Important nuances/distinctions

I was able to chat to Richard Vautrey our Vice President over my slight misgivings over some of what he said in his conference address on Saturday. In my post 42: Now that is what I call a good weekend I wrote in a slightly cryptic way.

I
will be writing some reflections, particularly on Richard's address
(excellent but an urgent need to be more nuanced in a certain area).

The chat was good and has to a large extent confirmed what I hoped (and to some extent expected). The problem is not one of disagreement in substance but more one of presentation.

Richard made excellent points that I agree with totally on the essential contribution of lay people and the need to recognise all that already happens and ensure they are fully and properly represented in leadership (yes a debate on Lay President as a title instead of Vice President is needed and that connects with the need to consider Deacons and presidency plus longer term presidents as spiritual leadership – which is all too much to discuss here).

He also made good points about the need to encourage & support women in senior leadership within the Church. I would go somewhat further and lament the fast that on the platform at conference this year there are 7 people and they are all white men. Do we need to have quotas or something? I do note that of the 7 there are 4 who have been elected (former president & vice president and current president and vice president) but there are 3 who are not elected (secretary or assistant secretary, law and polity rep (at least I think that is Gareth's role) and precentor (person who leads worship, in this case singing).

That leads us to the area of concern. Richard noted with sadness the lack of younger and middle aged men in our congregations and suggested that our worship (indeed the whole of our Church) is perceived as feminine and that we needed to explore how to be more masculine to attract men (that is a poor paraphrase as it was Saturday I heard this, will add proper quote when I can [update see below]).

This concerned me as the argument that the Church is too feminine and needs to be more masculine is frequently used by people trying to bring in Male Headship in a surreptitious way. Male Headship is incompatible with a Methodist understanding  of the gospel (and I thank God for being part of a Church that makes that entirely clear).

So we had a chat and I am sure there will be more to come. But we agreed that our task is to preach Jesus and to seek to model his teaching and lifestyle in the world. We also agreed that the person of Jesus does not in any way fit with an understanding of masculinity that is prevalent today.

I have always said that we should focus on living the gospel, on full discipleship in every sense and not compromise in order to be popular with particular groups of society. If we fail to attract people then it should be because we are modelling Jesus, too often it is because we are not. Let us be like Jesus and let the Holy Spirit worry about whether that is attractive to men. I am confident that living and costly discipleship will bring fruit, compromising that to appeal to masculine men will fail and is not of God.

Update: This is what Richard actually said:

Even after 35 years of women being ordained as Methodist ministers we
still have some way to go to remove all the barriers that prevent women
from taking a full role in senior leadership within our Church. However
that should not stop us from also asking the fundamental reasons why
boys and men are staying away from our churches. You don’t need a
medical degree to know that men and women are different. Just as we
like different types of music it may be that men have a perception that
elements of worship or church life are designed with feminine
characteristics in mind rather than masculine ones and therefore they
may think that the Church is not for them.
The Methodist Church of Great Britain | 4 July 2009.

3 thoughts on “Important nuances/distinctions

  1. Rhea

    “If we fail to attract people then it should be because we are modelling Jesus, too often it is because we are not.”
    Very true. The thing is, the Gospel is very ‘offensive’ to people. The Gospel tells people that they are not the center of the universe…it tells them that they are sinners/’wrong’ and that God is ‘right’…people don’t necessarily like to hear that. If we don’t have enough young men in the church I tend to think that it’s an issue with our Western society saying that ‘being a man’ means not being humble. Being a Christian is all about humility. In this sense, society and the Gospel are at complete odds with each other. On the other hand, in general, it’s more acceptable for women in our society to be humble.
    Anyhoo…just some random thoughts…hope they make some sense…I’ve been up for close to 24 hours right now…haha…so not sure anything that I’m putting together is all that coherent.

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  2. PamBG

    I guess the conundrum is that the leadership is still mainly male and the membership still mainly female.
    I wonder if the leadership issue will change in the future as more women are ordained and as attitudes change in general society. When I was in secular work, the 20- and 30-somethings didn’t care, by and large, whether a team leader was male or female.

    Reply
  3. Erika Baker

    Hmm.. isn’t it more the case that young people perceive the churches as organisations for old people? Our language, our routines, our liturgy, our social activities, they’re all psychologically suited to the over 50s and to toddlers.
    We so often fail to truly engage with younger people’s deep questions and simply give them our set of morals and answers. In all cutting edge modern moral dilemmas, we’re seen as staunchly conservative, preferring to spout religious certainties rather than engage deeply with the problems. And by and large, people don’t distinguish between the denominations, and society simply perceives all religious people as being obsessed with male privilege, religious ritual and sex.
    Rather than ask why younger people don’t come to church, I’d like to ask why they should?
    Would a 15 year old asking herself if she should take alcohol to a party and if she might risk smoking weed seriously turn to the church for advice?
    Would a pregnant teenager feel that her pastor was the most likely to be helpful?
    Would an abused child turn to the vicar?
    Do we see mothers who have children from several fathers truly as our equals or are we seen as the kind of people who might believe themselves to be morally superior and would consider them to be our Christian responsibility, sighing a half-hearted “there but for the grace of God”?
    The sad thing is that we probably COULD fulfill all those hopes, but that, somehow, not many young people would ever even think of us.

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