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Oxford’s suggestions for a manly Christmas don’t go over well

Oxford’s suggestions for a manly Christmas don’t go over well

Yesterday, the Diocese of Oxford in the Church of England (#nottheonion) posted a list entitled “Ten Tips for a Man-Friendly Christmas Eve Service,” bylined the Reverend Paul Eddy, who attempts to address the problem of male attendance at worship – “less than 30 per cent of the adult attendance in a typical Anglican congregation,” except when Christmas Eve rolls around, and hence the opportunity to reel them back in. He offers 10 suggestions, including:

1. Keep the sermon/talk brief. No more than 15 minutes. Tell a great story.

5. Talk about the adventure and danger of the Mission Christ had. Tell the story of a martyr.

7. Employ masculine imagery and language.

8. Play a video clip from an action film as a metaphor.

10. Present Christ the man rather than Christ the infant, and focus teaching on Christ’s power and mission, rather than just his meekness and gentleness.

Plus an extra suggestion:

Oh and one big mistake: Many churches build their Christmas Eve services around adorable little children dressed as angels. Parents crowd the stage area, snapping pictures. ‘it’s for the children,’ is the message given.  Well, maybe, but it is also for mum AND dad. We need to be careful that the annual visit to church by men doesn’t perpetuate their myth that Church and faith is for women and children. This is NOT to say that some Christmas cuteness will drive men out the door – of course not.  Dads also like to see their children engaged and having fun – just let’s not overdo it!

By this morning, the post had disappeared, replaced by “Well, this is embarrassing”:

Screenshot 2015-12-02 10.43.56

…a sentiment echoed by many in the social media sphere.

 

 

And the Diocese itself took to Twitter to explain the disappearance of the story:  

In his blog, quiteirregular, Jem Bloomfield writes a response:

I’ve written quite often on this blog about Christianity and gender, and particularly the strands of popular Christian thought which express concern over the presence and authority of women in the British church. Being a man myself, and having only been baptised within the last few years, I’m enthusiastic about what Christianity can offer men.

But I’m also concerned by the undertones in Christian discussion of blaming women, or accommodating Christian thought and spirituality to stereotypes of masculinity. The influence of US writers and preachers like David Murrow and Mark Driscoll has a tendency to anoint corrosive gender roles as natural and ordained by God. I thought it was worth examining the suggestions provided by this article, and relating them to the ongoing discussions over gender in the church.

…including a point-by-point look at Eddy’s list:

7. Employ masculine imagery and language.

This one verges on the incredible, if it means what it seems to mean. This last year the Church of England had one of its periodic public arguments about gendered language, in which it became clear that large swathes of the church are uncomfortable referring to God as “she”. There’s a perfectly good theological rationale for that: God is not a thing in the world and has no gender, so God is not a “she” any more than God is a “he”.

However, the idea that the Christian tradition has de-emphasized masculine language is remarkable. God is referred to as Father, as Son, as King, as Lord, in the regular prayers, Bible readings and liturgies of the Church of England. The overwhelming majority of the terminology used to either name or describe God (activities that are always metaphorical) connects to male people in the world. As a man, I’ll never know what it’s like to live my spiritual life in a tradition where practically every term for the source of life and goodness and truth is identified with a different gender to me.

Jim Naughton tried his hand at writing an action story with “masculine imagery and language” on Facebook, linked here.

This is not the first time the Oxford diocese has addressed concerns over a decline in male attendance: the Cafe posted a piece from the Church Times in 2011.

The original blog post has not entirely disappeared from the internet; you can read the cached post can here.

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Thom Forde

What a silly, lamentable article! Frederica Mathews-Green has an essay on Men and Church that I think is a very good commentary on the subject.

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Amanda Clark

Ah, FMG, the self hating westerner who is more Orthodox than thou. Still doing her best to bet people to become convertodox?

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David Streever

Hey Amanda--moderator note. Please avoid personal attacks, even about people who aren't present. Calling her 'self hating' is pretty offensive. These are real people, even if we disagree with their views & thoughts. We'd much prefer you refute her ideas instead of insulting her. Thanks as always for your comments, thoughts, & contributions to the site.

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Anne Bay

Wow. Not what I would expect from anything with the name Oxford on it. Beyond embarassing. But how did it get published in the first place? No wonder the C of E has trouble reaching the young people! And at this rate, they are going to lose the "oldies" too. Just shocked that any person, let alone a priest, would come up with such a demeaning piece of suggestions-sexist is just one of the things wrong with this. Wow!

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Amanda Clark

I have a feeling the perpetual desire to reach out to the young is something that wasn't present before the 1960s, says this non churchgoing queer leftist.

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Whit Johnstone

IMHO the best way to get men into an Episcopal church is to offer High Mass with incense on Sundays and a full schedule of daily masses, especially holy days.

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Dustin Henderson

I was about to say. I attend an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Episcopal Church, and I'd say it's 60/40 with men in the majority. Somehow I think robust Catholicism isn't going to be palatable to the article's author.

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Jos. S. Laughon

Amen.

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Jerald Liko

I don't have any problem with targeting a specific population segment for growth. We do that all the time: we intend the contemporary service to appeal to younger families, we intend the super-early Rite I to appeal to golden oldies, and so forth. I'The modern church is diverse enough to give an advertising agency migraines, thanks be to God, and the idea of targeting a group that isn't as involved as we'd like by tweaking certain services is just good evangelism.

The problem lies in the suggestions for how to pursue the goal, which include a few decent ideas, but, unfortunately, are dominated by Nativity quality donkey manure.

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Amanda Clark

"We do that all the time: we intend the contemporary service to appeal to younger families, "
If only there was evidence that young people like contemporary liturgy.

Anyways, I do like keeping sermons shorter than 15 minutes. I fear something has gone off the rails when even a bog standard Rite II mass starts to approach Orthodox divine liturgy time.

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Ann Gaillard

Regarding the most recent comments, I can only speak anecdotally that in my experience, the men come to church only if their wives/girlfriends come. When there's a split in the relationship, the women stay and the men leave.
But really, the far more important question is this: What is it about Jesus that white, western men don't like, so much so that they don't come to church? Is it that Jesus speaks uncomfortable truths that are especially disconcerting to people of power and privilege--who in the western world are still predominantly white males? That Jesus lifts up the poor and marginalized and is not particularly complimentary of the rich and comfortable ? Might it be the case that contempory men who are privileged in color and class might not want to come to church if the message is about casting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly?

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Jos. S. Laughon

If that's so, that's odd because the most progressive churches tend to be extremely white, to put it gently.

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