Reaching out to singles

February 15, 2002|By Lorraine Gingerich | Lorraine Gingerich,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As many as 150 single adults gather each week for spiritual and social growth though an outreach ministry of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Marriottsville. They don't need to belong to Chapelgate to attend the meetings, and more than 70 percent are members of other churches.

The ministry, called Chapelgate Career Fellowship, or CCF, attracts many singles in their 20s, 30s and 40s who want to have the same social opportunities as married couples. That might explain why CCF has been so successful for more than 16 years.

Buck Herring of Millersville, who attends another church but said he goes to CCF get-togethers often, believes that singles are overlooked in society. "It's difficult these days to be single," Herring said. "We don't get the same respect that married people do."

CCF outreach coordinator Bill Rose of Ellicott City understands Herring's frustration. He noted that recent U.S. Census statistics show nearly 50 percent of American adults are unmarried - divorced, separated, never married or in alternative lifestyles.

"Many of them avoid church, in part because they feel isolated within an institution centered around marriage and family," Rose said. "I hear it all the time."

Rose believes that Chapelgate has benefited from integrating singles into the congregation. "The church has a golden opportunity to tap into the largest and fastest-growing - and most-ignored - demographic out there today," he said. "Besides, there are hundreds of CCF alumni that are now contributing, with their families, to church leadership today."

He said CCF's vision focuses on "making disciples of Christ" and building a community with adults who are unmarried. "We center our teaching and mentoring around helping people understand their true identity as God created them, and how their unique personalities and talents can be used to serve others," Rose said.

The ministry is run by a team of eight core leaders overseeing the vision and direction of the group, with a leadership team that manages activities.

Sunday night meetings get under way as the CCF band plays and members sing along. Testimonials are given and announcements are made. At most meetings, a musical or dramatic skit is presented to promote a social event in the future, followed by a featured speaker. Scott Simmons, assistant pastor of World Missions at Chapelgate Presbyterian, is leading the group this month in a three-part discussion of Christian spirituality. The remaining talks are Sunday and Feb. 24.

Members hail from at least six counties, including Howard, Carroll, Baltimore, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Harford, and Baltimore City. Greg Caroll, who drives from Reston, Va., enjoyed a recent lesson on predestination.

"This group is not afraid of doing controversial things," Caroll said. "The one thing that makes a difference is it really engages the mind."

Severn resident John Merenda has been attending CCF for about two years. He leads "CCF Is Praying," a half-hour of prayer before the main gathering. "It's a great place to come and get to know people," he said. "CCF is a full-service singles ministry," he said. "They have everything from fishing trips, retreats, fellowship dinners, bowling, preaching and teaching, testimony, and Christmas and New Year's Eve parties."

The group is offered plenty of social opportunities. CCF holds a monthly open-gym night and twice-monthly volleyball games. Each year, members sponsor a summer retreat in Pennsylvania and a community arts festival. Other events have included a Super Bowl party, bowling party, and lavish New Year's Eve dinner dance. The next social will be a hoedown March 9.

CCF's socials coordinator, Lisa Brakebill of Baltimore, organizes many of these events. She said some activities, however, such as the New Year's Eve gala, merit individual committees.

Brakebill, also one of the eight members of the core leadership team, recently coordinated a mystery potluck meal. Seven people volunteered to be hosts of a dinner for eight in their homes. Members signed up to participate, not knowing at whose house they would be dining. They found out at the end of the meeting when names were drawn from a hat. Brakebill said the process adds to the fun.

"We get people involved, and that way they get to know people on a more social basis," she said. "CCF'ers are already asking when we are going to do it again."

CCF members also dedicate time in service to others. Once a month the group, led by Greg Carson, who is service coordinator and a core leader, works with Habitat for Humanity in the Sandtown neighborhood of West Baltimore.

For the past three years, the group has held a popular Swing Dance to benefit Habitat and ministries in Sandtown. More than 400 people from the Baltimore-Washington area attended last year's dance in Ellicott City.

The group also sponsors a half-dozen weekly "small group Bible studies" in members' homes. "It's a great way for people intimidated by such a large group on Sundays to make a few close friends and go deeper into biblical teachings," Rose said.

At the close of the Sunday evening meetings, participants get together in a causal setting for refreshments and fellowship. Often, the meeting continues at a Pizza Hut, where members such as Susan Cassity of Baltimore like to extend the socializing. She gives the organization a lot of credit.

"CCF is my life," Cassity said.

Chapelgate Career Fellowship meets from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays in Fellowship Hall of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church, 2600 Marriottsville Road in Marriottsville. Information: Paula Karinshak, 410-442-5800, Ext. 118; or htm.

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