Lonely Christians pray to Cupid

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The Independent Online
"FOR WHAT we are about to receive..." Holy huddles of young Christians said grace in restaurants all over London last night, each hoping that the Lord would make them truly thankful for something more than food - a kiss, a cuddle maybe (without being led too far into temptation) or, best of all, a wedding.

The mass blind date involving 200 people was the latest response to a crisis in the evangelical church - there are simply not enough men to go round.

A whole new industry is working full-time to fire Cupid's arrows for God: everything from small-time Christian dating agencies who advertise themselves as "low-priced and Biblical", to glamorous events such as last night's exodus to the West End.

The Lord's lonely-hearts got to know each other over candlelight and wine in groups of ten, before meeting up at a nightclub in Jermyn Street, where the sanctified playlist did not include "Let's Talk About Sex, Baby".

Neither was anyone likely to wake up with a stranger asking "Did the Red Sea part for you?" because celibacy before marriage is a given among these born-again boppers. They travelled to the date from all over Britain, in the hope of meeting a life partner.

"These are not saddos by any means," said Ian Gregory, a 36-year-old, single television producer, who organised the event. "Some of them are gorgeous." There are almost a third more women than men among this country's one million evangelical Christians, including a growing number of eligible females whose determination to save themselves for a fellow believer means they are in danger of being left on the shelf.

The few men that are left feel under pressure, worried that even an invitation to coffee might be taken as something rather more serious. Churches are like goldfish bowls, in which every fledgling relationship is closely examined by the rest of the congregation.

Man-hunting Christian women within the M25 have been known to spurn their local vicar and commute every Sunday to attend Holy Trinity Brompton, Britain's most famous and most fashionable church, where the well-to-do congregation includes eligible lawyers, City brokers and media starlets.

Mr Gregory - who describes himself as a "would-be practising heterosexual" - is a member of HTB (otherwise known as Hunt The Bride). With the church's approval he has has set up a company called Simple Ideas, which runs glamorous black-tie balls at venues such as HMS Belfast, the Cafe Royal and the Park Lane Hotel.

"The pagans have all the best parties," he said. "I am determined to see that change."

Evangelical preachers are quick to recite St Paul's advice that Christians should not be "unequally yoked" with non-believers but practical pastoral help is often either heavy handed - amounting to "do not touch bits you have not got" - or non-existent. "If you are a Jew, a Hindu, a Sikh or a Muslim your religious community usually sees it as a priority to help you find a marriage partner, to safeguard its own future," said Gregory. "The church takes a more laissez-faire attitude."

His book No Sex Please, We're Single was published by a specialist Christian company last year and sold out fast. It pulls no punches: "Next time the hands are wandering under the clothes or fumbling with buttons, zips and fasteners, stop. Stop now because in a few seconds' time it will be even harder to cool down. Distract yourself from your ardour. Remember that you've got to phone your mother, feed the cat or put the dustbin out. Anything to help you flee from evil."

While everyone is welcome to attend the balls - "we see it as a great form of evangelism" - only those who are "strong in the faith" are allowed to join Choices, which uses techniques from the world of executive business recruitment to find potential partners among the devout. Those whose behaviour does not match their alleged faith are asked to leave.

Joanna has met men like that, who did not meet her high standards. She is 38 years old and obviously attractive in her tan trouser suit, with immaculate nails and tumbling blonde hair. But Joanna is saving herself.

"I believe God has a perfect plan for me, that he will send the right man," she says.

She did meet a handsome fellow on a skiing holiday run by Christians, and thought he might be the one. "He turned out to be a bit too fast for me. He didn't have that much self-discipline." He didn't call his mother quickly enough. She broke off the relationship quickly. "Looking back, I wasn't too kind to him."

Joanna left HTB last year for a chapel in Victoria, where she lives. Her longest relationship, which lasted six years, was with a non-believer. It became abusive at the end, making her determined to find someone who shares the faith in which she has found comfort. "I have been proposed to six times, but they were not suitable. One was a girlfriend's brother, who asked me at a ball at the Hurlingham Club, but he had only known me 10 days. I will know when it is right."

Other Christian men seem terrified of relationships, said Joanna, who admits that she has no time left to let things develop casually. "I'm not interested in flings. I just want to meet my husband."

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