Thursday, April 10, 2008

Men Keeping Silent in Church

At our church we're never short of laypeople willing to participate in worship leadership as lectors.

That's the good news.

The bad news: They're mostly women. I think we have maybe two fellas who feel comfortable reading the lessons before the congregation.

As we are wont to say around here: What does this mean?

If you're one of those fundie complementarian types with whom I frequently joust on Beliefnet, they'll tell you that this all has to do with women usurping the male leadership role -- take away gender exclusivity when it comes to assisting in worship, and the men are going to get sore about it and refuse to participate: If I can't be team captain, I'm taking my ball and going home.

My observation tells me something entirely different. This isn't about gender; it's about class.

The two guys who brave the lectern at my church both happen to be college-educated white-collar professionals. Most of the men in my congregation, by contrast, are blue-collar workers with a high school education at best. These men are able to move mountains (or at least the hill next to our church, to build our new sanctuary); if you have a hands-on project to get done, they're your go-to people. But I suspect that they would literally rather take a gut-check from a professional heavyweight than read aloud in front of a group. I suspect that in their households it's the womenfolk who take care of the family paperwork and phone calls and other wordy tasks.

Our church women tend to have either office jobs or jobs that keep them in contact with the public. They're used to presenting information. Lectoring isn't as much of a challenge for them.

Am I totally off here? How does it work at your place? And in more general terms: How do education and social class affect how things go in your church?

12 comments:

PamBG said...

I have not noticed the gender divide. But one of the churches that I serve is a solid working class congregation in a neighbourhood where there is 2 and 3 generations of unemployment.

Your comment 'if you have a hands-on project to get done, they're your go-to people' resonates completely. The things most enjoyed are 'hands-on projects'. The women cook and clean and look after building maintenance. The men look after building maintenance, fix the roof, build things and paint.

Ask anyone to coordinate anything or take charge and there are a handful of people - mostly factory supervisors and teachers - who will step forward. From everyone else it's a major 'scared bunny in a headlight' reaction

P.S. an after-thought said...

I hadn't thought of the class/education divide before. I'll have to think about this in regard to who reads and leads at our church.

We definitely have more women volunteers for both leading (anything) and following. Women are just "do-ers" that's for sure. They are organizers by nature, it seems. Even in the "ministerium" of all the pastors in the community, nothing happens unless the one woman pastor makes it happen. She speculated at first that she was stuck with jobs because she was the newest pastor. But now she realized that the guys are an unorganized bunch. If she doesn't suggest and organize, they don't do anything, nothing.

I would speculate that women are less concerned with failure or looking bad when they are in the front. Some of the guys have expressed too much nervousness to get up there; they are afraid to fail.

But we've grown a nice crop of men who now will read, lead, speak. I think that when they see it happen, they are more willing to try. Interestingly, sometimes our church council has had a male majority and sometimes a female majority. It has see-sawed for years.

Also consider the age of the leaders/speakers: We have not seen any of the "older" women get up and read. I was our first lay reader, some 30 years ago. I sweated buckets, but I got through it. And once I did it, I knew I could do it again.

LutheranChik said...

For me the front-and-center heebie-jeebies were about assisting with Communion for the first time. I had visions of spilling the wine, dropping the chalice, running out and having to call a time out while I refilled, etc.

Annie Dillard once compared the average worship service to a really bad high-school play...and I think the more I participate in the worship leadership the more able I am to deal with whatever glitches occur...and they will. It just comes with the territory of people in groups.

Rachel said...

I *still* have visions of spilling the wine all over someone...

Verdugo said...

I suspect (not hard evidence just my uninformed gut) that if you could get just one or two of those "blue collar" guys to give it a try, others would follow. There's always gotta be one or two brave "pioneers" who are the only member of X minority group in Y role. Once you get over the "pioneers" there's usually a "small group" of minorities, and before you know it, diversity.

(I was making a similar observation about women clergy in my Presbytery. There are 2-3 women who are about 10-12 yrs older than myself who were the pioneers, the first "lady ministers". I was in the second wave-- at a time when there was enough for us to have a small group of "clergywomen" who met monthly, but still small enough we could still fit around a single large restaurant table for lunch. I was just noticing the other day that we can no longer have a "clergywomen's group", because we're now in the majority-- we'd be the one excluding the minorities.)

All that to say... it's a lot easier being in the "second wave" then the pioneers.

Sheryl said...

We're about evenly split, but I live in a college town, and that makes a difference, I think.

I do wish that we would train our lectors more, though. They tend to talk really fast at the mic, keep their heads down, and read with absolutely no inflection. That's not how I was taught to do it.

Of course, I suppose I could get over my fear of volunteering for anything in my new congregation and volunteer to do that training. I can't actually read anymore - I had throat surgery and my voice isn't what it used to be. I really miss that ministry.

Tom in Ontario said...

I've noticed the gender gap the same way you have but I never clicked to the possible reason. I think you're right. The men who do assist and read are the educated white-collar types. But I think it's the same for most of the women who do the "up front" stuff in worship.

The blue collar types look after property stuff and the less educated women are in altar guild and kitchen type stuff.

Maybe some of it is gifts and abilities and interests that causes this division of duties but I have to wonder now if I unconsciously cause(d) some of this by asking certain people to do certain things.

You've really got me thinking here. Thanks

P.S. an after-thought said...

I've never been in favor of quotas of any kind, so I don't like the idea of deciding to pick "a woman" or "a man" before the specific person's gifts are considered, but I must say that often in our church, we've had the woman pastor, the woman worship assistant, the woman lector, the woman communion assistant, and perhaps even the woman (girl) accolyte on the same Sunday. However, the head usher has been the same man for at least 35 years. At least some of the men help in the kitchen these days.

Maybe the question shouldn't be "who is volunteering" but who is being ASKED, as Tom implied.

Oddly, even though we have a woman youth director, who is excellent, about 90% of the teens who attend youth group are male. And we do have a couple of men who help with the youth group.

Diane said...

we just have more women than men in church, period. so they're talking and doing all the things. I haven't noticed the class divide, but it's worth thinking about.

Singing Owl said...

This sounds exactly like my totally blue-collar congregation. Sadly, I find that quite a number of the men are poor readers. The only "professional" types in the church, now that we lost our beloved doctor, are nurses or teachers--all women. The man are all factory workers. It's not a gnder thing, IMO. 'Course, you knew I'd say that. ;-)

Anonymous said...

OHHHHHHHH yes, the class divide. Around here it's the elephant in the room. Wonderful, wonderful moment for me when a retired plumber in the parish gave us -- the whole thing -- a seven foot grand piano. New! The facial expressions of the lawyers and accountants and bus-i-ness ex-ec-u-tives were wondrous to behold...our piano-giver has been a member here over 50 years, but none of them had ever met him........

P.S. an after-thought said...

I've given the "class" (ie education) topic some thought since my other two comments. We have many different people who read the scriptures; several of them are excellent readers. Of those, I can think of a few who are women who never went past high school. I know of at least one man who drives a plow for a living who has read. But we also have teen readers fairly often, so maybe our church grows talent better than some.

Tomorrow the sermon is being given by a high school senior who volunteered. He is a very thoughtful person with whom I've had good conversations. Unfortunately, he has some pronounced speech problems.