Josie Mason slipped into a store at National Hills Shopping Center and peered out the window. A sales clerk asked if she could help.
"No, I'm just hiding out," she said. Ms. Mason explained that she'd answered a singles ad and had agreed to a blind date but now she wanted to check him out first.
"You don't have to do this. You can go to Christian Singles and meet some people," the clerk said.
That was about five years ago, said Ms. Mason, a nurse at Brandon Wilde who has become a regular at the Christian Singles Organization's weekly dances.
Christian Singles is a non-denominational club that started about 18 years ago and now has about 200 members, said Ms. Mason. Membership is open to any single adult 18 and up and costs $25 a year. Nonmembers pay a higher admission price for activities.
Like many regulars in Christian Singles and other adult singles groups at Augusta-Aiken area churches, Ms. Mason has been married before.
For new college graduates or for those once married and single again, it can be tricky to figure out where they fit in. "Churches tend to be more user friendly to families," said the Rev. Chip Edens, assistant rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He works with St. Paul's adult singles group, Saints and Sinners.
Davida Durden, a member of Saints and Sinners, said, "I'm an adult, I'm single. The (Episcopal) women's group was fun but this is like my retreat from the rest of the church, kind of like my own little secret. We have such a great time."
St. Paul's year-old group numbers about 20. Members have teamed up for backgammon and Trivial Pursuit games at a local bar and dined at a local restaurant. Later this month they will go to Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers. In the fall, they will head to Kanuga Conference Center in the North Carolina mountains for a retreat.
"We want to get involved in other activities - chaperoning the youth group, giving service at the soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, the historic heritage commission," said Ms. Durden.
It is easier for singles rather than those married with children to reach out sometimes, said Tom Keller, intern minister of singles at Curtis Baptist Church. Mr. Keller met his wife Amy in the singles group.
He started working with the 80-member group in April. "We are growing, God's not in a hurry. It is hard to see growth day to day, but we can see some growth in interest and more people giving their ideas and opinions about what direction they want to go in."
Curtis single Danny Eden said the group has an ebb and flow. "Summer months can be kind of tough with vacations," said Mr. Eden, a senior systems analyst at Medical College of Georgia.
He joined the group Thanksgiving 1989. After a friendly admonition from a Christian boss who said, "I know you know there is more to life than what you are doing," he decided to check out a holiday dinner at Curtis.
In a short time, he recognized he had been fooling himself, that he had been straying from his Christian roots. "Singles hold me accountable," said Mr. Eden. "How is your struggle going against anger? How is your attitude? Are you praying every day? Accountability is the most overlooked aspect of the singles."
Sheila O'Rourke, a member of Curtis singles since she joined the church 10 years ago, tends to shy away from bars and the secular singles scene, she said.
"I'm more involved with church. It's a very full life," said the sixth-grade teacher at Spirit Creek Middle School.
Singles have established themselves as a vital part of the congregation at Abilene Baptist Church. "Whatever the need, the singles jump in. They are growing in fellowship and growing in service and dedication. There is a great crossover. They really feel a part of the church body and not isolated," said the Rev. Tom Crites, associate minister. The singles group numbers about 100.
Abilene singles get together two or three times a week, he said. Besides Bible study, Sunday school and retreats together, they've gone on weekend getaways for skiing, rafting, canoeing and the beach. They also enjoy playing miniature golf and bowling together and dinner or lunch at member's homes or restaurants, said the Rev. Crites.
The local Jewish community encourages its singles to try Atlanta, Savannah or Charleston for activities and fellowship, said Mike Pousman, director of the Jewish Community Center. "They have some fun and meet each other professionally and socially," he said. For spiritual encouragement, they may hold a shabaton, a sabboth weekend experience, starting with dinner on Friday evening and maybe closing Sunday morning, he said.
In the fall, they hope to organize groups from Augusta for trips, he said.
Romance can bloom between the prayers and the dances for the Christian Singles.
About a year ago, Ann Lewis and three friends from Thomson decided to go to a Christian Singles dance. Ms. Lewis, a widow, remembered her mother going in 1982 after her father had died. "My husband died at 42 (in 1991), I'm young or at least feel young," she said.
Two of the group met a special someone at the dance, said Ms. Lewis, a teacher at Dearing Elementary School in McDuffie County. "One married in May and the other is getting married July 27th," she said.
Relationships take time and commitment, said Ms. Mason, who has dated four men from the club. People have to be ready for dating and willing to give it time, she said.
"For a lot of people the thought of getting married again is overwhelming. If you meet Mr. or Ms. Right, well, that's great. But it's better not to go looking for that," she said.
BREAKOUT BOX INFORMATION
Dances are from 8 until 11 p.m. Saturdays. At 10 p.m., the group takes a break for prayer and intercession.
No alcohol is allowed. Smoking is only allowed outside the building.