Anyone wonder why the Mormons do so well at marrying off their young? I learned why last Sunday when I dropped by the ward in Chevy Chase, a brick building on Western Avenue. Sharply dressed 20-something women and men in white shirts and ties chatted in the foyer underneath scenes from the Book of Mormon. A few couples clasped hands.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' percentage of married members (71 percent) is second only to Hindus (79 percent), according to the Pew Forum. Every other religious group ranges from 57 percent to 60 percent.
One reason for these Mormon twosomes is that their church actively fosters meet-ups. There are whole Young Single Adult (YSA) wards for the 18-to-30-year-old set, such as Colonial 1 in Alexandria, which is loaded with single law students, lawyers and Capitol Hill worker bees.
The YSA ward I visited has 225 members, not including interns. Despite an annual turnover of 45 percent, it averages 24 marriages a year, about 15 percent of the ward.
"That's a pretty good number even though it sounds small," its bishop, Brad Bryan, told me.
Small? It sounds fabulous to me. At my former church of 800 in Northern Virginia, we had less than a handful of marriages per year. Not only do the Latter-day Saints have a marriage-positive culture (some joke it was a bit too positive back in the 19th century), they do make it easy for the post-college crowd to meet at these wards.
"If you believe in the value of critical mass, you have more selection there," said Bishop Bryan, who is married and the father of five. "Also, people there have a common set of values so you create opportunity for them to interact."
Sundays include a three-hour block of services, followed by "linger longer" meetings where members can chat. On Mondays, singles have a "family home night" at the church. Tuesdays and Wednesdays offer Bible studies. Thursdays, members can tutor inner-city kids. Fridays and Saturdays include dances and cultural events.
On Memorial Day weekend, several hundred single Mormons will meet to play and pray on the beach at Duck, N.C., in the Outer Banks. LDS'ers come from all over the East Coast.
"What you are trying to do is provide opportunities for people to meet someone in the proper setting," the bishop told me. "These people are all active members who'd like to get married."
According to Pew, Mormons have one of the most lopsided gender ratios of any religion: 44 percent men and 56 percent women, making it all the more important that every available man be pressed into service. The Chevy Chase ward ratio is 36 percent men to 64 percent women.
These wards are not for everyone, said Matthew Bowman, 29, a member of Colonial 1 until he transferred out last year. He said singles-only wards were high-energy places geared mainly for the extroverted.
"There is this hyper-awareness there that we are here to find someone to marry," added Mr. Bowman, who is single. "That for me took away something in terms of worshipping God. Mormon worship is very businesslike and straightforward to begin with, but that combined with all the incipient matchmaking - and the constant jokes and references about singles - altered the notion of worship."
Julia Duin's Stairway to Heaven column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.