The Church and Boarding House Community for Singles
Recently the Globe and Mail reported that for the first time in Canadian history, there are more households comprised of singles than of families with children. Where single dwellers “accounted for only 7.4% of homes in 1951,” census figures from last fall show that now, 27.6% of Canadian homes have just one occupant, a trend that the is “mirrored in the United States and a few steps behind similar trends in Europe.”
At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher considers whether this change signals a move toward self-actualization for individuals, or is purely a sign of selfishness. Will this cause a clash in values between families and singles, he wonders?
Rather than getting worked up over the decline of the traditional family, though, what if we consider the missional opportunities this trend could offer? Churches that have built strong family ministries ought to be working to be sure that they are also providing real community for singles. Families ought to be including single friends in their daily lives.
Frankly, moving beyond the single-family dwelling place might be a good thing. As more and more people are living alone, what about reviving the boarding house? Ruth Graham writes in the The Boston Globe about the ways the boarding house—a big house full of strangers who rent rooms but share a common table—shaped 19th century U.S. history. She suggests that the boarding house could return as a viable housing solution in light of the growing number of singles and the economic downturn, writing that already “micro-apartments, extra-tiny private spaces with shared kitchens down the hall, are taking off in cities including Boston, New York, and Seattle.” (This is a fascinating article—you should read the whole thing.)
Whether or not the boarding house comes back into fashion, why not consider doing more with the space we have, making our family borders (pun intended) a bit more porous? When my husband and I were dating, he rented a room in a single-family home, and after we were married, we managed a boarding house of sorts for international students. Both were good experiences, and someday we hope to have a room in our family’s home to rent to college students in the town where we live now.
The way we live is changing. If “self-actualization” becomes loneliness, let’s be sure the Church is prepared to welcome singles warmly into its Family.
It is a trend I am surprised hasn’t caught on more in North America. It is quite common here in Australia for college students and young adults, possibly because most colleges only have enough on campus accommodation for a tiny fraction of the student population and because one person apartments are often very expensive and not available in many suburbs. Instead, many young adults join together in groups of 3-6 to rent a house in the suburbs together. I’ve been living in one such house for the last year, a group of 5 Christians in their twenties or late teens.
There is lots of great things about the arrangement. In the course of going about daily life we get to have lots of really good conversations on theology, philosophy, travel, culture, ministry, relationships and all sorts of other topics that may not necessarily have the chance to be discussed in depth in other contexts. Sometimes it is really nice to have people around to have fun with, like when you find a great youtube video being able to unplug your laptop and take it out into the kitchen to enjoy showing someone in person rather than just tweeting about it to strangers. The simple kindnesses of life together can make a difference, like people bringing your drying washing inside if it looks like it will rain or sharing cooking ingredients with you that you forgot to buy.
However, the arrangement does have its challenges. Ours is a mixed gender house with a very diverse range of personality styles and previous living arrangements. Needless to say, there has been disagreements about many things like what the required standard of clean and organised shared space is, how late it is appropriate to be making noise and what counts as sufficiently healthy food for shared cooking. We’ve all had to do a lot of learning about how to graciously accommodate other people and how to make our needs and wants on household issues known in an appropriate way. Living in the same space also means that unlike other friendships, if you fight you have to work it out (or at least manage a civil truce) because you can’t really avoid them!
We’ve been deliberate about forming community within the household, but have also tried to extend the concept. We try to have guests around often and have bestowed on quite a few people the concept of honorary housemate. We let them know that they are always welcome to visit, they don’t have to knock when they arrive, can go find what they need in the kitchen without asking and if they are from out of town they can always stay the night. The honorary housemates might have started as one persons friend but soon become everyone’s friend. We also often have ministry meetings or bible study groups here which housemates who aren’t officially involved tend to wander in and out of.
Great insights, Joanna.
i love this. i have heard the rates of single people living alone in urban centers in America is sky high (i believe in my city single occupants outnumber families, for the first time in history). but most of these aren’t young people: they are older, and alone.
living where we do, we are a tiny family surrounded by mostly single people. it has been challenging, but so worth it, to open up space for others in our lives. i really like the concept of the guest house.
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