When a number of men at River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, MD (656 members), bought seats at a "gourmet men's dinner for eight" at the annual church auction in 1986, they had no way of knowing they’d be forming a group that would have a profound effect on their lives.
That dinner evolved into the Men’s Night Out group (MNO), which is still going strong two decades later. The men meet every fifth or sixth Friday night. A period of welcome is followed by a 45-minute check-in and then the men sit down to a potluck meal. During and after the meal they discuss a topic they have picked in advance. The meeting adjourns by 11 p.m.
One of the original members, Dwight Cramer, says, “Some of the most meaningful events in my life have occurred with this group of men. The breadth of knowledge among the members has inspired me and discussions of current events provided meaningful and useful information.”
John Kelly says the group has helped him and other members through major life events. “Perhaps even more important has been the simple fact of male friendship that the group has provided,” he says. “Over the years I’ve had numerous work colleagues, tennis buddies, and so on, but extremely rarely would these friendships provide opportunities for exploring personal issues in any depth.”
Jeremiah Cohen joined the group less than a year ago and at 39 is one of its youngest members. “I like getting to know the older guys and having a sense of generations and history and knowing men who are comfortable hugging each other and talking about things,” he says. “I’ve discovered so much about myself—and the challenges that face me—by just listening to this wonderful group of men.”
A men’s group is a valuable resource for any congregation. To form one, hold an event or potluck about men’s issues. Include a speaker or video such as A Gathering of Men, Bill Moyers’ interview with Robert Bly.
There are several types of men’s groups:
- Social group: Monthly dinners, sporting events, card-playing, hiking, camping.
- Service group: Occasional group providing service to the congregation or community.
- Discussion group: Begins with check-in allowing personal sharing, followed by discussion of an issue relevant to men.
- Support group: Permits deep sharing in a trust-based environment.
Davis Johnson, at 88, is the oldest member of the MNO group. Members have advised him as he met several medical crises, joined him in racial justice work, and encouraged him in starting a mentoring program for youth.
“My life has been greatly enriched by being a member of this group,” he says. He says topics such as, “Why we are Unitarians” and “What I do or don’t get from River Road Unitarian Church” have inspired men in the group to become involved in church leadership roles."
A men’s group can also give men another place to connect at church. Says Davis: “I encourage Unitarian Universalist (UU) men of all ages to consider starting and/or joining similar groups.”
The members of the River Road Men’s Night Out group have created a 7,500-word description of their group that will be useful to men considering forming or joining a men’s group. In the article, edited by Davis Johnson, the men describe the structure and operation of the group and talk about the ways in which it is important to each of them. Find the article on the UUMeN website.