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A House Divided

Lori Haynes Niles

"The widows and orphans of our society are found in single-parent families," Gary says.

We may miss the opportunity to benefit from the presence of single-parent families by having any of the following unproductive attitudes:

  • "This man needs a wife!" or "This woman needs a husband!"
  • Healthy marriages will somehow be contaminated by hanging around with divorced people.
  • If we support a single-parent family, it's the same as approval of divorce. None of these attitudes could be further from the truth. The richness that comes to our churches through the healing experienced in divorced families is a precious gift of God and speaks volumes about the love of the reconciling God we serve.

"Many churches are family-oriented," says Linda. "In the mind of the church, we mean to include everyone who attends. But in the mind of a single parent, the word 'family' alone can be isolating."

Linda suggests that we make a conscious effort to use inclusive phrases such as "church family" instead of "family." The idea that marriage and parenting are synonymous with family is a big mistake in today's world. We need to offer opportunities for all kinds of families-two-parent, single-parent, non-parent (no children in the home), and other-parent (children live with people who aren't their parents)-to come together as the redeemed community of Christ.

We also need to be aware of the subtle ways we portray families. If our church logos picture a mom, dad, and two kids, we may unintentionally alienate a whole group of people. To look at your church's events through the eyes of a sensitive single parent, consider these issues:

  • Are the events named in such a way that they welcome individuals and families of all kinds? It's worth sacrificing cute titles, such as "Doughnuts With Dad," for the sake of making everyone feel welcome.
  • Are the images inclusive of all kinds of family configurations? Remember there are families of all kinds: two-parent, single-parent, non-parent, and other-parent.
  • Are child-care arrangements offered for all events that involve parents? This is especially a need for single parents.
  • Have you considered how to make each event easier for single-parent families? For example, many single parents are better able to participate in midweek events if a meal is provided.

Your church can be a haven of peace and acceptance to families recovering from the crisis of divorce. Provide a place of consistency in the lives of children and parents as they begin their healing process. As you nurture and care for these new family units, being careful to address the specific needs of individual families, you'll bear witness to the restoring power of God's love.

Lori Niles, associate pastor of family ministries at Moreland Church of the Nazarene in Portland, Oregon, teaches children's ministry at Nazarene Bible College. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.


Alternate-Weekend Kids

It may seem difficult to keep up with the needs of children who live in two families, so use these suggestions from veteran children's workers.

  • Design all forms to reflect the possibility of two parental addresses.
  • Enter both parents' addresses into your database under the child's name.
  • Send mail addressed to the child to both addresses.
  • Assign all the children in-house mailboxes so you can put important papers and notices into the boxes. Children with non-weekly attendance can collect their things without missing out.
  • Minimize projects or lessons that require cumulative participation. Instead, do lessons and projects that can be completed in one session.
  • Avoid or limit emphasis on weekly attendance. If you have to keep track of attendance, don't use charts or public displays that make a child's attendance stand out. Avoid giving prizes for attendance.
  • Be sensitive about inviting both parents to attend an event together if their relationship is hostile. However, make every attempt to involve both parents in the joy of spiritually leading their child or children.
  • Present your event calendars to families as far in advance as you can so they can make visitation modifications if necessary.
  • Invite grandparents on both sides of the family for extended family activities.
 

 

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