years. I doubt I was very active in the Youth Club but I got married about 5 years after graduating from the university. I was shocked when they started referring to me as “Elder” while unmarried men far older than me were considered “youth.” 😂😂😂😂😂

This was how things were for as long as I can remember. Being unmarried was, and still is, considered an unwelcome status in some segments of the church and the society at large. Senior youth were the butt of many jokes in church. I remember one married gentleman jokingly telling his unmarried agemate, “wee, that thing is not used for urination only.” They laughed about it but I could see deep in his eyes that he was hurt.

The pressure to marry is often overwhelming. Some unmarried brethren in their late 30s, 40s and 50s have been driven out of the church by these seemingly innocuous jokes.

We have been so absorbed in our conservative mindset we didn’t notice the ballooning number of people, both in the church and outside it, who were not getting married, at all. They are men and women but mostly women. They are good looking, educated and in careers that afford them independence. Quite a number are also struggling due to lack of jobs or inability to set up viable businesses.

Not all these unmarried people are in it by choice. Some, especially men, feel they lack the resources to raise a family. The women they desire are also unlikely to consider them, anyway, because they have no viable source of income. That is how it is. Some have not met partners they consider worthy and are unwilling to compromise and accept mediocre partners. Some are simply not being approached by potential partners. The situation gets worse as people grow older. The older you get, the less likely you will meet a potential partner. Men also tend to shy away from women who already have children, even when the women in question have excellent qualities. I wonder why. I have heard a few men say they can’t raise other men’s children. I think men should reconsider this stance. There are wonderful women out there who are ready to marry but serious men are not giving them a chance.

I don’t know whether the burgeoning size of the unmarried club is a crisis or not. It sure is a new and growing phenomenon. It wasn’t always this way. What I know is that the church and the society must respond to the needs of this segment. Whether they are in it by choice or not, they have special needs that married people don’t have. Some of them leave the church because they feel unneeded and uncared for. It is also generally acknowledged that children grow up best in a family setup where both parents are present. Yet many unmarried women are primarily raising their children alone. It is not any easier outside the church. Married women see the unmarried women as threats to their marriages while unmarried men are treated like ‘children’ by their peers unless they happen to be financially successful. In these situations, it is easy to be isolated and depressed. The lack of an organised support system only makes the situation gloomier.

In 2018 and beyond, I will focus on delivering hope and love to everyone but more so to the unmarried people. What will you do?
Society is changing and we must change accordingly to keep it sane.


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