Sharon L. Bratcher
Reformed Harmony began as something of a joke. Five years ago, about thirty people who were a part of a Reformed Facebook group decided to start their own—specifically for singles. “Welcome to Reformed Harmony,” their description reads, “the group that will love you until somebody else does.”
Currently, the cover photo is a cartoon of two dumpster fires, partially submerged and smiling together in scuba gear.
Unexpectedly, membership in the Facebook group grew to two hundred the first year, then six hundred, and currently clocks in at almost a thousand members from the United States, Canada, and around the world. Impressive, considering that you’re expected to leave if your status changes to “married.”
It not only has members, it has members who interact frequently and consistently. According to Sarah Wolfe, a former administrator of the group, Reformed Harmony receives special access to Facebook’s reports and assistance because the group is so active.
“The group may be light-hearted,” said administrator Joe Tenney, “but it accomplishes a serious end. Sometimes God uses foolish things. RH accidentally hit a niche and became something that has filled a need: a safe, healthy community where people can work out their issues and hurts.” Tenney is a Reformed Baptist in Virginia who met his wife, Rachel, a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, through the group.
Some singles in the church wrestle with the expectation that they haven’t really started their lives until they are married. Loneliness “is at the forefront of the struggles of single Christians in their twenties,” believes Taylor DeSoto, a Reformed Baptist who was one of the original brains behind Reformed Harmony. Many members of the group find themselves in small and isolated Reformed communities, leaving them floundering socially even while surrounded by excellent preaching and families who love them, DeSoto explained. At Reformed Harmony, they can revel in getting to know other Christian singles who are also serious about their faith.
Reformed Harmony has also been an impetus for some to return to attending worship regularly, underscoring its respect for the local church.
“Reformed Harmony has never intended in any way to take the place of one’s own church,” Wolfe said. “It’s not a church, and people don’t treat it as if it is. There is constant exhortation from the group to go to your own pastor and elders, and to seek to serve in your local church.”
Despite its name, “Harmony,” which immediately evokes thoughts of e-Harmony, the group is not a dating site. “This is not a dating site,” the description reads.
“You are not there to ‘sell’ yourself or impress anybody. You don’t just browse through available people,” Wolfe said.
However, in four years, eighty-five couples have met through Reformed Harmony. Some of the marriages have been local, and others have crossed state and even international lines. Most couples are in their twenties or thirties, but some are older.
Taylor DeSoto met his wife, Laura, through Reformed Harmony; they became acquainted through “structured Skype dates” before meeting in person. Laura grew up in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The structured dates were partly the idea of Laura’s father, Bob McKelvey, an OPC minister in Pennsylvania. “I think there’s a great need for Reformed Harmony, since Reformed churches tend to be small,” McKelvey said.
As with any virtual group, Reformed Harmony is vulnerable to irresponsible or malicious users. But McKelvey was comfortable with his daughter’s participation. “There’s a tendency to not be very accepting of such a ministry out of fear for the dangers of the internet, but as long as there are safeguards in place … I don’t think we need to steer away from it.”
Reformed Harmony’s safeguards are its administrators, who monitor discussions and stop inappropriate comments and behaviors.
The group also encourages “real life” interaction. Every day, there are Google Hangout discussion groups on political and theological as well as lighter topics. And right from the beginning, group members have organized Meetups with others from the group, an easy process through meetup.com. Meetups have drawn anywhere from five to eighty group members and have been held in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, California, Kentucky, Arizona, Washington, and New York.
I have a personal connection to Reformed Harmony. Kevin Bratcher, my son, met his wife through the group.
He attended his first Meetup, however, with some trepidation. Held in Phoenix, Arizona, about thirty people were expected, of whom he had interacted with about five online. Afterward, he reflected that, “while we had many different backgrounds, the sense of fellowship was so clear to everyone there.” He chatted for hours with people he’d never talked to before, played games, and joined a local charity event with several friends.
“I left with a profound sense of awe and gratefulness at the common connection we had,” he said.
Bratcher attended a few more Meetups, and each time sensed the same community.
“Whether it’s splitting an Airbnb with five men you’ve never met for a conference in Atlanta, or piling sixty people into a couple homes in Seattle, or retreating with just a handful of folks to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone … you’re at home.”
Bratcher’s friend Scott Vander Molen, who has also attended Meetups organized by Reformed Harmony, described them with thankfulness. “Everyone is so welcoming and accepting of each other for who they are … by the end of the weekend you feel very close to your new friends.”
For more information, open up a Facebook account and type “Reformed Harmony” in the search bar.
The author is a member of Providence Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Southfield, Michigan. New Horizons, November 2019.