A new prayer group is meeting at our house tonight, before anyone steps through the door I know that nearly everyone else present will be women, as well as myself there will be, at most, one other man. It’s nothing new, for generations churches have wondered how to reach out to men.
I heard it suggested once that men were much more likely to respond to action and issues, but when I went along to a meeting of the peace and justice group in a local Catholic parish, I found I was the only man present. I turned to the religious sister who was chairing the meeting.
‘Don’t men do peace and justice?’
‘No, Ian’, came the terse reply, ‘that’s what’s wrong with the world.’
A conservative Catholic priest in a neighbouring parish says it’s all caused by the direction the Church has taken; men feel they no longer have a role. His explanation of the absence of men rests on the introduction of modern liturgy, the involvement of the laity, the increasing role given to women. I hesitated to point out that a local church that uses the Latin Mass and rejects everything associated with the 1960s, seems to be attended almost exclusively by women.
The suggestion that men have been alienated by innovation simply doesn’t hold water. If this were the case then Anglican churches that adhered rigidly to seventeenth liturgy and Scripture would be thronged with men; I am not aware of any examples of this happening. I haven’t encountered a single growing parish that would attribute its growth to the prose of Cranmer; the converse is often the case, the largest congregations and the most rapid growth are to be found in those churches that have discarded almost every vestige of Anglican tradition.
In a middle of the road Anglican parish, where are the men to be found? Sometimes, where you don’t expect them.
We use our 2004 contemporary liturgy at the early Communion on Sunday mornings. The congregation is rarely more than 7-8 people, but often they will all be men. During Lent we will hold midweek evening services, following some particular theme or course, the attendance will number 20-30, often with a male majority.
Men seem happier in a more structured, in a more formal setting. If my Catholic colleague’s suggestion has merit, it is not novelty that has driven men away, it is informality. Men’s organisations tend to be very formal; black tie dinners, carefully ordered ceremonies, pomp and circumstance and predictability.
When men do spiritual things, they like to do them in a hierarchical and ordered way, which rules out meeting for prayer in the front room of my house, which means the work of praying for our parish is left to the women. But, like men being absent, women doing all the work is nothing new.