One thing I’ve noted, growing up in the African-Caribbean church, is its sometimes nonchalant attitude to relationships and marriage. Although it recognises the importance of marriage, it isn’t too concerned if marriages happen within the Church or not.
This attitude, coupled with the fact that African-Caribbean churches are predominantly female domains, means that they are full of women who have never walked down the aisles, as well as those women who left church in their youth to have the children or husbands they desired, and then re-joined.
I’ve never understood this lack of attention given to marriage and the family. Marriage and family were the bedrock of the African-Caribbean community during the years of mass immigration in the 1950s and 60s. And many churches/denominations started life as small congregations, meeting in either homes or rented halls, with the original members often being the pastor and his family.
Why do I mention this? Because I believe churches, in their focus on serving God and propagating the Gospel, did not give the full attention to supporting and encouraging marriages and, subsequently, the family that it deserves. We now have a situation where African-Caribbeans have the highest proportion of single parent families than any other cultural group in the UK.
Whilst it may not be the Church’s role to help people find partners, it should be doing all it can to encourage marriages and to strengthen the family. It isn’t hard to do.
Churches can publicly pray for marriages and the family, alongside providing teaching on relationships; pre-marital counselling for engaged couples; courses for married couples, and support for marriages in crisis. I know many churches do provide this, but they can be more intentional about it. And in those churches/denominations where there are few or no men, ways should be found to reach men with the Gospel.
I talk to single Christian women all the time. And whilst many of them are happy with their lives, they often do confess to sadness and regret at either not getting married or having children, with some feeling that their lives have turned out as they have, due to their commitment to God and the Church.
It’s my prayer that 2013 will be a year of fulfilled marital dreams for many, and that African-Caribbean churches truly recognise the value and benefit in strengthening and encouraging one of the world’s most important relationships – marriage.