Schmoozing My Religion

Urban singles look for love along the spiritual path

Sometime next year, Offenberg plans to start up "Express Dating," which is kind of like power shopping and sorority rush at the same time. The no-nonsense approach brings about 20 to 30 people together in a coffee-shop setting. Participants pair up to talk for 15 to 20 minutes, and then move on to talk with someone else, and so on. The rules prohibit a few questions -- What do you do for a living? -- but the rest is up to the minglers. Everyone fills out a card noting who he or she is interested in getting to know better. And matches are notified.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has a few tricks of its own to draw in the young, urban crowd. In August, the Archdiocese of San Francisco named Sister Christine Wilcox its first director of young adult ministries. A young thirtysomething herself, who returned to the church at age 21, Wilcox is ready for action. Actually, the Catholic Church nationwide began a movement to reach out to young adults a couple of years ago.

The church's annual "Fall Fest," a convention of sorts where the 20- to 30-year-olds attend different seminars on faith and personal issues, drew a record crowd of 350 people this year. Much like Offenberg, Wilcox is looking to borrow successful ideas from other parts of the country.

Yossi Offenberg, Jewish program manager at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, believes that if you feed the mind, the heart will follow.
Paul Trapani
Yossi Offenberg, Jewish program manager at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, believes that if you feed the mind, the heart will follow.

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"Theology on Tap," for instance, is where speakers and small groups of parishioners meet in local bars to discuss topics. The nonalcoholic version is called "Holy Grounds," and, of course, meets in coffee shops.

"You have to go where they are," says Wilcox, echoing a theory followed by Offenberg as well.

"We find that young adults are really looking for more than just a party," adds Wilcox. "There is a big movement to explore their spirituality and that means in their life."

The church, she says, has seen an upswing in volunteerism and small, faith-sharing groups among 20- to 40-year-olds. And, again, if you should happen to meet someone special along the way, all the better.

"I think some people are looking for a partner, and wherever that might be found is certainly going to be an attractive place to be," Wilcox says.

For a good number of people, it's been St. Dominic's Church on Bush Street. While certainly not defined as a "singles" group, the young adult (20 to 40) crew here is dominated by single, professional people.

For instance, Scott Moyer runs a software company from his home. About a year after he moved to the city, he attended the Wednesday night meeting for young adults at St. Dominic's, hoping to meet new people. Six and a half years later, Moyer is head of the group's planning committee.

The group's mailing list has grown to about 300. Any given Wednesday is likely to bring in 50 or so people, depending on the topic, and special events draw about 150. The group outgrew its meeting room a couple of years ago and had to move to another part of the church.

"We have people who are new to the city and they're looking to meet people and make friends," Moyer says. "People who have been in other areas of the country who have had similar experiences are looking to repeat that.

"A decent number of people have walked into the group and you [can see] their fears ... they're afraid of walking into a group of Holy Rollers or Bible thumpers and that's not who they are," Moyer says. "They're looking for faith or meaning in their lives."

The group has had heated debates over physician-assisted suicide and the death penalty, and its members have served the hungry at St. Anthony's kitchen. Sunday night mass generally draws a younger crowd at St. Dominic's, and most of the Wednesday night group has taken to staying after mass for wine and cheese.

Krissie Carlson, a 28-year-old who works in public relations, began attending regular activities with the St. Dominic's young adult group about six months ago.

"I went to college in the area, so I have a lot of friends in the area," says Carlson. "But it's nice to meet new people and do things with them.

"I think people are really trying to find a place where they feel comfortable," she adds. "It's easy to get caught up in the craziness of San Francisco -- it's all about what you're wearing and how you look -- these people are not like that. It's a relaxing atmosphere."

Moyer and Carlson also report that the St. Dominic's group has seen its share of dating and a handful of engagements.

"People come in looking to meet that special somebody, who want to look in a Catholic social setting," says Moyer. "Many people just end up dating. It's probably better in some ways, but it's also very community-based [meaning, everyone knows everyone else], and dating has its own challenges in that setting."

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