By Angeli Rasbury
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Christian churches don't do nearly enough for the growing number of women struggling to raise children on their own. Advocates are trying to change that.
Credit: Family Life Photography
(WOMENSENEWS)--It's holiday season and the 10-year-old single mothers' ministry at Vineyard Church in Ann Arbor, Mich., is offering Christmas blessings.
The ministry's interim director, Penny Johnson, says this year 26 families led by single moms will be linked to an individual, family or small group who will provide seasonal help with such things as Christmas shopping.
"The shopping may be done together, or the single mom may be invited to a family or small group shared meal," Johnson said in an email interview. "Notes, phone calls and cards may be exchanged at other times of the year as well. Many of our moms are adopted by the same family or group from year to year, forging an even stronger bond and support system for the moms."
Throughout the year the ministry says it serves a monthly gourmet dinner to about 45 women who get adult conversation and support, while children are fed and cared for. After dinner women can choose from activities such as budgeting workshops, prayer ministry or a presentation from Habitat for Humanity.
At the end of the evening mothers and children re-unite and "shop" in the church's Pink Bag Boutique, which provides free access to toilet paper, facial tissue, toothpaste, laundry detergent and other items that help stretch their tight budgets.
Houston's Presbyterian Children's Homes and Services is also thinking about single mothers. It is partnering with a nearby church, St. John's Presbyterian Church, to build transitional housing for seven single mothers and their children. An architect is designing the buildings and construction is supposed to start in 2013. The organization has signed a lease with the church and will pay $1 a year for the land.
Nineteen million children live in single-mother families, up from 17 million in 2000, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In some school districts, including several in New York and Michigan, the majority of families are led by a single mother. Shrinking public assistance benefits and low-wage jobs are often the reality for this group of families.
Jennifer Maggio, founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries in Baton Rouge, La., fears that unless churches start doing more to help single mothers the statistics about poverty and hardship that surround these households will only get worse.
Maggio, author of the 2011 "The Church and the Single Mom" and other books about being a single mother, says churches benefit when they reach out to single mothers and make them feel welcome. For one, more people fill the pews.
She says churches that want to include more single mothers can start by offering support groups because they make it easier for the women to return to church or go for the first time. Benefit events such as free car washes and clothing drives help forge bonds with these worshippers.
To help churches recruit and lend a hand to single mothers, Maggio's organization offers DVDs and newsletters--some free, others at low cost--about things such as financial literacy workshops and job searching tailored to the needs of single women.
Old and New Testaments scriptures say the church and Christians should serve the less fortunate and help people who are hurting and marginalized. "Serve one another in love," Paul wrote (Gal. 5:13). Peter makes the same point, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others" (1 Pet. 4:10), and Jesus told his disciples to "wash one another's feet" (John 13:14).
Yet "less than 1 percent of all churches in the United States have a single parent's ministry" writes Maggio in her book. "We have soup kitchens, clothing programs and widow's ministries, but a single mom's ministry? It is still, in many cases, a foreign concept."
As a single parent herself Maggio at one point felt excluded from a religion that had provided her solace as a child and teenager. When she became pregnant, she says, she was certain the church would judge her, so she stayed away for a long while.
"I felt that I was not going to be accepted," Maggio told Women's eNews, adding that a fear of rejection keeps many other single mothers out of their local churches.
In 2001 all that changed when Maggio crossed the threshold of a small church in Vidalia, La., and found a compassionate congregation. But there was no organized attention to her situation and she felt like the token single mom. It made her anxious and sometimes kept her from going on Sundays.
Eventually she began to organize a group that would focus on connecting single mothers to local churches and giving churches and organizations the tools and information to meet the needs of single parents.
Since starting her group in 2007 and incorporating in 2011, she says Single Mom Ministries has worked with more than 1,000 churches in 19 countries and has reached as many as 20,000 women in cities across the United States.
Ruth Corbett is founder of the Single Mom's Ministry at the Brooklyn, N.Y., Emmanuel Baptist church, which shares a name but no organizational ties to Maggio's group.
Corbett says the church is a base for community. "It's a family. It's a place where folks come to be healed. They come to be comforted. They come for more than spiritual needs on Sunday morning. The church in the community of faith is there to support and to enable other folks to be transformed and changed. If you are following what the scriptures says, what Christ said, then you live in community. The church always has a role, especially in communities of color."
When Corbett started the ministry in the church located in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn nearly 12 years ago, she says that being an unmarried mother still carried a stigma in her church. "So you wouldn't have a lot of single moms."
She started with 10 to 12 women in small group meetings. Now there are about 25 women in the small group, which is also a ministry. She says there should be more. Many congregations still aren't doing enough to openly welcome single mothers, Corbett says.
Corbett's group meets twice a month at the church or at each other's homes for 90 minutes to two hours. During summers they picnic in the park. On Mother's Day the church recognizes the accomplishments of single mothers and single grandmothers.
At Emmanuel in Brooklyn, if a single mother is going through stress or having financial difficulty, there is help, Corbett says. "We have a counseling ministry. We have ministers on staff she can call and talk to." If the church cannot help, it will make a referral.
Corbett says the ministry carries out the work of helping the less fortunate, as described by the Bible. "We're following what the scripture says."
Angeli R. Rasbury is an educator, artist, lawyer and writer specializing in women, girls and culture. Rasbury works with youth and has worked with girls in a juvenile detention center, women living in shelters and elders.