In just a few weeks, more than 500 Catholic singles will head to San Diego, California for a weekend of panel discussions, socializing and prayer about the vocation of singles and the search for a perfect match.
The National Catholic Singles Conference was founded in 2005 by Anastasia Northrop. There have been conferences in Denver, Chicago and now San Diego, and because of its popularity, there are plans for east, west and central U.S. conferences in coming years.
What happens at a single’s conference and why is it so popular? According to one of this year’s conference organizers, Michele Fleming, director of the Office for Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Diego, it’s an opportunity for Catholic singles to learn how they fit into the church community—and to meet other like minded friends.
The conference is being sponsored by CatholicSingles.com and CatholicMatch.com. There are receptions, ice breakers, a trip to the beach and even a Salsa dance mixer where people line up and switch partners, so chances are you are going to dance with 15 to 20 different people in one evening. So who knows what sparks might fly!
In addition, there are break-out sessions for men-only and for women-only, and friendships will be built, too.
In the lead-up to the San Diego weekend, I spoke with Michele about the history of the National Catholic Singles Conference, and her hopes for this year’s meeting. Check out some of the activities on tap and if you think it’s the right match for you, click here to register for the conference.
What is the purpose of the National Catholic Singles Conference?
The purpose is to reach out to single Catholics that may feel that they are not being “fed” at their local parish. As a single Catholic, many times we live separated from family or a parish community. And singles may be confirmed in the church, but since we don’t get married at 21 anymore, we tend to “lose” folks at this time. In the past, you would be married in the church and then baptize your babies, so you’d have a reason to get integrated into parish life. But now, with people waiting longer, there are less touch-points for integration into the parish. This time has been referred to as “the time between the Sacraments.” At a time when parish headcount is measured in “families”, we want single Catholics to know that they are also part of our church family.
How did this conference start?
Anastasia Northrop, our founder, has a passion for singles ministry and she wanted to have a national level event, in the hope of bringing Catholics back to church and, more importantly, back into life with Christ. There is no other national movement in the U.S. today for single Catholics. I attended the first event, along with several others from San Diego, and we just knew we had to bring it here. It’s been 3 years of praying and planning to bring this event here.
What kind of folks attend this conference?
We get people who haven’t been to Mass in years looking for a better way to build relationships than just going to bars, we get people who go to Mass but feel like there isn’t a community for them at their parish, and we get very devoted Catholics that want to enrich their spiritual journeys. With more than 500 attendees, it really spans all types.
The event is targeted for the more “lukewarm” Catholics, so we have lots of social events, beach excursions, dinners out around town, a Salsa social with a Salsa dance instructor, along with Mass, speakers, a time for confession, and private adoration. That way, each person is able to participate at his or her own comfort level. They won’t find it too “churchy”, but at the same time it is a church event. Oh, we’ve also flown in a professional band, the Ben Walther Band, to do live praise and worship. The event will be upbeat and with lots of energy.
Does the conference address the needs of divorced or widowed Catholics as well?
Yes, we have a break-out specifically for divorced and widowed.
You’re going to offer a talk titled “Making Christian Dating Work” -can you give us a preview of your tips for Catholic singles who are dating?
A major component of your dating life should be authenticity. First, be “real” with yourself. Know what you want and what you don’t want in your dating relationships, and be firm in choosing those qualities, no matter how attracted you may be to that person! Don’t fall in love with someone that you wouldn’t be friends with. And then, be authentic with your date. If you really don’t like a certain type of music, or movie, or food, or lifestyle (heavy drinking, drugs, etc), then say so. Many times we “hold back” our real selves because we want to get along or move the relationship to the next step, more than we want to be ourselves. This always backfires. Instead, give your date the opportunity to fall in love with the “real” you! And then, for those who are ready to be challenged in their faith journey, be authentic in your relationship with Christ. Truly seek His guidance in how to date and what is important in building a successful marriage. If God is important in your life, then allow God into your dating relationships. Be authentic with your date and let him or her know that your spirituality and/or worship is an important part of your life.
What is the ratio of men to women at these conferences?
We tend to get more women, as always with ministry. It’s about 60/40. We are targeting the military bases down here in hopes of attracting more of the men.
What’s the average age of conference attendees?
It’s mostly young adults in their twenties and thirties, with a concentration in the thirties. It is an all-ages event, so there are older and younger groups. With 500 people, there are normally about 100 people in their twenties, 100 in their forties, a few above fifty, and the rest in their thirties. There will always be a group of folks your own age.
For singles looking for marriage, conferences like these can be tantalizing opportunities to meet a like-minded soul mate. But even if it’s just a way to make new friends, I’m a big fan of getting out there, meeting people and doing things to increase your chances of making the perfect match.
“The first conference I attended in 2005 was a turning point for me in my dating and spiritual life,” said Michele, who got married last year.
Planning to attend the conference? If so, email me when you get back-I’d love to hear about your experiences.