6 min read

Of singular value

A new report on relationships caught the media headlines. Lauren WIndle is inspired by its take on being single.

Lauren Windle is an author, journalist, presenter and public speaker.

A man walks along a street past a orange wall with a huge 'Good' written in cursive script on it.
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash.

A friend of mine used to work at Lambeth Palace. She had a sister and brother-in-law who were based abroad and one of their visits happily coincided with fireworks night. As a treat, she decided to take her relatives to Lambeth Palace’s display – apparently the gardens are beautiful, and the glistening bursts of colourful light only served to illuminate and enhance its horticultural charm. The evening was perfect, aside from one snag; her brother-in-law, from Uganda, was struggling to cope with the bitter cold of a crisp November evening in the UK. But he needn’t have worried for long. Noticing his distress, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, nipped upstairs to his living quarters and descended with a woolly hat to keep the chill away from the shivering visitor.  

This is when I moved from the casual indifference, that I have towards all public figures that I don’t know personally, to really liking Justin Welby. The story endured so much in fact, that even when he politely declined to endorse my book – citing time constraints, it didn’t shake my resolve that he was a man with a good heart, albeit a busy schedule. 

I was left with the overwhelming feeling that Justin Welby was telling me to love and care for my fellow man. To hand out woolly hats, if you will.

He has once more come up trumps in my eyes with last week’s publication of Love Matters, a 236-page report on examining relationships and families. It is the third of a trilogy of commissions from the archbishops of Canterbury and York, with the first two focusing on housing and social care. 

The report is broadly aimed at informing the actions of the government and Church of England but offers a message to us all. The five key messages are; we need to put more value on families – whatever set-up they have, we need to support relationships and manage conflict well, we need to honour single people and not place such emphasis on romantic love, we need to invest in our children and young people and we all need to work towards a kinder, fairer and more forgiving society.  

These, we can all agree, are noble aims. As I read through the detailed communiqué, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that Justin Welby was telling me to love and care for my fellow man. To hand out woolly hats, if you will.

The mainstream media also made noises of approval as the passages on the value of single people gained a huge amount of traction in the press – including a front-page article in The Times.

As the author of a book that directly challenges the Church’s response and treatment of single people, I felt a warm glow. I felt hopeful for change and that a glaring problem had been given the recognition it deserved. The mainstream media also made noises of approval as the passages on the value of single people gained a huge amount of traction in the press – including a front-page article in The Times. The publicity was so far reaching that I even got a message from a friend and features editor at The Sun saying she thought it was a “very Windle sounding message from the Church”. But not everyone in the Christian community shared my (and her) enthusiasm.  

This isn’t due to the content of the report, but rather its omissions. The grumbles I’ve heard have accused it of being “weak” and “waffling” in its message and people have been disappointed that it isn’t more forthright in its promotion of marriage. But I would argue that, in church circles, marriage gets enough airtime.  

There’s no question in the Church that marriage is important. There is implicit beauty in committing to combine your life with another person – prioritizing someone over everyone else (including yourself), loving, caring for, supporting and encouraging that person. Through the Bible God says it is not good for anyone to be alone. God blesses marriage. God encourages people to go forth and multiply). But somewhere in the mix, Christians stopped celebrating marriage and started idolising it.  

I’ve heard of... people being relegated to “all-singles groups” (the equivalent of the kids’ table at Christmas). 

Researcher David Voas conducted a quantitative analysis of Church life with a survey and found the majority of English church attendees are married. He said:

“It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that in England individuals don’t go to church, couples do.”

People who run churches are usually married men and their partners take up a first-lady position in doting support. Single Friendly Church’s survey (2012) found 43 per cent of single people felt their church didn’t know what to do with them. 

Ministry for single people, if it exists, is often an afterthought and not engineered in a way that makes it appealing to potential attendees. Two thirds of people in the single friendly church’s survey said they felt being married is the expected and accepted lifestyle in the Church. So much so that the Church is based around the school calendar with everything effectively shutting down over August. 

I’ve heard of people trying to set up initiatives for single people but being told by church leaders that, as they themselves were single, they probably weren’t best placed. I’ve heard of “pairs and spares” dinners and people being relegated to “all-singles groups” (the equivalent of the kids’ table at Christmas).  

It’s high time we recognised that being single isn’t a state to progress out of, or level up from. It is not a waiting room for the as yet unchosen. 

To add insult to injury, there are churches that won’t allow unmarried people into positions of leadership. One study found that half the American churches quizzed wouldn’t allow a single person to run a house group. To be clear, this means that Jesus would not be qualified. This hypocrisy received acknowledgement in the Love Matters report. It said:

“The Commission believes strongly that single people must be valued at the heart of our society. Jesus’ own singleness should ensure that the C of E celebrates singleness and does not regard it as lesser than living in a couple relationship. Loving relationships and being able to give and receive love matter to everyone.” 

Given this climate in the Church and the fact that outside of it, more and more people are remaining single, the report’s emphasis on the equality of singleness isn’t “weak” but vital. It’s high time we recognised that being single isn’t a state to progress out of, or level up from. It is not a waiting room for the as yet unchosen. It is a valid and valuable life stage that is equal but different to marriage. 

