(Vancouver Sun) Faced with ”˜feminization,’ churches want to reach men

[The] Rev. Nancy Talbot feels like one of the more blessed female clergy. When the North Vancouver minister looks out on the pews on any given Sunday, she feels fortunate her small congregation is slowly growing and that at least men make up roughly three in 10 of those at worship.

The gender imbalance could be far worse. The minister at Mount Seymour United Church is painfully aware men have been quietly, but in huge numbers, streaming away from many of North America’s Christian churches.

“I don’t think many of us have answers to why it’s happening,” says Talbot, who has led Mount Seymour United for eight years while raising two boys in a same-sex relationship with her partner, Brenda.

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14 comments on “(Vancouver Sun) Faced with ”˜feminization,’ churches want to reach men

  1. wyclif says:

    [blockquote] “I don’t think many of us have answers to why it’s happening,” says Talbot, who has led Mount Seymour United for eight years while raising two boys in a same-sex relationship with her partner, Brenda. [/blockquote]

    Words fail me. Perhaps she’ll one day develop an ability to step outside of her little politically-correct religious bubble that was formed by theological liberalism and relativism. Perhaps. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.

  2. Formerly Marion R. says:

    The article itself both instantiates and propagates the phenomena it describes; It is a performative utterance. It is an Epiclesis in a high mass of High Modernism, offered in one of its several particular rites and uses, Feminism.

    Yet your desire shall be for your husband.

  3. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    When I was in seminary, I asked by priest mentor once what he looked for in a congregation when he was interviewing for a job at a parish, among the things he told me was “Look to see if there are men active in the parish. If there are not a least a few strong lay men leaders/role models in the parish, start asking why.” When you get the honest answers to that question, you will invariably get a handle into the parish dysfunction because if the men have been run off or have left of their own volition, there are reasons and they are never healthy reasons. I think the same is true with clergy leadership as well.

    I think this article has a few things right, though it hedges its political correctness as to not name the elephant in the room: men and women are different. This spills over into spirituality. Men and women relate to God differently. Men tend to have a “I’ll take a bullet for Jesus (or my family, etc.) ” mentality (not always a healthy mentality, but a mentality nonetheless) if they are religious, and women tend to have a “Let me help you relate to Jesus,” often in a self-sacrifice and/or relational kind of way (likewise not always healthy or helpful, but a mentality nonetheless). Both are important characteristics and both have much to offer the church when healthy models, but the simple fact remains that men and women are different, and they relate to God differently.

    One of the fall outs of Women’s Ordination is that churches don’t want to acknowledge any difference between male and female clergy. It is classic 1970’s feminism in theological form: men and women are really just the same. A local church led by a woman (of which I have been a member in the past), has a fundamentally different practical theology than a church led by a male priest. The content and styles of preaching are different. How sacramental functions are carried out are different. How counseling is done is different. They may be similar but different in flavor and character.

    We have been to taught to shudder at the idea of using the term “priestess” for female clergy, but I think that is a term that we need to recover, and I mean that not in a derogatory sense, but in a sense that acknowledges that clergy leadership is different depending on the sex of the cleric in question. To expect women to behave like men is folly, and vice versa.

    Now, I don’t think this is the forum to debate the merits or demerits of Women’s ordination. My only point is that churches with female clergy have a completely different look and feel and theological bent. Sometimes this is much more noticeable than at other places, but the difference does have an impact, however subtle. If the priest is to be the spiritual father of the parish, that’s a whole different ball game than being a spiritual mother of the parish. I think a lot of men don’t or can’t theologically relate to female clergy.

    I’ll be honest, I am one of them. If I am having a spiritual crisis or need spiritual direction, I don’t want someone holding my hand and talking to me about feelings and relationships. I want a spiritual leader who is willing to put their life on the line for others in a very real way if necessary. I want an icon of Christ; I want a spiritual father who has the theological pants to tell me (if I need it) that I am full of it and need to repent or God’s going to take me out behind the wood shed for a whuppin.’ I am not convinced feminized clergy can minister to hard headed men like me, and I know that’s why men leave churches that have only female clergy because I have been one of those men. We don’t want to hold hands and talk about feelings; We don’t want to pray to the divine feminine; we don’t want to hear sermons about feelings and the divine feminine. This isn’t theological rocket science. This is men being men and women being women. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just the way God made us.

  4. Katherine says:

    Archer, you’re not the only one. Our current parish and its diocese do not permit female clergy, but when we were Episcopalian, my husband politely declined to visit or attend a parish led by a woman. I have come to believe that he is right about this.

  5. dwstroudmd+ says:

    A mirror could tell her why. But that would be a Pauline experience – seeing darkly – and therefore must be eschewed.

