Got faith? For religious (and spiritual) singles, it's a way to find love.
What's a nice single Jewish girl in search of a smart, funny man doing at a place affectionately called BJ?
Capitalizing on the latest, greatest trend in matchmaking—one even your mother can get excited about.
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun (yes, their url is bj.org) in New York City is renowned as a home for hip, young Jews, and, without even billing itself as a singles organization, the congregation's twenty- and thirtysomething networking group, Tze'irim, has recently been the source of a number of happy matches.
One of those is Lauren Rott, whose first date with her fiancé involved dancing with the Torah at a Tze'irim Simchat Torah celebration. Rott sees same-faith dating as a wonderful byproduct of being part of a spiritual community: "I think it's a great way to meet somebody, not necessarily with the stigma of an online dating service or singles party. People come to our events as a way of making friends, and within that, their chance of meeting someone is even greater."
It's plenty hard to find a partner to date and eventually marry. It can feel even harder when you want to meet someone who shares not only your love of sushi and old movies, but also your deepest-held religious and spiritual beliefs.
Many young, single people of faith are tired of soulless bars, meaningless speed dating events, and the manipulations of secular online dating. They know what they care about, and they feel they run the best chance of meeting their soul mates if they go to places where their souls are nourished. Read: 10 Surprising Places Couples Met
Carey O'Neill found just such a place in the Contemporary Roman Catholics (CRC) group at Holy Trinity Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The CRC brings singles—there's one group for twentysomethings, another for those in their thirties and forties—together after Sunday afternoon mass to do everything from going to a local bar for a glass of wine to having a potluck dinner to heading to a Yankee game or having a fondue-tasting party at a local restaurant.
O'Neill, 31, says the group isn't made up of "religious freak zealots," but people who share a commitment to Catholicism while also living in the busy real world of New York single life. "At least I know I have something in common with someone through this group," she says. "They have a shared faith, but at the same time, they have a personal side—they like to do the things I like to do, like go out for a drink after work."
Buddhistconnect.com and Spiritualsingles.com provide faith-based options to those seeking love online. Spiritual singles unaffiliated with one religion often have a particularly hard time finding like-minded dates and ultimately maintaining a soulful marriage, according to Reverend Laurie Sue Brockway, an interfaith wedding officiant and love coach. She moderates "The Soulmate Project" on Beliefnet.com, which guides singles to be soul mate-ready through the use of intention, prayer and feng shui practice. Read: Online Dating Goes Uber-Niche
"Religious people have an easier time of it because they have a religious protocol that tells them how they are supposed to live," Brockway said. "Spiritual couples work harder to define their role, what they are supposed to be and do."
In the Jewish community, interfaith marriage has long been regarded as a dangerous scourge, one that threatens the very survival of the Jewish people. Given that dating Jews is the first step toward marrying Jews, some synagogues are literally investing in ways to make that happen.
In October of 2007, Rabbi Donald Weber of Temple Rodef Torah in Marlboro, NJ made a surprising announcement from the pulpit: any member of his congregation who wanted to join JDate, the popular Jewish online dating service, could do so free of charge: The synagogue would pick up the tab. According to Gail Laguna, a spokesperson for JDate, five other synagogues have followed Weber's example, resulting in at least 120 new JDate subscriptions. Read: Lost Until I Found Jew: Online Dating at JDate
But many singles, particularly Jews, are not members of a congregation or regular participants in religious services. That will come later, they say, when they've met their spouse and are ready to enroll their kids in Hebrew school.
So a number of organizations, from Boston's popular annual Matzah Ball party, held on Christmas Eve, to the group, Gesher City, which hosts everything from events with the creators of He-Brew beer to community service projects to roller skating parties and cooking classes in 13 cities from Houston to Washington, DC, are stepping into the breach.
The idea is that people walk in the door already having their religious backgrounds in common, and they're there to do something together—something that's neither overtly dating-oriented nor overtly religious.
Dana Epstein, the young adult director of the Jewish Community Association of Austin, says that there's no one thing that can help singles meet someone who shares their faith, particularly if they are not very orthodox in their religious practice. So their best bet is to get involved in the religious community's social network.
Epstein once met a woman at a Hanukkah party hosted by YAD, a social networking organization that Epstein's group runs. They fell into a fast friendship, and Epstein quickly decided she wanted to set her new friend up on a date with a colleague.
The next time the staff gathered for a Shabbat dinner, Epstein invited her friend and made the introduction. The two met, dated for two years, and married last May.
"It was through YAD, but also through friends, and through Shabbat – all those connections helped them find the person they would end up marrying," said Epstein.
The importance of community involvement is heightened for Muslim singles, whose prospects are complicated by the fact that their faith prohibits dating situations in which men and women are alone together. This leaves many American-born Muslim singles feeling caught between the traditional, arranged-marriage culture of their parents, and the cultural boundary-less-ness of single life in America.
"The mosques and Islamic organizations in America have not done a great job of filling that void," said Asma Hasan, 33, a single Muslim living in Denver. Hasan, who is working on a book about Muslim dating, says that there are some emerging opportunities for Muslims who are progressive in their faith, but who want to meet and marry a fellow Muslim: the Islamic Society of North America has hosted Muslim speed-dating events, and a growing website, Naseeb.com, is a popular new social network for young American Muslims.
But by and large, Hasan, who grew up expecting to have her parents arrange her marriage, is discouraged by the scarcity of venues for young, progressive Muslims to meet. "I feel like the community has let me down," she said.
Churches, even evangelical churches, can also leave singles feeling left out in the cold. According to Candice Watters, author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen and host of the website helpgetmarried.com, many churches underestimate the role they can have in connecting singles, instead encouraging them to "embrace the adventures" of their single life.
When she was in her mid-20s, Watters said, this message suddenly felt irrelevant. She turned her thoughts—and prayers—toward marriage, and with the guidance of trusted marriage mentors from her church, began dating her best friend, whom she subsequently married and had 3 children with.
"Marriage was God's idea," Watters said, "and if it was God's idea, it's okay for me to want it, it's okay for me to pray for it."
Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer. Her website is http://www.hollyrossi.com.