This spring, local leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) displaced hundreds of members when they announced that they would re-enforce the age limit for young singles wards, congregations set up expressly for single adults ages 21 to 30 (“The Church of Latter-day Singles,” 7/29). But for all the displaced Mormon singles who despaired over having to leave those fertile socializing grounds for family-oriented ones, take heart: There’s a place for you yet. On Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Alexandria, the Mount Vernon Institute for single adults held its first class.
The institute is the brainchild of Lewis Larsen, the bishop of the Alexandria family ward. Young singles wards have held institutes for years, but with such a strong fresh-out-of-college vibe there, older singles often feel out of place. According to Larsen, the Alexandria and Crystal City wards have the largest population of single Mormons 31 and older in all of Northern Virginia, and after the crackdown on the young singles wards, several area bishops voiced concerns over these “mid-singles,” a loosely defined age range that begins at 31 and ends somewhere in the 40s. “The whole idea of this is to allow more and more wards with over-31 singles in their congregations to come together and meet more people,” says Larsen, whose proposal was quickly approved by his superior.
In June, Larsen enlisted Karin Biddulph to start organizing the institute, and she was later called to serve as its president. At 31, Biddulph had just aged out of the singles-ward scene herself. Now a member of the Alexandria family ward, where she jokes there aren’t nearly as many single men as she would like, Biddulph was eager to help. “I felt good about being called to be the institute president, because I felt like it needed to happen,” she says.
The institute is an hourlong Bible-study class on Wednesday evenings at the Alexandria ward house, followed by some snacks that encourage people to linger longer. The primary objective of any institute is spiritual growth, of course, but the gatherings are also welcome opportunities to socialize. LDS members aren’t likely to go hang out at bars, so sugar replaces booze at Mormon happy hours.
So far, people have indeed been lingering at the Mount Vernon institute. Class ends at 8:30 p.m., and Biddulph says that when she leaves, usually an hour later, there are still people chatting. The mingling is less hormonal than at young singles wards; with participants mostly settled in their lives and careers, they aren’t interested in dating games, and discretion rules the day. “I don’t look at a guy and say, ‘Wow, I want to marry him,’” says Biddulph. “It’s about making friendships and building on those friendships.”
The institute drew 70 attendees its first week. By the third week, class began in the main sanctuary with just a dozen people. The crowd eventually grew to 42 as stragglers filed in, some slipping into pews with just a few minutes to go. Though the institute was created with mid-singles in mind, its doors are open to everyone; a handful of couples and gray-hairs sat among the attendees.
So far, the institute hasn’t yielded any new love connections. “We’re only in our third week!” laughs Biddulph. “Give us time. We’re fast, but we’re not that fast.”
“If there were any couples, we’d probably announce it,” adds Larsen. “We’d be thrilled.”
One Wednesday night, institute attendees file into the foyer for after-class cookies and milk. Allen Mosley, 34, has driven from Woodbridge, Va., for every institute since its inception. Mosley attends a family ward with just a handful of singles like him, so when he heard that people were mingling in Alexandria, he eagerly made the trip. “I came to meet other singles, but I think I’m going to get something good out of this, whether or not I came for the right reasons,” he says.CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.