  6. Sarah says:

    RE: “We don’t want to hold hands and talk about feelings . . . ”

    Neither do I — but I am certainly All Woman! ; > )

    Just recently an unbelievably ridiculous example of this occurred within an “orthodox” Anglican jurisdiction — and it was three men who all demanded, literally, that someone else listen to their feelings of hurt and offense. So I don’t think this is a “women” problem at all.

    On the other hand, and to the larger point . . . some while ago, I had a very interesting talk with someone in youth ministry who revealed one of “the secrets” of having a thriving and busy youth ministry — and that was to first capture the boys. As he said . . . if the boys — particularly the Alpha boys — are captured, the girls will follow and the rest of the boys. But if it’s a youth group that begins with girls, the Alpha boys, by and large, will avoid it.

    That assertion surprised me a little — but I have gradually come to believe it through the years, not merely for youth groups but also in work environments, social groups, and other organizations. It works this way among wolf-packs and I think it works this way among humans as well.

    Women leaders can use this kind of insight, too — not simply males.

    In the church setting, of course, I’m opposed to WO anyway. But I’m trying to steer clear of that rather obvious discussion here and merely commenting on the social and psychological components of group dynamics.

  7. wyclif says:

    Sarah and Archer,
    I think there’s a lot of truth in the wisdom of those priests and their advice about ministry. I’ve become convinced of the same principles. They are especially important when a new ministry or work is being planted, because it’s when spiritual DNA is being formed, and will influence its course for years and perhaps decades to come.

    You have to get the men if you want to have a vibrant, multiplying parish that makes disciples. It is exactly as Sarah says. If you get the men, you get the wives, and if you get the wives you get the children.

    If you get the men, you get everything. That’s why the time spent on men’s ministry is so important.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. Important qualifications need to be made: I’m NOT suggesting at all that ministry to women and children aren’t important or worthwhile. Nor am I suggesting that the lay work of ministry by women isn’t important, or the work of the deaconess. But those are ministries that come into play in a later phase of a church plant or ministry start. Anglicanism is a spiritual tradition which has always respected and place high regard and value on the ministry of and to women.

    However, far too often as I look at the state of American, Canadian, and UK Anglicanism it is the women who set the tone of all the ministries. The men are long gone. Nobody engages them. The entire ministry of many parishes are created to cater to the needs of 40 year-old women and their children. It is not a strategy that will grow the church or make new disciples. It is not good for the women, and the children, particularly the male children, will quickly get the message that Christianity is for girls.

    In order to get the men for Christ, you have to engage them with a masculine Gospel. It can’t be all this touchy-feely emoting, hand-holding, gooey feminine spirituality of the “other”, and prayer labyrinths. Yet TEC, ACC, and CofE have still not learned this lesson and as a result they are facing demographic winter.

  8. paradoxymoron says:

    [blockquote] Just recently an unbelievably ridiculous example of this occurred within an “orthodox” Anglican jurisdiction—and it was three men who all demanded, literally, that someone else listen to their feelings of hurt and offense. So I don’t think this is a “women” problem at all. [/blockquote]
    It’s possible that the men decided to frame their dissatisfaction in terms that people in power are sympathetic to, which may be women and feelings. You don’t win an argument by trying to convince your judges to change their entire theories of jurisprudence, especially when those judges were instrumental in upsetting the old order.

  9. paradoxymoron says:

    [blockquote] At Mount Seymour United Church we are committed to providing opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to experience the sacred in community. [b]By “sacred” we mean all that inspires awe or reverence for something greater than ourselves, yet is a part of ourselves.[/b]

    [b]We acknowledge and respect many pathways to the sacred[/b] and [b]draw on the Christian story[/b] as our [b]primary [/b]source of guidance and inspiration.

    Because we value each individual’s search for meaning in their lives, we strive to companion one another in seeking truth [b]rather than insisting on right belief.[/b]

    Community is important to us, not just the community that gathers on Sunday mornings, but the community in which we live, the community of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the global community of every living thing. We are a [b]justice oriented people[/b] and we encourage action born of integrity, passion and purpose.

    As part of the United Church of Canada we are linked to a [b]uniquely Canadian heritage of making a difference in the world[/b].[/blockquote]
    Yay! A full-time commitment to social justice activism, and a part-time fondness for the “Christian story.”
    I especially like this part:
    [blockquote] On occasion, Talbot has also heard some church women remark about heterosexual husbands in a “stereotypical and unflattering way,” which would be unacceptable about a same-sex partner. [/blockquote]
    So, the norm by which conduct is measured is homosexual, and they hope to improve their community until heterosexual males can receive the same respect that gay couples receive. It’s inscrutable, why men aren’t showing up, I tell you. They seem to have a pretty good plan to bring in men though, with that bit about focusing on the sexual energy of men. No doubt they’ll flock to the church, and bring their young children, to incorporate peni$ veneration into their worship. Dudes love nothing more than worshiping their junk.

