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Singles find fellowship through Episcopal group

Ask a single person of a certain age how to find other singles, and the typical respondent is likely to swear by online dating.

Certainly, dating websites are popular with the over-40 set, and almost everyone these days knows someone who has met a mate while cyberflirting.

But computer dating is not for everyone, and members of a new Richmond-area singles group say they much prefer the old-fashioned method of meeting face-to-face.

One year ago, they founded the group Episcopal Singles, which originally targeted members of local Episcopal churches but now welcomes members of all faiths and backgrounds.

On Feb. 11, Episcopal Singles will hold its second annual meet-and-greet event, and members are looking forward to adding a diverse group of newcomers to the fold. The first meet-and-greet in February 2011 drew three dozen people, who were surveyed about their interests and added to an email list. Since then, the group has gathered at a variety of local restaurants and such venues as Celtic Evensong at St. Stephen's, the Memorial Day Patrick Henry re-enactment at St. John's, a Taize service at Richmond Hill, and a private party at the St. Patrick's Irish Festival.

Sandston resident Karla Hunt, a widow since the mid-1990s, is among the founding members who has been gratified by the enthusiastic response.

"I feel like we kind of hit a chord," said Hunt, noting that quarterly events have drawn a diverse group of participants ranging in age from late thirties to retired senior citizens. All members are encouraged to email the group and suggest additional activities.

Clergy are encouraged to attend as well, and at least one pastor has taken part.

Getting connected
Recalling the first years after her husband died -- leaving her with daughters ages 5 and 10 -- she said she was initially in shock, then overwhelmed with going back to school and getting a job to support the family.

Once she was established in her geology career, Hunt found a social life in contra dancing for awhile, and began dabbling in a few dating websites.

"But it's really hard to get to know someone electronically," said Hunt, noting that one-on-one communication doesn't provide enough social context. "I want to meet in a group and see how [a dating interest] interacts with others.

"And once you meet, it's not easy to get out of [an unwanted relationship]."

As her daughters got older and Hunt began contemplating an empty nest, she realized she needed to renew her efforts to establish social connections and seek intellectual stimulation.

Since her church life and religion are so important to her, she reasoned, it made sense to find others with similar mindsets. In time, she came to the conclusion that "if I'm going to meet someone single and Episcopal, I'm going to have to do it myself."

A long-time member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Hunt distributed a notice through various church bulletins, and collected a core group of other interested singles who helped plan a schedule of events.

"We don't have dues or a lot of rules. It's just a group of people who like to get together," said Hunt.

Ice breakers, sippers, and dippers
Fellow St. John's member Eunice Loewy had rotator cuff surgery last year and missed the meet-and-greet, but has attended about half the events so far. Loewy said she was pleased with the options provided, and the fact that they were religion-based. "That is what is needed in this world.

"There is a commonality among the Episcopal singles," added Loewy, "which we can all appreciate, and that is fellowship. We are a very friendly and welcoming bunch; and speaking for myself, [we're] not looking for a 'meat' market, which I find [with] online dating and the bar scene."

Betsy White attended last year's meet-and-greet with some friends from St. Stephen's Church because, she said, "It sounded like a fun thing to do." Since then, she has enjoyed deepening the friendships she made at the initial meeting.

"There is a diversity of life and work experiences in the group," said White. "There are never-married singles as well as widows and widowers and divorced singles, which makes for an all-inclusive supportive bunch of people."

White, who has socialized with such groups as her college alumni association and special interest clubs, says the Episcopal Singles group stands out for its informal atmosphere, relaxed expectations and casual conversation. "[The group] encourages people of like interests to socialize in some depth together," said White, "and to just plain have fun as they get to know each other better."

Hunt notes that upcoming get-togethers include a March Bluegrass Mass at St. Thomas' Episcopal, and the May 27 re-enactment of Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech at St. John's. For those who prefer less religiously-oriented gatherings, there will be occasional stand-alone restaurant meals as well.

Sharing in such varied experiences with the group, said White, has made her realize how fortunate Richmonders are to enjoy so many resources that enhance both spiritual and social life. Citing Richmond Hill, the Roslyn Diocesan Center, and an abundance of church parish houses among the resources, White also showered praise on Hunt for her "energy, enthusiasm, and foresight" in putting the group together.

"The fact that most of us have something in common, our church homes, provides ice breakers that one doesn't always get when ice clunks around in your glass while sitting up at a bar," said White. "Whether you are low church or high church or a sipper or a dipper at communion, this group beats the bar scene.

"Happy first anniversary to [Episcopal Singles]," White concluded, "and may there be many many more."

Episcopal Singles will host its second annual Meet and Greet for singles of any denomination in the Richmond area on February 11 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Parish Hall of Historic St. John's Church on Church Hill. Episcopal singles, laity and clergy, Diocese of Virginia and Diocese of Southern Virginia, are especially encouraged to attend. For information, contact Karla Hunt at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). or visit Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/episcopalsingles
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