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INTERFAITH GROUP SEEKS TO FULFILL SPIRITUAL, SOCIAL NEEDS OF SINGLES

If you're single, there's a downside to living in the City of Good Neighbors.

So many of those neighbors are members of close-knit, family groups that unrelated, unmarried people find it difficult to make new friends.

Bars are not the place to look, many singles say. Neither are most churches.

That's why a group of singles is forming a faith-based organization to provide social and spiritual activities for Buffalo's unattached. It is open to anyone 30 and older.

"I don't think most of us see this as a dating type of group," said Nancy Hanavan, a member of the organization's advisory board.

"That may happen," she acknowledges, "but it is meant to be a way for singles to increase their circle of friends and to find people they have something in common with."

The Rev. Ward B. Ewing, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, one of three churches that initially supported the new organization, agrees that Buffalo can be a lonely town for singles.

"There are few places where singles can meet where people talk about issues of loneliness and career as singles would approach them or about illness and loss of job," he said. "The support system for singles in Buffalo is very slim."

The new organization, known as the Buffalo Interfaith Singles Network, will hold its first major gathering at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave. A $5 charge will cover snacks and other expenses.

"Our goal is to attract at least 200 people to the meeting," said Tim Wadkins, director of the interfaith group.

Wadkins and other organizers are using Quest and Crossroads, two recently established Catholic groups, as models for the new organization.

"The difference is that Quest and Crossroads are Catholic and largely suburban. We are Protestant, and we are trying to center this in urban Buffalo," he said.

Crossroads is an organization for single, divorced and widowed Catholics who are 40 and older. Quest is for single and married Catholics between 21 and 40.

The activities planned by the Buffalo Interfaith Singles Network will be determined by the interests of members. They might include theater and dinner outings, volleyball and bowling, spiritual life seminars, divorce recovery workshops and opportunities for community service such as work with Habitat for Humanity.

Organizers of both the Catholic organizations and the new group say that most churches focus on the needs of families, particularly those with children, but offer little for singles.

"The single-professional population of Buffalo is quite large, but it is generally an alienated group in what is predominantly a couple-family metropolitan area," said Wadkins, a professor of religious studies at Canisius College.

In many city churches, he said, the needs of singles have been neglected because those institutions are "concerned primarily with families and the needs for social justice in the inner-city."

Westminster and Trinity Episcopal are exceptions -- each with its own singles group.

Ms. Hanavan, community resources coordinator at Haven House and a member of Westminster, said she is helping organize the Buffalo Interfaith Singles Network because the Westminster singles group invited the Trinity Episcopal singles group to meet with them.

"I got into a conversation with Tim. He had been thinking about organizing a bigger group," she said.

"I hear all the time that Buffalo is notoriously bad for single people," Ms. Hanavan said. "It's hard to meet other people."

Father Ewing noted that much of Buffalo's night life revolves around going to a restaurant and then to the theater.

"If you are by yourself, going to dinner and then to Studio Arena is not much fun," he said.

Wadkins said the gathering at Westminster Church will include a period of socializing, small group discussion and information on future events. Those attending will determine what future events will be.

Ms. Hanavan said she envisions a combination of special-interest activities for small groups of people and larger events that will be of interest to everyone.

A meeting to determine if there was sufficient interest to start a singles organization was sponsored in October by Trinity Episcopal, Westminster and Holy Trinity Lutheran churches.

With only word-of-mouth publicity, more than 50 people showed up, and most were not members of the three sponsoring churches, Wadkins said.

"Most came because they have found no opportunities in this area to meet and interact with other singles," he said. "Most were professionals in various capacities."

The organizers of the new group are hoping that individual churches will begin creating singles' programs that might attract Network members. Joint activities with Crossroads also are a goal.

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