Adam J. Copeland, a PC(USA) pastor currently serving as a mission developer with the ELCA, has a post at the Thoughtful Christian Blog and his A Wee Blether blog about why he would not look to starting same gender groups in a new faith community. He makes valid points, particularly pointing to the historical place of women’s groups–they were the place women could serve–a place the women’s groups themselves helped displace by fighting for equality in all church positions. He also mentions some of the troubling aspects of some same-gendered groups. Being a good post-modern kind of guy, he writes it thoughtfully, never suggesting that these things should never happen, but giving his opinion on why he won’t push for it himself.
By and large I agree with Copeland. There is a time I would have agreed with him wholeheartedly. Growing up, I felt displaced over and over again by same gender groups. Part of my frustration with the church was the disparity in what the boys got to do and what the girls were expected to do. This disparity lasted through high school, college, and even the we’re-doing-church-a-different-way-but-not-really church start of which I was a part. I think a large part of the problem all the way through this was that the ministries were so small there was not a good way to have multiple groups, so all the girls/women were lumped into a single group and that group did crafts. ::sigh::
But something happened to me in college. I started really appreciating my women friends. And after college, my roommates became my small group. I always enjoyed the mixed gender groups, and I considered a couple of the guys to be my best friends, but I needed the single gender groups, too. These were women who had similar interests and concerns as I did. We went to plays together and read books together and ate good food together. We didn’t craft. And we didn’t go through a women-specific-bible-study-guide. We talked and laughed and cried and prayed without an agenda to bring-us-together.
When I was basically home with Bubble and we weren’t going to church at all and I had little contact with other moms and she wasn’t getting time with other children at all, I looked into going to a MOPS group. It seemed like a nice idea. I thought we might even find a church through such a group. Mothers of preschooler get together with their children and the kids have activities and the moms… have a chance to talk? Have Bible study? Imagine my horror when I discovered that what the moms did was… wait for it… Craft! They may do the other things, too, but, at least the local one I found, was a crafts group. ::sigh::
But now, in the Presbyterian church we attend, at this juncture in my life, I find I am liking the women’s group more and more. There is something about being a mom with small kids that makes it really nice to have a chance to be with other moms with kids. And there’s something about being married that makes it nice to talk to other people who are married. In my group we have a broad range of ages (30ish to 60ish–nice for me since I am older than the other women-with-small-children; there are some women in the group my age and others my stage) and interests, some women who work full-time and some who don’t, most are married, though there are a couple of single moms, and most have kids (the kids range from college age to one who will be born in October). We chat, and eat, and do Bible study, but it is a scholarly study anyone could do. It assumes we are more than just our roles.
The thing is, we have a female senior pastor and a male associate pastor. Both men and women serve on Session (five of us in our women’s circle are currently on Session). Both women and men chair committees. Both men and women–though more women–teach church school. Both women and men attend church school, retreats, workshops, fellowship groups, etc. And the women have their circles. They are vestiges of times past and they are current communities filling a need.
Copeland suggests that groups should be formed around common values, not just common gender. I agree completely, but in this case (and he suggests that maybe it can be the case) our common gender leads to our common interests and values. When I was a single professional, I didn’t have much in common with married-women-with-children-and-no-college-degree. I just didn’t. That kind of group based solely on gender is absolutely problematic. And if the church has no place for those who don’t fit a particular mold, that becomes a problem (and one we need to be considering.) We need both and, and not every woman should be expected to be a part of the women’s groups, but their existence is good.
Another nice thing about our particular women’s group is that the dads take care of the kids, so we don’t have to worry about childcare (obviously, if we had more single moms, that would be different). And that brings me to the idea of men’s groups. If these men got together they wouldn’t be swilling beer and scratching their bellies, belching and disparaging women (an exaggerated form of one of Copeland’s concerns). They’d be talking about jobs and home projects and kids and soccer and, in their own way, finding companionship with other guys who are expected to work all day and come home and be involved in their children’s lives. They wouldn’t be talking about how to be the Heads of their Homes, but about how to negotiate a world in which they take turns with their wives heading off to church, work, and community leadership activities and groups and how to juggle wanting to be involved in their kids’ lives and still fix the sink and build the porch and work long days and Saturdays. I think they need to see that they are not alone and whatever it might look like, they need to have a chance to be with other people facing the same challenges they are.
Note Copeland’s post is about a new Faith Community. Like him, I would probably not push to start with single gender groups, but I think they are something that could eventually be added, or be part of a this-is-for-a-time kind of group, though never as the first or only thing. So I don’t really disagree with him at all. I just wanted a chance to express how much I have come to appreciate a group I have written about previously on the blog that I was unsure of when I began to attend.