Hurting single-parent families find church with arms open wide
NAPLES, Fla. (BP)--Tammy Calhoun is a single mother of five children who knows what it’s like to have a 19-year-old, two preteens and two children 5 and under. She currently receives no financial support from her former husband yet considers herself among the fortunate. As a Federal Express employee, “I at least have a job and benefits and a home and credit. There are single moms who have none of that.”
Preschool teacher Stacy Enders is a single mother of three children, ranging from a preteen to a toddler. “What challenges do I have as a single parent?” Enders said. “Fatigue, [lack of] balance, financial stress and needing the skills to be a godly parent.”
Both Enders and Calhoun have received much-needed care and nurture through Parenting Solo, a ministry to single-parent families at First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla.
Since 1999, First Baptist has come alongside more than 400 single-parent families like those of Stacy and Tammy to help meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Currently, Parenting Solo ministers to 150 actively involved single parents.
Most single parents and their children have been wounded deeply by broken relationships, and many struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. All need the unconditional love of Christ and a family of believers for support and encouragement in their faith.
The vision for Parenting Solo began in the heart of Jimmy Hill, who 10 years ago went on staff as First Baptist’s accountant with additional responsibilities to provide biblical counsel to church members struggling in the area of their finances. Hill found that over half of the people he counseled were single parents. “I thought, ‘Wow! We need to minister to these people!’”
Lamenting the plight of single-parent families, Hill said, “There is a huge need out there and the church is foolish to avoid it. Half of all children today live in a single-parent family or a blended family. Loss of morals has caused so many to be in that situation. But these are people God loves.”
Quoting James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ...,” Hill noted that the church has a huge responsibility to care for the needs of the fatherless. “According to [the Bible reference book] Strong’s Concordance,” he noted, “the term ‘widows’ means ‘those lacking a husband,’ and therefore includes single mothers.”
The first verse Jesus quoted in His ministry, Hill added, was Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.”
“There are none more brokenhearted than those who go through divorce,” Hill said.
While counseling single parents on their finances, Hill began to sense that God wanted him to be the one to minister to their needs. “For two years I kept asking, ‘God is this really what You want?’ It kept me awake several nights.” Already on his heart were ideas for such ministries as home and car maintenance and repairs and a clothing closet to would help single moms with expenses.
God’s call was confirmed to Hill when, after meeting with the church’s pastor to singles, he met two men in the foyer of the church wanting to begin a home repair ministry for widows. “I asked them, ‘Do you consider single mothers to be widows?’ and they said, ‘Yes.’” With that, they began the Carpenter Crew ministry, now with more than 50 volunteers doing jobs from small home repairs to roofing for widows and single moms in the community.
Within a month, a mechanic had donated his garage to begin First Baptist’s Car Care ministry. On the third Saturday of each month, volunteers do inspections, oil changes and any repairs they can free of charge. While cars are being repaired, the ministry provides a meal for the families at a nearby restaurant. Ladies from the church greet the families, feed them and learn more about them and their needs. Throughout the year church members donate used cars to the ministry, most of which are repaired and given to single parents in need, while three are sold to provide funds for the ministry.
The clothes closet now has become Help Outreach, a warehouse of food, clothes and furniture where single mothers and others in the community can obtain necessities free of charge. Calling it a “wonderful” help, Calhoun said, “If you need something, you can request it. When my kids need shoes, I can tell them what size, and they call when they get some.”
In addition to meeting single parents’ physical needs, Hill also has developed a three-stage process to address their emotional and spiritual needs. He calls the first stage the “Hurting and Bleeding” stage.
Parenting Solo offers Divorce Care every 13 weeks, with classes of eight to 20 people. Based in a biblical worldview, Divorce Care addresses the wounds of divorce to facilitate healing and to promote healthy coping and relational skills. “It’s all aimed at getting them to trust God again,” Hill said, at a time when “their trust has been shattered.”
The emotional wounds of children of divorce ages 5 through 12, meanwhile, are addressed in DC4K -- Divorce Care for Kids. “Children of divorce are hurting big time. They lack security. Their world has been torn up; trust is broken,” Hill said. “You really have to work on trust.”
Many children blame themselves for their parents’ breakup. “Reassuring them that it wasn’t their fault is really important,” Hill said. “We do that every week.” At the end of the 13-week course Hill asks the children, “Is there anybody here that still thinks the divorce was their fault?” He sadly remembers a little girl in one class who still raised her hand, saying her situation was different and it really was her fault.
Addressing the physical needs and emotional wounds of single-parent families opens the door for Hill to invite them to be a part of Parenting Solo, moving them into the “Healing and Bandaging” stage. “If they haven’t already been saved, this would usually be when they make a decision for Christ, or they might make decisions to begin serving,” Hill said.
Single parents are guided into Bible studies, such as the church’s Saturday night “Bible in Life” groups. Mentoring relationships, Crown Financial Ministries courses and other in-depth parenting courses such as Kevin Leman’s “Single Parenting that Works” help single parents learn biblical principles and the ways of godly living.
Additionally, a reality-learning ministry named “Family to Family” matches a single parent with a strong two-parent family to be discipled in good family skills. Hill told the story of the first single parent to participate, who had grown up in a dysfunctional home. The mentor couple reported that she was “like a sponge.” Lacking many domestic skills, she learned kitchen and other household skills. And she was amazed to watch and see how a loving Christian father interacted with his wife and kids. “She has grown so much,” Hill said.
Hill then encourages single parents toward what he calls the “Healed and Blessing Others” stage. “Single parents are still learning, but they become involved either in leadership of the single-parent family ministry or in other ways in the church -- choir, ushering, volunteering in the nursery. These people are usually excited to get to that point.”
Stacy Enders, having entered the Healed and Blessing Others stage, is excited for the opportunity to minister to the special-needs child of another single mom. In her job as a preschool teacher, she had taken a special needs course, not really knowing why. “But, look what God has done!” she said, amazed that He equipped her to serve and provided an opportunity. Stacy and others will take turns caring for the child so that the mother can attend services and classes at First Baptist.
Enders, describing how Parenting Solo has made a difference in her life, said, “The most important thing for me is the way I’ve been able to just go into the ministry and be myself. Nothing shocks the Hills. People understand what I’ve been through because lots of them have been there too. They just keep pointing you to Christ.”
The little things Parenting Solo has provided also prompt gratitude, such as outings for pizza, bowling and ice skating -- all free of charge. “As my kids are growing up,” Calhoun recounted, “they say, ‘I’d like to do this, or that.’ But as a single parent you can’t even pay the bills. I could never have afforded that.”
For Jimmy and Debby Hill, reaching out to single-parent families has become their passion. One single parent said, “They have become our parents.” The Hills regularly welcome single parents and their families into their home, both as a group and one-on-one. The large group events enable the kids to have fun playing together while Jimmy and Debby enjoy building relationships with the adults. “Many of them haven’t ever had just good clean Christian fellowship,” Hill said.
“The Lord has given me a compassion for this ministry. I think having this ministry has helped our church grow not only in attendance, but in ministry,” he said. “Many have said, ‘I made this church my home because you walk the talk.’ Judges, lawyers and county officials send people to us because of what we do. Our people have learned to be more loving and compassionate.”
First Baptist’s Parenting Solo ministry is listed among the “Churches on the Cutting Edge” in single-parent family ministry by the Center for Single Parent Family Ministry at www.SPFM.org. For help in starting a single-parent family ministry, visit the center’s website.
For churches considering starting such a ministry, Hill offers this advice: “Seek the Lord in all of it, then get the single parents together to get their input, then start small as the Lord leads.”