David Houlding writes about the single life

IN ALL THE DISCUSSIONS recently on human sexuality the positive aspects of remaining ‘single’ are often ignored. There is a whole variety of reasons why men and women do not marry and, as single people, contribute much to Society and to the Church. Often being single is treated as a poor second best, something you are left with when all else fails, whereas ‘successful’ people marry and settle down. Single people are able to express love and commitment in creative and imaginative ways and have always offered much to the enrichment of life. This often happens quietly, unrewarded, and even unnoticed, but frequently has formed the very backbone of a community’s life.

It has always been so. Lay Christians in parishes who have been single have played a vital part in the life of the local Church as well as at national level. In each of the parishes where 1 have served the participation and devotion from the single members of the congregation, men and women, has been outstanding and exemplary. In practical ways in the offering of their time and talents and in the depth of their spirituality and keen sensitivity towards others, the whole church has been greatly indebted and enriched by their contribution. And their concern and support for the clergy [and their families] unrecognised perhaps, but invaluable.

The same is true of the single priest, who is free of the obligations that come with marriage and family life. As such, this freedom is expressed in the availability that such clergy are able to offer to the Christian community as a whole. As any bishop will tell you, the Church’s presence and witness in our inner cities would have floundered many years since, were it not for the ministries of so many single priests over the generations, who have literally given their whole lives in the service of their people. In so many institutions as well, the single priest continues to make an invaluable contribution. The Catholic movement as a whole and the Society of the Holy Cross in particular owes an immeasurable debt to the work of dedication of many of its unmarried clergy.

When we were young we understood our vocation to be a way of life. Ordination was not simply beginning a job but the offering and consecration of our whole selves. As with the lay Christian, the single priest has an enormous capacity for friendship, and surely that is a lovely gift from God and the hallmark of a truly Christian life.

Of course this model of priesthood cannot be claimed simply for those who remain unmarried but it is, 1 believe, particularly suited to their disposition, which enables them to bring out the qualities that are exemplary for everyone. In this the whole Church once again benefits.

To regard everyone who is single as ‘suspect’ or as ‘less than the ideal’ is to miss the values of the gifts they bring to the Church and without which the Church would have come unstuck long before now.

Singleness should continue to be reflected at every level of the Church’s life. Priests and people who are single are not second-class Christians. There is indeed great joy in being single – a state of life blessed and used by God.

David Houlding is Vicar of All Hallow’s, Gospel Oak in the diocese of London and Master of the Society of the Holy Cross. This article appeared as a letter in The Church Times