Lancashire

Why are Catholic men embarrassed to go to church?

Image caption Around 40 men gathered at the meeting in Leyland

Many men find it embarrassing to go to church, that's the view of some of the male delegates at a recent Catholic network meeting in Leyland.

The men were speaking in light of a survey by Christian Vision for Men suggesting that women take up two thirds of the pews.

Stephen Hoyland from Lancaster works for the Jesuits at the Loyota Hall Spirituality Centre on Merseyside.

He said men can feel uncomfortable when there are many more women parishioners.

"When an institution has more women present than men, men find it even more difficult to be in that place and so it becomes a vicious circle," he said.

Healthy turnout

Some of the delegates suggested that it is just the way men and women are built and consequently live their lives. "Sometimes church is perceived as a female activity," I was told by Paul Kelly who then quickly added that "wasn't his particular view but it is a view held by many."

Donal Terrins, another delegate, agreed: "It's become customary for the women to do the praying," he said.

Rob Swan told me: "The reflective side of religion attunes itself more to women."

We were talking in a Benedictine club beside St. Mary's Church on Broadfield Drive in Leyland.

A Saturday morning January fog shrouded the buildings and I'm sure many men would elect for an extra hour in bed rather than the nourishment of the excellent bacon butties and spiritual refreshment that was on offer.

But there was a healthy turnout and it may surprise many to know there was an appetite for both food and faith with around 40 men gathering together.

The numbers didn't surprise Father Chris Thomas from the Irenaeus Project an initiative in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool which seeks to promote spirituality.

He said: "I think men will come if it's for men! I think it's to do with men feeling safe, men feeling comfortable and not feeling threatened by crowds of women."

Gusto

Match is a new campaign that has been launched to get more men back to church. One of the organisers, the Reverend Paul Eddy, thinks there are three reasons for the decline in men amongst the pews. "Firstly there are practical reasons, men can be working or taking their family to sport.

"Spiritually, men don't like to lose control of their lives or have to conform. They don't want to lose their identity. Thirdly, there are many many things we do in church which simply don't relate to men."

The Reverend Terry Young from the Lancashire District of Methodists has some sympathy with this view. "At funerals or weddings it is often the women who are singing the hymns with gusto whilst the men are miming along and hoping nobody notices."

Father Chris Thomas also told me: "If they are Christians then they will want to meet with other Christians and that is a body of Christ, but many men are searching for the right spirituality. Role models are changing, ethical values are changing and they [the men] are searching."

Father Chris suggested that fresh expressions of church, taking the church to where men are comfortable, could be the answer. "I meet once a month, down the pub, with around 20 men. We talk about all kinds of things and yet none of them go to church."

The Reverend Mark Slaney from the Bamber Bridge Methodist Church says men around his parish are eager to take part in church-organised snooker evenings.

Frustrating

When I asked if that is because they see the night as a chance to show off their Ronnie O'Sullivan skills on the green baize, rather than an expression of faith, Mark thought for a moment and then said that could be the case. "Perhaps the answer is to have snooker churches!" he added - not entirely as a joke.

The fresh expression movement within churches, where a car boot sale or biker rally also makes time for a short act of worship or spiritual discussion is growing in popularity. It may be the way forward to attract those men who don't feel comfortable in their Sunday morning shirt and tie miming to classic hymns.

The most frustrating aspect for churches is they know that hundreds, maybe thousands, of men in towns and villages in Lancashire believe in the same Christianity they do, and yet those same men never cross the church steps unless it is for a family ceremony they feel compelled to attend.

For whatever reason, church does not do it for them.

Maybe churches should just accept the situation and take their view from Ken in Clitheroe who rang us this week. "Women live longer than men so in later life there are more of them."

His reasoning went on: "Men tend to work longer and so have less time to go to church. It has always been like this and so we should not make too much of this imbalance. There are far bigger things to worry about."

Joe Wilson presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.

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