Mormon congregations don’t typically require members to have transportation, commit to active participation, accept assignments, be employed and forgo any church welfare.
But LDS wards for "mid-singles" are anything but typical.
Mormon mid-singles congregations
Bloomington Hills Seventh Ward, Utah
Charles River Ward, Massachusetts
East Bay Ward, California
Emigration Second Ward, Utah
Glendale Ninth Branch, California
Lake Ward, California
Logan 18th Ward, Utah
Monument Park 19th Ward, Utah
Oak Hills Eighth Ward, Utah
Pacific Beach Ward, California
Parley’s Seventh Ward, Utah
Potomac Ward, Virginia
Sunset 12th Ward, Utah
Union Fort Ninth Branch, Utah
Washington Parkway Ward, Utah
These congregations — where such rules can be in play — are made up exclusively of nonmarried Mormons ages 31 to 45. They offer no programs for children or teens. Their main purpose is to provide a haven for LDS singles in a marriage-dominated faith and to help them meet potential mates.
Such wards seem to be flourishing in Utah and other urban centers — Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. — and the governing LDS First Presidency has approved the creation of new ones.
In the Beehive State, mid-singles wards have grown large and unwieldy — some as big as 650 regular attendees. Their geographical boundaries are vast — one ward extends from 2100 South in Salt Lake City to 6200 South — and their all-volunteer clergy is stretched to the limit.
Salt Lake City’s Parley’s Seventh Ward has an average weekly attendance of 650 — out of 693 on the roll, 264 males and 429 females — divided into six female Relief Societies and three male Elders Quorums (most Mormon wards have one of each). The ward also has smaller groups that assemble for Monday night activities. In the past year, it has had 60 weddings.
The east-side congregation, which meets in the historic Granite Tabernacle, at 2005 S. 900 East, is not a place for casual commitment, and the rules are in place "for sheer manageability," says Bishop Chris Nielson, who owns a construction company.
"We are hoping to give everyone the best experience," Nielson explains. "We are so geographically dispersed. If members have financial problems, for example, we will take care of them. But it would be taxing for this ward, so they would be better off having a bishop [who lived nearby]."
Other mid-singles bishops say the rules help keep deadbeat dads, sexual predators and the less committed from preying on their members.
The Parley’s congregation is so well-organized, with so many ward leaders assigned to help the bishop look out for everyone, Nielson says, that it provides a feeling of safety and security — especially for the women.
The membership requirements at some of these wards — described at times as "wards of privilege" — are not about wealth but participation. Still, those expectations may have kept away potential joiners.
"I understand what they are trying to accomplish with the rules, but without any context, they seem heartless," says Jared Brenner, a Salt Lake City Mormon in that age who now goes to his local family ward. "These rules are not from the church handbook. It’s local leaders adapting as they think they need to, but it’s strange not to feel welcome at church."
Whether they worship with other singles or with families, the number of Mormons in this demographic is rising. Like many Americans, more and more of them are divorced and more and more of them are tying the knot later.
And many are slipping away from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Well, some older singles feel invisible or worse, pariahs, in a faith that preaches eternal marriage, a faith where fatherhood and motherhood are extolled as humanity’s main roles, and where couples anticipate marching two by two into heaven. Sure, LDS leaders promise these singles will get a partner in the hereafter — which one single woman called a "celestial tax break or reimbursement" — but that can ring hollow for the here and now. Afterlife assurances can come off as comforting at best and condescending at worst.
The idea behind these singles wards is to bring together Latter-day Saints of similar circumstances to a place where they can feed their souls spiritually and, at the same time, socially. They can meet, mingle and, hopefully, match up.
A lively experiment • People are squeezed into every square inch of the Granite Tabernacle for Sunday worship. The main chapel is filled to the edges, and congregants are watching TV monitors in the overflow area, and looking down from the balcony.
As Nielson, the Parley’s Seventh Ward bishop, walks down the aisle after sacrament meeting, he cannot take a step without someone thrusting a gray tithing envelope into his hands, tapping him on the shoulder or asking him a question. One young couple shyly hand him a wedding announcement for the coming Wednesday.
"I personally love the size of the ward," Nielson says. "That gives our members more opportunities to meet others. There is so much power and energy in this ward. The amount of good this ward does is off the charts. I have never seen a group of people so willing to do for others."Next Page >
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.