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A singles scene free of bars, off the Web

First Friends, a new group, will offer activities and interaction - something that far more churches should do, one ministry leader says.

Published July 11, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Barbara DeFoe can't see herself in the bars or turning to the Internet in search of a date.

And Yvette Sequino, a divorced mother with two young sons, says bars and Internet matches haven't worked for her.

"I think dating, after you've been married and starting again, it's a completely different picture," she said. "I think we take it for granted that people will be treated with respect and dignity and not with just game playing."

A downtown church hopes to help. On Friday, First United Methodist Church will launch First Friends, a group that organizers say will offer adult singles opportunities to socialize and form friendships in an environment that is fun and free of pressure.

DeFoe, who is organizing Friday's kickoff, thinks the group will fill an important void.

"I will tell you, being a single person myself and knowing a lot of single people, we hate the way that we are introduced to other people," said the 50-year-old. "We hate the fact that to find somebody to go out with, you have to go online. I don't think that online dating is being honest. I think that what is put out for someone to see is not what you really are, but what you want to be. ... I hate the thought of putting my picture out there for everybody to see. To me, it's desperate."

Anne Slocumb, director of lay ministries at First United Methodist, said the idea for the group of "30-ish" to early 60s singles grew out of the church's DivorceCare ministry and participants who became friends.

The new group will be open to the community, she said. "We thought that being a downtown church that there might be a lot of other adult singles that don't want the bar scene."

Sequino, who is Catholic but attended the DivorceCare meetings at First United Methodist, said the group will offer "a nice alternative."

"For me, it hasn't been a positive experience out there," the 30-something mother said of bars. "Internet dating, I did try it and I found it to be incredibly disappointing. It's not real. It's like a lottery. It's another avenue to not be fully truthful. But some people do it successfully."

Dennis Franck, director of single adult and young adult ministries for the Assemblies of God denomination, said congregations should do more to serve unmarried, divorced and widowed people. Though there are 12,000 Assemblies of God congregations nationwide, only 2,400 have ministries for singles, he said.

"Single adults don't fit in our marriage- and family-focused churches," said Franck, speaking not just of churches within his denomination. "We need to reach out and target single adults because of the issues that they face."

Noting that there are 83-million single adults between the ages of 18 and 98 in the United States - 44 percent of the country's adults - Franck said churches need to capitalize on the group's tremendous resources in terms of time and flexibility.

"Single adults want to be included. They want to be connected. They want to be the family of God. They want to feel integrated, not just in the church services, but retreats, picnics, car washes."

Also, Frank said, speaking by telephone from the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Mo., congregations need to help singles address issues such as how to develop healthy friendships, manage money and handle their sexuality "in this sex-saturated world."

Churches can be a source of "quality dates and mates," he said, but many are afraid of "the meat market image."

At First United Methodist, the new singles group will be primarily social, DeFoe said.

"We will survey the attendees to see where their interests and needs lie and try to design programs that will best serve the majority," she said in an e-mail. "I hope we will do community service projects, learning activities and other projects that will interest single adults."

DeFoe said the group also will offer support and counseling.

"I think the name First Friends says a lot," she said. "I think you have to be friends first. The whole thing is that if you want to have a good time, you can do it in a group setting first and it is safe, secure. You don't have to worry about it, no expectations."

A Night of Firsts with First Friends, 7 to 10 p.m. Friday,fellowship hall, First United Methodist Church of St. Petersburg, 212 Third St. N. Music by the Robert Michaels Band, dance instructions by Salsa in St. Pete With Greg. Snacks and nonalcoholic beverages. $5. Call (727) 492-5455.

[Last modified July 10, 2006, 19:30:15]

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