It’s not unusual for a single person to feel very alone at Mass, even though he or she may be surrounded by other people.
"When you go to church, it can be a bit of an isolating experience because you’re either seeing couples or families," said Heather Von Bergen, a 33-year-old single member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.
Von Bergen and fellow single parishioner Cheryl D’Amico, 51, were hoping to ease these feelings of isolation when they founded a new group — temporarily called OLP Singles — at the parish in December. OLP Singles so far has sponsored three functions and has drawn more than a dozen participants, Von Bergen said.
OLP Singles grew from an idea D’Amico had been toying with for several years. When she was a freshly divorced woman with young children, she noticed there wasn’t much support from the parish for separated, divorced and single people. D’Amico thought there should be a group to support these people, but her children were young and she didn’t have the energy to take on any more projects, she recalled.
In early 2007 D’Amico learned about Journeys, a Catholic singles group that was forming in Rochester. She joined the group and began corresponding with its organizers, although she didn’t often make the drive from Geneva to Rochester for Journeys events. When Journeys sponsored a special Mass and reception with Bishop Matthew H. Clark on Oct. 20, 2007, D’Amico thought the event might be the perfect springboard from which to launch a similar singles group in the Finger Lakes, she said.
Through the Our Lady of Peace bulletin, she told parishioners she would be driving to Rochester for the Mass and invited other interested singles to join her. She ended up traveling to Rochester that day with Von Bergen and another woman, and the foundation for OLP Singles was laid.
"We got so excited by how many people were there, how beautiful the Mass was and how eloquent the bishop was in speaking about singles. We just got a fire lit under us," D’Amico said.
The Mass inspired D’Amico and Von Bergen to start their own singles group at Our Lady of Peace. With her children grown, D’Amico thought she finally had the time to devote to such a venture. Von Bergen had just returned to the Geneva area in September after being away for several years and was eager to get involved in her community and meet new people, she said.
"Cheryl and I focused first on our own parish because we wanted to see what would happen. We think that it’s great that there’s a group in Rochester, but for a lot of us folks in the Finger Lakes, that’s a bit of a drive for us," Von Bergen said.
Once they realized there was local interest in a singles group, D’Amico and Von Bergen opened it up to people from other area parishes, and now attract people from as far away as Romulus and Auburn. They also decided to open the group to any interested single people, regardless of age. Consequently, the group includes people in their 30s, their 70s and every age group in between, but most members are in their 50s, she said.
"We’re kind of wondering where all the young people are. For whatever reason, it’s been hard to engage the interest of the younger crowd," Von Bergen said. "Frankly I don’t see a lot of younger single people in church. They’re all coupled up or with families."
The decades between OLP Singles members so far haven’t precluded them from enjoying each other’s company, D’Amico added.
"The only thing we had in common (at the first meeting) was our singleness and our Catholic faith. You can just be who you are and be proud of it," she said. "It’s not a dating club. … It’s about fellowship."
The first OLP Singles event — a coffee hour at the parish in December — only attracted a handful of people because a snowstorm hit that weekend, but about 10 people attended the second OLP Singles gathering at a Geneva coffeehouse in January, Von Bergen said. A similar number attended the group’s brunch at Belhurst Castle in late February, said Von Bergen, who hoped to draw even more people to the dinner and showing of "The Kite Runner" she’d planned for March.
"I’m pleased with the outcome with the limited time that we’ve had," Von Bergen said.
OLP Singles members have told Von Bergen they’re grateful to have a place where they can spend time and engage in spiritual discussions with people who can relate to them and their situations, she said.
"There’s nothing that really addresses single people in the church. It’s important for all people, regardless of their status, to have a place where they feel that they fit in. I think this is an opportunity to get acquainted with other folks that are single," she said.
Churches seem to have moved away from previous traditions of holding social functions just for single people, but parishes should realize that single people have a lot to offer, D’Amico said.
"We can be busy, but we’re also in a unique position to offer more of our time," Von Bergen said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about OLP Singles, contact Heather Von Bergen at 315-781-1202 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.