Singles wards have long been a staple of Latter-day Saint culture in the United States. The Church organized the first congregation for single people in 1956 in Provo, Utah to accommodate BYU students. However, in following decades, the church created singles wards to accommodate single people that are not students. In 2011, the church integrated the student wards and singles wards into one system using the name Young Single Adult (YSA). Section 14.4 of the General Handbook of the church describes that “Membership in a young single adult ward is temporary. Leaders help young single adults prepare to return to a conventional ward when they marry or reach age 31.”
Single members ages 18-30 years old can choose to attend YSA congregations or choose to attend a conventional congregation. A YSA branch needs a minimum of 50 active members and a ward needs 125. Included in that number is a requirement for a minimum of 15 active, full-tithe-paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders capable of serving in leadership positions. Where no such membership exists, local congregations and stakes may organize Sunday School classes, home evening groups, institute classes, or multi-stake activities to fellowship single adults.
Perhaps your idea of a singles ward is embodied by all the cringey elements in the 2002 film, The Singles Ward. Although the Church Handbook describes that “a central purpose of these activities is to help young single adults find marriage partners,” there are a number of equally important purposes of a YSA ward. (I highly recommend Kurt Francom’s interview with YSA stake president, Rob Ferrell, who advocates for empowering YSA members to lead in their congregations.)
The majority of YSA units are located close to Church-owned universities, in the Intermountain West, and in the large to medium sized cities in the United States and Canada. However, there are a few YSA units in other parts of the world:
- United Kingdom: London, Manchester
- Australia: Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast
- New Zealand: Auckland (1st and 2nd)
- Botswana, Gaborone
- Philippines: Manila
- Tonga: Liahona
- Kiribati: Tarawa
The Church-owned high schools in Tonga and Kiribati each have a YSA meeting on their campus. The YSA ward in Botswana stands out as the only in Africa. In 2019, Josie Gleave wrote about the organization the YSA ward that was organized in Singapore.
Although the General handbook says that local leaders can recommend the creation of YSA congregations, it appears that the church leadership is hesitant to organize too many YSA wards outside the United States. Until recently, no YSA congregations existed in Latin America. However, this changed in 2020, with the first YSA ward in Mexico City.
The Barrio JAS Politécnico (Politécnico YSA Ward) was organized in October of 2020 as part of the Mexico City Arbolillo Stake. The first gathering of this ward was limited to just 30 minutes because of pandemic restrictions. Each speaker had just two minutes to give their remarks. The ward even hosts Sunday School classes in both Spanish and English.
The ward is assigned to a chapel in the neighborhood of the Mexico Missionary Training Center and nearby institute building. The Missionary Training Center in Mexico City inhabits the site of the former church operated high school, El Centro Escolar Benemérito de las Américas. Until the time of its closure , the church operated a stake for students known as the Mexico City Zarahemla Stake. However, these wards served high school aged students, not people in the 18 to 30 age range. Many of the students who attended this high school may have the opportunity to attend the new Politécnico YSA ward. The closure of the school was difficult for many members. Hopefully the organization of this new YSA ward can build off the cultural legacy of those who attended the Benemérito.
One of the reasons cited by the area seventies for the creation of the ward is the number of YSA individuals who have moved from their home to study at universities in Mexico City. Indeed the Ward boundaries include the university Instituto Politécnico Nacional. It is unclear whether membership of the ward is limited to the boundaries on the church’s website. Judging by the size of the ward boundaries, it is likely that more YSA congregations may be organized in the future.
Elder Helamán Montejo of the area seventy in Mexico reported that for the moment, this type of ward has only been authorized for Mexico City. Depending on the success of this ward, YSA wards could be replicated in other parts of Mexico and Latin America. A number of institutes operate in the city and likely have enough students to form a ward. The creation of additional YSA wards could be a tremendous potential to attract young single adult converts and provide additional opportunities to marry fellow church members.
In the past, it appears the church had not organized YSA wards to not stretch thin the number of active members in local congregations. Wards outside the United States require only half as many members to be formed. In 2018, the church did a massive restructuring of the wards and stakes in Mexico City. In the process, there was a net decrease of approximately 70 congregations in the city. The restructuring was likely in an effort to increase the number of active members in each ward. With the congregations at a more robust size, it may be easier to cushion the blow of losing active Young Single Adults from these larger congregations.
It will be interesting to see how the church moves forward with YSA wards in Latin America. Will the Politécnico YSA ward be successful and will multiple YSA wards in the city be organized in the near future? When will YSA wards be created in other nations and blossom like a rose?