Monday, March 03, 2014

whither goest men?

I strolled into church late, which is not unusual. I came in during the reading of the Gospel, about the Transfiguration. It is a story that resonates with me, because it corresponds in my reflection to a personal transformation, in 1979.

I stood in back, not yet sitting, during the reading, in deference to the presiding priest and in respect of the Word. After the reading, I walked down the left side (why do we all tend to sit in the same places, anyway?) of the church and sat down in back of a member I know. (Had dinner with the family last Sunday evening, after a very Christian, post-worship invitation.) Once I removed my coat and placed it on the pew, I looked around and was almost instantly struck by this observation: the congregation is almost all women, at least at this service. I counted five men, including myself and the master of ceremonies assisting at the altar, in the pews. There were 20 to 25 women. Up in the choir loft were nine men and four women. I counted them when they came to the Communion rail. (I will set aside for now the more troubling age-related demographics. Quite simply, 60 years old tended to be the younger outlier of those attending.) (As an aside, I just discovered that a Rolling Stone review of James Brown's 1966 song "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" offered that he made its "biblically chauvinistic" lyrics "sound genuinely humane.")

This invited questions as my mind wandered during worship, as it sometimes does. I like to gaze out into the Memorial Garden, in this season sporting serene, snow-draped branches of crabapple. This is likely my final "resting place," if ashes rest. My mind entertained questions like these, none of them precisely formulated and none snarky or sour, though they might erroneously seem that way here, lost in translation:

  • Is American Christianity culturally feminized, not offering men a masculine alternative? (I am reminded of the provocative essay I read in The Atlantic magazine, in July/August 2010: "The End of Men" by Hanna Rosin.)
  • Have rank-and-file men themselves abdicated their place in the worship community (even though men prevail in the leadership ranks)?
  • What if the situation were reversed: would women mount a campaign to rectify this? (see bullet immediately above about abdication)
  • Does this female-to-male ratio prevail in the same proportion in the following circumstances: urban churches (as opposed to this suburban one), other Christian denominations, other religious traditions in America, poorer vs. richer congregations? What about Europe? The rest of the world?
  • Does any of this matter, even to men?
  • Should it matter (to men or women)?
  • If it does matter, what are we to conclude, if anything?
  • And finally, if it matters, what is to be done, if anything?


Joe said...

Thanks, Paul -
The world is changing and I wonder if we're aware or even able to change with it. Yesterday there were 250 (+/-)at David Andrew's church in Wilmington - with a Mardi Gras theme: jazz band, spirituals, balloons, beads, laughter and song...and a feast to which the homeless were invited. Amen! Amen!

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Thanks for the comment, Joe.

Bill Sheldon said...

I make the same observations. Can't answer your questions but can recommend some additional ones. Do you know Eric Metaxas? He does a thing in NY called Socrates in the City. He brings in smart people to talk about the "big" questions. Try his book (same name) for a sample of 14 great talks. I listened to an audio version of the actual talks being given (with Q&A). Great stuff.
Regards, Bill Sheldon

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Thanks, Bill. Good to see you here. We need to get together in the 3D world.