UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Sidebar: What I learned about men in the United Church

By Gary Paterson


In my three years as United Church moderator, I visited churches across the country and noticed that there aren’t a lot of men in our congregations. There is sadness and some wistfulness about this reality. And lots of questions: Where are the younger men? How might the United Church speak to men’s concerns? What are those issues?

Long gone are the days of the patriarchal cliché: “Men in the pulpits, women in the pews.” And gone are the days when men found a home on the property or finance committees, showing up on the occasional Saturday to do some painting and hammering. Most men know this is a very good thing. But the question remains: what now?

Some people talk about the “feminization” of the church, but it’s not always clear what that means. Is it that leadership is now shared among women and men? That the activities of many church groups are felt to be more appealing to women? That men prefer to “do” and “act” rather than “share”? That “muscular Christianity” (whatever that is) has disappeared? Sometimes it’s difficult to raise such questions for fear of coming across as sexist. And though it may often be sexist, it’s a conversation that still needs to happen.

Men miss the company of other men and wish there were more guys in church. Men’s groups, while not as common as in former times, are still sprinkled across the church. Sometimes they’re just a chance to rub shoulders, to catch up on “stuff.” But sometimes they’re also an opportunity to share deeper concerns and questions.

More gay men are finding a home in our congregations. The United Church is one of the few denominations to affirm that the variety of sexual orientations is a cause for celebration. So we have more than our “statistical share” of gay men in leadership and in the pews, in big cities and in small communities — which is good news.

There is more discussion about men’s spirituality — not a lot, but these days a conversation about male spiritual archetypes no longer draws guffaws. Catholic author Richard Rohr’s description of the two spiritual movements in a person’s life — the first 40 years “getting it all together”; the next half, figuring out how to “let it go” — has particular resonance for men, who too often feel defined by their achievements and accomplishments, and are therefore less comfortable with the “letting go” part of the journey.

In August 2014, I attended Rendez-vous, a national United Church event that drew over 450 youth and young adults. More young women than young men, perhaps a ratio of three to one, but still, lots of enthusiastic guys. One of the speakers was Wab Kinew, a CBC journalist, author and the son of a residential school survivor. He talked about his annual participation in a sundance ceremony, an Indigenous spiritual celebration that includes dancing, feasting, singing, praying, fasting and time in a sweat lodge. It culminates in a ritual where young men are tethered to a pole by a rawhide rope attached to pegs piercing the skin of their chests. They dance until the pegs tear loose, which can take a while. Kinew shared how holy this ceremony was for him: a time of connection with his Creator; a personal sacrifice, not just for himself, but for family and community.

The Rendez-vous crowd was riveted, filled, I thought, with a yearning for such a ceremony in their own faith tradition, a ritual that demanded something of them. These young people wanted to pray with their bodies, to stretch their physical limits. They wanted to be asked to sacrifice. Am I crazy to think this is a “guy thing”? Or maybe it’s a young person’s hunger for an experience that tests and changes them? One thing I know for sure: confirmation doesn’t do it!

Recently, I participated in a planning session for the 2016 Banff Men’s Conference, an annual gathering for United Church men. In the midst of the conversation, one man said, “I wish my son would attend the conference. He’s in his 30s, married, kids, interesting job. He’s a good man. I invited him to come, and he said, “Why? Why do I need faith? My life is full; I’m happy, busy. Tell me what would be different if I were to go to the conference, or to church for that matter?”

Maybe that’s the real question. Men aren’t staying away from church because they’re hurt or angry or they
disagree with the position the church has on this or that social issue. Maybe men — and women — are absent because church is irrelevant. It doesn’t ask much of them, and it doesn’t make a difference.

That’s a hard thing for me to write, and I know it’s only part of the picture. But the church has a responsibility to discover new ways of sharing the Gospel with a younger generation of men, presenting a life-changing invitation to follow Jesus. How we are going to do that is a challenging and exciting question.

Very Rev. Gary Paterson is a former United Church moderator.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image