Following on from my last post this talks about what Hagar’s experience would have been likely to be like as a single parent engaging with church today. It was the part b of the sermon which got cut due to “good practice” guidelines re time and length of time you can expect people to concentrate for kicking in.
We’re now going to move on and think about what Hagar’s experience might have been if she had been around today and were part of a church community now and what the church may have been able to have done to support her. Most of this thinking comes from the academic research I’ve done into this subject over the last few years.
Firstly, if she were part of a church community she would have found that she were in a clear minority. Peter Brierley who has produced all sorts of statistics about church attendance in recent years has calculated that approximately 6% of all families with dependent children who attend church are single parent families, this compares to about 20% of families with dependent children in wider society being single parent families.
The statistics also tell us it is likely that she would have been part of a larger congregation where there were other single parents.
Whilst she may have heard sermons about family life these would have been likely to have been talking about married family life. It is likely her experience as a single parent would not have been talked about. Certainly, she would not have heard her own story unless somebody had chosen to move away from the lectionary reading for that week. Whilst black majority churches are comfortable talking about Hagar and her story white majority churches, particularly those following the lectionary have made her a largely invisible figure within the bible.
In terms of how well her experiences and needs were understood by the church leadership, this like the level of involvement she could have in church would have more to do with the attitudes of the church towards women in leadership than anything else.
The majority (90%) of single parents in this country are women, and so churches that bar women from holding positions of either lay or ordained leadership over men are less likely to have the voices and experiences of a single parents heard in their discussions.
Whether her church was engaged in mission, evangelism and outreach to other single parents would have depended upon a range of factors. These would have included whether they felt outreach and evangelism was best done through relationally reaching out to the community around them or through friendship evangelism and inviting friends and family to social events and seeker style courses like Alpha.
If they reached out into their local communities through kids clubs, messy church and this type of thing then they are likely to have been building up relationships with other single parents.
However, if they had gone for the approach of focusing on what is known as “friendship evangelism” where people invite their friends and family it is unlikely that single parents would have been engaged with in the same way.
This is because churches are more likely to contain married, middle aged middle class couples and older couples and young professionals. Their social networks are likely to be focused around similar people – because we tend to have friends who are like us and so single parents are less likely to be invited to church.
Hagar would have been likely to be attracted to being part of a small group and this would have been the most positive part of church life for her. The small group would provide somewhere where she could share with others about what was going on in her life. This could be either through informal discussion or through being able to share her experience and how the passage/ spiritual issue being discussed related to it. The ability to share prayer requests would have been useful for her too.
She would have also benefited from the group because it would be a space where she could support others too. Hagar, as we already know would have had a lot to offer and small groups are somewhere she would have been able to build relationships which would have allowed her to find out how she could help others.
In technical language Hagar would have found a small group to be a transformational space. Attending a small group would have been easier for Hagar if it met in the church building and she could have bought her child with her. It would have been helpful if it could have started mid-evening finished by about 9 o’clock at latest so she could get her child home for bed. It would have also been helpful if there was an understanding Hagar wouldn’t have been able to attend every week, it would depend on what was going on at home.
Hagar would have had various physical and emotional needs in her life. She is likely although not automatically going to have been surviving on a relatively low income. However, she would also be quite proud. As such support in getting a part-time job which fitted in with school hours, help doing odd jobs at home and a little help with food or a food parcel at Christmas would have been useful whilst she were at the stage of her life of needing support and help finding resources. Although it’s important to remember that for Hagar this were just one stage in her life. By the time she provides the dowry she has obviously become financially strong and independent.
However, Hagar would also be very proud and reluctant to take what she would regard as charity. She would be unlikely to ask for help, even if she needed it – preferring to prove she could manage. This is where being part of a small group would be important for her. Small groups allow for relationship and would allow her to start trusting again, something she’d find hard….this would make it easier for the church and people within it to provide the pastoral care she requires as part of the congregation.
A final song which you might want to listen to as you reflect on what life might have been like for Hagar if she had been a single mother now is One Day by Brenda Freed from her Until Daylight CD (performed by her group Texas Hot Flash in this performance which can be found on You Tube).