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Single but not alone: Sister Kristen Oaks opens up about the highs and lows of being single in the Church

I have a vested interest in single adults because I spent so much of my life as a single woman. My name is Kristen Meredith McMain Oaks. I married President Dallin H. Oaks, now of the First Presidency and then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, when I was almost 53 years old. I rejoiced during my single years, and I suffered through them too, while I was discovering what Heavenly Father wanted for me. He was blessing me with adequate time and experience to build a solid and sure testimony.

“To remain active, a single member has to develop a deep and abiding testimony of gospel truths rather than depending solely on Church programs for happiness,” wrote one Church member from Los Angeles, California.

When we are single, our Church associations become especially meaningful to us. We look to our wards to provide not only a place to worship but also a place to socialize and be part of a ward family. Single members hold high expectations that their wards will be places of refuge, of personal growth and of spiritual renewal. The expectations for fellowship are high because we live in a world where social isolation is increasing. As Robert D. Putman, a Harvard political scientist, stated in his book, “America is fraying as people spend more time alone and we are becoming a nation of loners."

There is no separate Church for singles. There may be wards, branches or classes, but we are all part of the same Church. What the singles ward does provide is an environment to associate with others of similar interests and age, where being single is the norm. It is easy to feel accepted when our lives are so much like those around us. More important, in singles units there are often increased opportunities for leadership, callings to teach, social activities, service projects and spiritual guidance.

Singles faced with the necessity of returning to a residential ward may find the change uncomfortable and traumatic. There is often a period of adjustment, and it takes time and effort to develop new relationships and discover ways to make meaningful contributions.

Our residential wards are valuable because they bring together people of different ages and backgrounds, interests and varied economic and educational levels.

The very diversity that makes a residential ward so vital and strengthening to some makes others feel they have just entered a Church where there is no place for them. Entering this new environment can be lonely and intimidating.

The transition is frequently difficult. Singles often feel more comfortable in the company of other singles. They know that certain questions and conversations are off limits. For some, a move to a family ward can seem like a separation from a surrogate family and close friends. It is exacerbated by entering a residential ward and searching for a place to fit in. I personally remember how difficult it was for me as a single to sit alone in church every Sunday.

Bishops can make transitions so much less traumatic by providing callings and welcoming singles who transition into their wards. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “We speak of the fellowship of the Saints. This is and must be a very real thing.” He added, “We must never permit this spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood to weaken. We must constantly cultivate it. It is an important aspect of the gospel.”

An equally important aspect of the gospel is that we are to be “anxiously engaged” in good works. I have learned from happy and sad experience that if we wish for our ward experience to be a positive one, we have to make it so. For me, service and callings made all the difference. As one close friend commented: “Nursery children do not look to see if you have a ring on your finger as you wipe away their tears. It doesn’t take a wedding license to feed hungry Scouts or missionaries or shut-ins. Nowhere on the tithing slip do you indicate marital status as you contribute to the Church’s humanitarian service or Perpetual Education Fund. And they don’t have two doors at the temple — one for couples and one for singles. We are a Church that needs faithful workers. I’ve been blessed because I had priesthood leaders who knew this.”

The bottom line is that we are a covenant people. I can testify that if we believe, we should put that belief into action. As was stated in October 2004 general conference, “It is not enough to know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that the gospel is true. We must take the high road by acting upon that knowledge. It is not enough to know (we are led by) God’s prophet. We must put his teachings into our lives. We must fulfill our responsibilities” Our righteous acts cement our testimonies, bring the Spirit into our lives, and make any ward we attend the one where we can become the person our Heavenly Father wishes us to become.

— Some of the information for this article was taken from Sister Oaks' book, "A Single Voice."