When Mitch Levy's wife asked him for a divorce three years ago, he hadn't seen it coming. He'd just moved to the Seattle area for a new job and she was to join him. But then she called, saying she'd decided she didn't want to be married.
In shock, and in a new town with no friends and no support, Levy was deeply depressed with no place to turn. Except one. A Unitarian Universalist (UU), he found the Woodinville, WA, UU Church (134 members). Learning it had a men's group, he showed up at a meeting and told his story.
The men in the group literally saved his life, he believes. Not only did they get him through the initial crisis with their hugs, understanding, and compassion, they literally held his hand throughout the divorce proceeding and afterward.
"I'd read somewhere that men in a crisis usually don't have close friends to turn to," he says. "That was true of me. I don't think I'd ever had more than one or two male friends. Now I have thirty. I've made friends for life."
A men's group is a valuable resource for any congregation, permitting men to develop deep, enduring relationships. "When a man walks into a UU congregation there should be something there that's male-specific for his personal, spiritual, and soulful growth," says Rev. Tom Owen-Towle, cominister at First UU Church, San Diego, CA, (773), and a founder of the UU Men's Network. To start a men's group he suggests the following:
Talk with the minister, governing board, and other leaders, as well as men who may share your interest. Hold an event about men's issues, including a worship service focusing on men's spirituality, etc. Hold a potluck with a speaker or video such as "A Gathering of Men," Bill Moyer's interview of Robert Bly. Schedule and publicize a men's meeting to talk about what kind of group to form. Start with a monthly discussion group on topics such as men and work, men and death, etc.
Types of groups:
- Social Group—Monthly dinners, sporting events, card-playing, hiking, camping.
- Service Group—Occasional group providing service to congregation or community.
- Discussion Group—Begins with check-in allowing personal sharing, followed by discussion of an issue relevant to men. Every two to four weeks.
- Support Group—Permits sharing of personal joys, sorrows, concerns that can only be spoken in a trust-based environment of compassionate listeners. Closed group, which may meet every week or two weeks.
A men's group can fail, says Owen-Towle, if:
- It lacks the endorsement of the religious professionals in the church.
- It lacks a critical mass of six to ten men.
- It becomes a therapy group rather than a support group. "It should be therapeutic, but not therapy," he says.
Hal Krieger has been a member of the men's group for twelve years at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, PA (253). Support by the group helped him overcome alcoholism and develop closer relationships with his children. "It's being able to share intimate stories," he says. "To just sit with a group of men who are listening and concerned and nonjudgmental is very powerful."