In 1981, the Rev. Mike Cavanaugh began a spiritual journey that, years later, would revolutionize how Christian churches nurture the singles in their congregations.
"In the early '80s there wasn't a lot happening in the church for single people," said Mr. Cavanaugh.
"At that time I was working with college students, helping to establish outreaches on local campuses. At one point, young people who weren't in college started coming to me and asking, 'What does the church have for me?'
"In response to that question, one summer I put together a retreat for single people. The focus of that retreat was to encourage single people to not put their life on hold just because they're unattached," Mr. Cavanaugh said.
"More than anything, that retreat showed me the great need for a singles ministry, and from that ministry, Mobilized To Serve, an interdenominational organization, was born," said Mr. Cavanaugh, who serves as executive director of the organization.
Each year the organization holds a national conference, with locations rotating between Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and this year's site, Niagara Falls, N.Y. The conference will be held from Friday to Oct. 26 at the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center and the Radisson Hotel.
The three-day conference will feature plenary sessions and workshops on a wide variety of subjects of interest to singles.
Included will be workshops on integrating one's faith with one's work, understanding the opposite sex and learning to trust again after betrayal.
Fourteen motivational speakers will address the group.
Hazel Hall, age 60 and single, attended the first Mobilized To Serve conference in 1981, and has attended every year since then.
"The workshops offer something for everyone," Ms. Hall said from her home in Berlin, Ohio. "What I like is that it's not a matchmaking factory. It's refreshing to go to a mixed group where I'm not looked at like a piece of meat," Ms. Hall said. "The people at the conference are focused on something higher."
Angela Schneider, conference coordinator for Mobilized To Serve, expects the conference to draw 600 to 700 people. "We have a mailing list of 40,000 people from up and down the East Coast, as well as Canada," she said.
Steve Kohl, vice president of convention sales for the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, "Between the hotel, convention center and shopping venues, the conference will probably bring $250,000 into the local economy."
"This group visits the Falls every three years, so we try to roll out the red carpet for them."
After 16 years, Mr. Cavanaugh is heartened to see many inspirational outcomes of Mobilized To Serve.
"We have touched many lives," he said. "People have started businesses. People have started new careers. I have seen many young people move from a passive life to becoming involved. They are saying, 'Wait a minute, this is my moment on stage.'
"Several years ago, a young woman told me that her biggest goal in life was to get married and have children," said Mr. Cavanaugh. "I suggested to her that she follow her love for children. She enrolled in early childhood education courses at a local community college and began putting together ministry programs for young children. Today she travels around the country helping Christian and secular organizations develop children's programming."
"The singles ministry represents an amazingly diverse group of people. There is such potential for God's work through them," he said.
"So many people are waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right," he said. "They think that life will begin once they date, once they're a couple, once they marry, once they remarry. (From the beginning) we sought to inspire, encourage and challenge single people not to live a passive life, but to get involved with life."
For more information or to register for the conference, call 624-7518.