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Is There a Future for Men in UUism?
General Assembly 2001 Event 2075
Sponsor: Unitarian Universalist Men's Network
Are we losing our men, and if so, why? Church after church reports that roughly two thirds of new members are women, and nominating committees report that men are more difficult to dragoon into serving positions of leadership. More men fail to serve out their terms of service, for whatever reason, and men report, often sheepishly and occasionally with surprise, that they're feeling excluded from decision making and the object of "politically incorrect" gender bashing. A panel of Unitarian Universalist Men's Network (UUMeN) members and one woman minister gathered to discuss the causes and solutions to these problems. Jaco ten Hove of UUMeN moderated a panel consisting of Dick Michaels, Abhi Janamanchi, Carol Rosine, and Tom Owen-Towle.
Dick Michaels asked, "In a world when the role of men is changing and in many ways being devalued, what is the role for men? The dilemma for men is particularly poignant. Men tend to disengage, and so our congregations become less and less male." He then wondered whether our problem resides in our inability to frame our existential questions in terms of anything but disengagement or the "competitive society."
Abhi Janamanchi, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, reported that in his church, two thirds of new members are women, and there are more women than men in leadership positions. His nominating committees report more difficulty getting men to volunteer than women and that they tended to resign prematurely. Many of the men stated they had held leadership positions all their lives and just wanted to be and come to church and "help out" now they are retired. Still, Janamanchi wondered if the reasons were deeper. In another church men reported feeling excluded and solutions they presented were characterized as "Oh, that's typically male!" Perhaps we have redefined who we are to eliminate patriarchy. Our test is the number of women, but we have not redefined that space to honor men.
Carol Rosine is minister of First Universalist of Franklin, MA, which grew from twenty to over four hundred members under her leadership. She reported that men had been watching the women who were deeply and enthusiastically involved in "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven" and other feminist programs. The men wondered if women were more emotional or spiritual than men, but finally decided that it was up to them to find their authentic voices. Rosine, though a feminist, knew she had to minister to both men and women, but she was puzzle how to reach them. The men's group experienced several false starts and usually fizzled out after a few months. The key event was that "Men With Tool Belts" rebuilt a house on property the church owned, and this experience was the basis of a renewed and finally successful group. Finally, she began to meet with them for two hours a meeting. They began by talking to her about what was it like to grow up as a boy, what they worried about and other issues that generally are taboo among men. The men in the Franklin congregation wanted her to know there are different sides to being a man. There is a playful side involving sports and competition and "potato cannons." There also is a side that longs for relationship and to nurture and be nurtured. In most places in their lives it is safer to keep a lid on their emotions and not to make themselves vulnerable. In the process of talking to her, they began to talk to each other and discovered the church is a safe place to expose their longings and vulnerabilities. They also learned the importance men play in the lives of boys and in their becoming men. They found a way to achieve all these goals in a satisfying and meaningful way that did not challenge their images of themselves as men.
Tom Owen-Towle, the outgoing president of UUMeN, is co-minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, CA and a long-term leader of the men's movement in Unitarian Universalism. He said the future needs to be different from the past. He sees the challenge as needing to create a culture that is male enhancing and affirms masculine energy and gifts, but that does not accept that dominance at the expense of others is a necessary part of maleness or of masculinity. He also stated that no man or boy should have to look outside of his own church to find support.
In the audience participation, some disagreement emerged, particularly with the role of feminism in UUMeN, but there was general agreement that men were not entirely pleased with the new world. One participant saw that "matriarchy" was generally viewed as always positive and nurturing, while "patriarchy" generally was viewed as negative and isolating. Another reported that he didn't view all men as potential rapists. One man emphasized that most sexual violence actually occurred in prisons and was against other men. Others agreed that perhaps men felt a sense of loss, since they were having to move back from the table to make room for women, but that women were experiencing exhilaration in finding full humanity.
From the animated looks on the faces of the participants, and from the continuing knots of men talking as they departed the room, they enjoyed the discussions.
Reported by Bob Hurst.