In November 2017 I did something that was fairly unusual, and I think has variously been considered to be brave, pointless, strange, or beautiful, depending on people’s point of view! I stood up in a church, in front of 100 friends, and made a vow to God to remain single for the rest of my life. What on earth made me do it? Let me try to explain the how and why and what of getting to that point, as well as the difference that it has made to my life since.
I stood up in a church, in front of 100 friends, and made a vow to God to remain single for the rest of my life.
I have always been single. I’ve never been in a relationship, never even been asked out on a date. For a long time, I wondered whether that meant there was something wrong with me – why were all my friends in relationships and I wasn’t? Was I not pretty/funny/clever/nice enough? Would it ever happen? Would I ever get married? Would I ever have children?
I very much wanted those things – for as long as I can remember I had hoped and dreamed that one day I would get married and have children. In fact, as a teenager I pretty much had the whole thing planned out – venue, dress, cake, reception, honeymoon. Only the groom was missing! I also knew with certainty the names of my future children. But I remember turning 18, 21, 25, 30, and thinking ‘Why not me?’
What could I do but wait, and hope, and wonder, and pray? I did all of those things, and sometimes I cried too! At the same time though, mostly, I just sort of assumed that it would happen in the end because, for most people that I knew, it did just seem to happen. But as time went by, that began to look less likely.
Then, around the time I turned 30, I was invited for the first time to speak about singleness. I was asked if I would do a seminar at New Wine’s summer gathering. I wasn’t at all sure, and said no! The following year I was asked again and said yes. Before long I found myself speaking about singleness at a number of Christian festivals, and a number of churches, both in the UK and further afield. I began to be passionate about the conversation – wanting to support single people to live well in their circumstances, and also to challenge the Church about the extent to which it was genuinely a welcoming and inclusive place for single people.
I began to be passionate about the conversation – wanting to support single people to live well in their circumstances, and also to challenge the Church about the extent to which it was genuinely a welcoming and inclusive place for single people.
Of course, during the time I was speaking and writing so much about the subject of singleness, I was continuing to wrestle with what that meant for me personally. Over a period of time (which I have explained in more detail in my book Single-Minded ) and on my blog, I began to sense that God was calling me to remain single for the rest of my life. There was obviously a lot of praying and processing and wrestling to be done with this, but I came to feel very settled and certain about it – it just felt right.
For some time, I assumed that this would be something fairly private. I would of course tell friends and family, and would perhaps speak about it when I did talks on singleness, but that would be it. However, much to my surprise, I then began to sense that God was asking me to make some sort of public commitment to singleness. I had no idea whether or not this was even a thing! Could someone do this? What would it entail? What would people think? I began to look into it. I discovered that there was a way to do this within the Anglican church – you could join something called The Single Consecrated Life. I looked at their vows and their organisation, which is great, but it just wasn’t the right thing for me. This was hard – I was so sure this was what God was saying, but it seemed like I’d reached a dead end.
After some time, my closest friends, who were walking this journey with me, and my Bishop, who was guiding and advising me, suggested I simply write my own vows and create my own service – so this is what I did. I got together with a small group of my closest friends, and we spent some time praying and seeking God together. This marked the beginning of a two-year discernment process during which I intentionally sought to work out what exactly God was calling me to do, and what any future service of commitment would look like. I met regularly with my Bishop, who was hugely supportive, and with two particular friends who had permission to ask me tough questions and to help me work things out.
Then, on the 18th November 2017, I stood in the lady chapel of Liverpool Cathedral and said, among other things: ‘Today I vow to live a life of dedicated singleness. Today I give myself completely to you – wholeheartedly, unreservedly, single-mindedly. Today I know myself to be called and chosen and beloved. Today I choose to walk into the path that you have laid out before me, wherever it may lead, embracing your best plan for me.’ (You can read my full vows, and the whole order of service, on my blog here.)
It was an extraordinary, joyful, hopeful, precious day. I think I would say that it was the best day of my life. I called the service beLOVED, taken from a phrase I had heard in a talk: ‘God calls you beloved, and he says, “Be loved.”’
I called the service beLOVED, taken from a phrase I had heard in a talk: ‘God calls you beloved, and he says, “Be loved.”’
The reaction from friends, whether they were at the service or not, has been overwhelmingly positive. Most had never heard of anything like it, or known anyone else who had done it, but they were supportive and understood why it had felt like the right thing for me. There have also been many times when I have explained the ceremony to strangers, and again the vast majority have been encouraging (if curious!). Sometimes people who aren’t Christians have struggled to understand why I would do something like this, but I can see that it would seem quite strange to those who didn’t get the underlying faith motivation.
For some people, singleness is a joy and brings freedom and delight. For others it’s unwanted, a burden which they hope won’t last forever. For most it’s a mixture: sometimes wonderful, sometimes hard. For many people, even if it isn’t what they would have chosen, singleness will last for many years, perhaps even their whole lives, and so it’s important that we work out how to live well as single people. For any of us who find ourselves single at any point in our lives, celibacy is God’s best for us, whether that’s for a season or for a lifetime.
I believe it is possible for that to be a blessing, to us and to others, and for a single life to be joyful and fulfilling.
It’s now two and a half years since my beLOVED ceremony. I chose to start wearing two rings, one at the moment I first started the discernment process, and another from the day of the ceremony itself. These rings remind me every day of the vows I made, and the calling and the choice which underlined them.
It helped me to make this public commitment because I knew that was what God was calling me to. This is definitely not God’s call to all single people, but it was for me, and I’m grateful to have been able to live that out.
It also helped because for me it drew a line under all the maybes and the what-ifs. If I hadn’t made this decision and commitment, I would have continued to wonder what might happen, to be unsure as to what the future might look like in terms of relationships. But there has been clarity in going ahead with this, which has helped me. Rather than spending time wondering, I have been able to focus more on what it looks like to live well in the moment and to live life to the full.
I’m glad to have been able to live this out as, I hope, a positive witness that it’s possible to live well as a single, childless, celibate person. This is a counter-cultural message in our society which is obsessed with sex and idolises self-fulfilment and self-gratification.
I hope that learning about the commitment I made will be of help to others who are single. For some, it might give them permission to wonder whether they too are called to something similar. For many, that will not be the case. Nonetheless, I hope they will be encouraged as they are reminded that God is interested in them, in their life, and in their singleness.