  10. Sarah says:

    RE: “It’s possible that the men decided to frame their dissatisfaction in terms that people in power are sympathetic to, which may be women and feelings.”

    Except that *they* were the people in power.

    So nope — that wasn’t it.

    People can publicly insist on vocalizing all their tender feelings both male and female. I think it is a *caricature* of the feminine, just as wife beating is a *caricature* of the masculine. The notion that that kind of warped behavior is “feminine” or “masculine” is inaccurate, except on the fringes — save that “the fringes” have unfortunately become faux-accepted.

    I’d also put it to wyclif that a whole lot fewer women like all that guff and emphasis than others imagine or claim.

    I think the question is . . . why is it *politically* desired to prance about with all of these tender feelings and describing them as “attending to the feminine”? A lot of that stuff is just politically correct silliness from libs — both male and female — and it’s bled over into the general culture, as so much other lib silliness has done.

  11. Jim the Puritan says:

    Most mainline churches are toxic to men. Led by women clergy, there almost always is a strain of everything that goes on that somehow women are saintly and men are sinful beasts. I personally will not attend a church that has a woman pastor, although I do not mind a church where an associate pastor is a woman, especially where that pastor’s ministry is geared towards women. My feelings are not based on theology, but based on the fact that every mainline woman clergy-person I have met (with one exception) I would not consider a Christian but rather is in her position to advance feminism and “equality” with men. And generally that leadership is in a church where men have left. And women “priests”? Puhleeze, it’s usually embarrassing to watch.

    Just to give an example of the bias that exists in churches. Mother’s Day will invariably be a paean of praise of mothers and women from start to finish. Father’s Day, if it is mentioned at all, is usually cast in the vein of “we know you might have had a bad father, but your heavenly father makes up for the shortcomings you had in your real father.” (The Heavenly Father being portrayed usually being a mythical combination of Santa Claus and some perfect Alpha Male Protector who lacks any of the shortcomings of yucky real men.) Even my own church, which is Bible-based and probably has a higher percentage of men than most, gets into this same mode. Drives me nuts, and I think I shocked people in my small group once when I got into griping about that one time.

    Just as another example, I have never heard a sermon by a woman minister that mentioned either God the Father or Jesus. It’s usually some nonsense about being nurturing and loving, blah, blah, blah, and any reference to the Father or Jesus is purely in the remote abstract visioning stage, not as Persons of God with any control over our lives. Just look at Schori’s latest Christmas message as a good example.

    The fact is that in today’s society, the men who are sacrificing and trying to do a good job of being a husband and father get no credit at all, and are generally treated by the culture as being somewhere between the family servant and the family buffoon. Just watch any commercial on TV and see how fathers/husband/men are portrayed vs. the mothers/wives/women.

  12. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    No. 11,

    I loathe mentioning either Mother’s or Father’s day in Sunday liturgies for that very reason. It always turns into a “Mothers should be worshiped” and “Fathers, you need to get with the program and stop acting like sleazeballs” dichotomy. I always find this bizarre because the fathers that are actually usually in church on Father’s Day and not out on a golf course or something are exactly the ones that are good fathers.

  13. jamesw says:

    “I really think that men and women need each other. So I would never want to become a place without both.”

    Says the woman who is in a same-sex partnership.

  14. jamesw says:

    Jim the Puritan: While I respect your opposition to women’s ordination, it should not be based on stereotypes informed by limited experiences. I have met many ordained women who are very evangelistic and unashamedly Christian, and many male clergy who spout the very nonsense that you accuse ordained women of spouting.

    As to this article, my own theory is this. Statistically, women tend to live longer than men do. Thus, statistically, if you take a group of elderly folks, you will more likely have more women than men. Liberal congregations tend to be made up largely of a small scattering of younger liberals and a larger cadre of old people. Statistically then, it is probably that liberal congregations will be predominantly female.

    As to the divide between men and women, it seems to me that a fair stereotype is that women tend to enjoy talking things about while men tend to enjoy doing something. Liberal churches tend to be nattering chambers about doing good things. Read pretty much anything from a TEC bishop these days – male or female – and it’s pretty much just a bunch of mindless nattering. Thus, it shouldn’t be too surprising that women tend to be more drawn to the nattering chambers that purport to do good things then men. Just a thought.