For too long Christians have tried to “solve” singleness with marriage. Rather than solving the problems associated with singleness, i.e. loneliness, absence of deep and intimate love, with community and family (in whatever form it takes). I don’t believe that by platforming the value of singleness, that we detract from the value of marriage. It’s not a seesaw whereby one must fall for the other to rise. 

Another blow that hits me hard, is that this report is highlighting what the world outside the Church has been aware of for years. Books like The Unexpected Joy of Being Single and What a Time To Be Alone confirm the inherent value of both single people and the time a person spends single (whether for now or for life). This is recognised by the Bible, particularly by Paul in his letters, but rarely highlighted in the Church. It seems like a shame that Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex And The City ladies did more for affirming singleness than our spiritual leaders. 

But not anymore. Justin Welby has thrown his woolly hat in the ring. He’s standing up for the value of each person, married or single, each relationship, romantic or platonic, and each family, genetic or otherwise. And you won’t catch any grumbling from me. 

4 min read

What would you do with one day more?

A leap year creates opportunities.

Jamie is Associate Minister at Holy Trinity Clapham, London.

Looking straight down on someone sitting in an armchair working on a laptop. They are surrounded by clock numerals and hands on the floor.
Kevin Ku on Unsplash.

We're all going into extra time. If you've found yourself thinking, 'If only I had some more time', then this is the year for you. Congratulations. So how are you going to make the most of the extra day we're gifted? In a leap year, the 29th February square sits quietly there on the calendar, with little fanfare, unless you're one of the unfortunate souls to be celebrating your quadrennial birthday. But it's not just another Thursday. It's redemption time if you've ever flown east across the international date line and wondered where that day disappeared, never to return. 

When you think about extra time in football, the pressure is only heightened, the anticipation and trepidation palpable. Willy Wonka - no, not the recent foppish Timothée Chalamet, but Gene Wilder – famously got muddled when he feverishly announced, 'We have so much time, and so little to do!' Unlike Otis Redding, sittin' on the dock of the bay, wasting time, we have learnt to squeeze more and more into our days, making the most of the time. 

I'm not immune. I've recently begun using an AI app for scheduling meetings and tasks. This app promises to turbocharge my productivity by 137 per cent. Somehow it boasts, 'There are now 13 months in a year'. Of course, there's little way of measuring just how super-duper-extra-productive this is going to make me but so far, I still seem to only have seven days in my week. So, if we were to stop spinning on our hamster wheels of productivity for a moment, and take a look at time (given with this extra day we have the time to do so), how might we make the most of it? 

The essence of time must mean both its quality and its quantity. 

It's worth measuring not only how much time we have, but the quality of the time we have. We know how to measure time, but how do we measure this measure? Time is of the essence. But what is the essence of time? For Charles Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times went hand-in-hand. The apostle Paul warned the church in Ephesus to make the most of every opportunity, 'because the days are evil'. Is time neutral? Perhaps we should ask the women and children of Afghanistan after the Doha agreement was signed on the last 29th February, with ominous consequences. Every day has the capacity for good and evil, including in a leap year. And if the days are evil, then as we consider how we live, as the King James Version puts it, that we can 'redeem the time'. 

Then there's not only redeeming the time in terms of its quality, but also its quantity. Eventually, one day (quite some time away), HS2 will mean there's 32 minutes 'saved' for those travelling between Birmingham and London. And how many times have you said or heard recently that you've 'run out of time'? Our society treats time as a scarce commodity. There's regret over the time that we have wasted on an unworthy Netflix offering, on doom-scrolling, or that time in the post office queue we'll never get back. 

I recently went to a memorial service of a friend who died in her early 60s. It was not only a sober reminder that we don't know how much time we have, but also an inspiration to live like someone who made the most of her days, by helping others to make the most of their time. 

The essence of time must mean both its quality and its quantity. Richard Curtis' film About Time invites us into the relationship between a father and son who have the power to travel through time. While the lesson learnt is that we have the power to make the most of every day, the bulk of the film is really about the relationship. Any time he wants, the son can escape back to Cornwall and play table tennis or skim pebbles along the water with his dad. These experiences beyond his own linear timeline teach him how to live in his present reality. 

Christianity also invites us to live in the love between a Father and a Son, and from that place we keep time. Jesus spoke about eternal life: not only a quantity of life beyond death, but a quality of life that we can experience beginning today. Sure, we can't escape the reality of any of the worst times around us, but we can invite the best of times of eternity into today. Maybe our relationship with time is so fraught because we were made to live beyond time. 

The wristband on my watch recently fell apart. I suppose you could say I've been walking around without time on my hands. Time doesn't need to be elusive, slipping away from us. Time, just like the day, can be seized and grasped. King David wrote of God: 'my times are in your hands'. A leap year gives us a whole extra day of deadlines, potential ephemeral joys and sorrows. Perhaps putting our hope not in today, nor tomorrow, but into the hands of the maker of time is the greatest leap.