Monday, November 04, 2013

Men, Women, Children and the new Bishop of Durham

It's a really big question: Why are there more women than men in the British church? I could, and have, write lots about this subject, but I was forcibly struck by one possible answer to it last Saturday. The occasion was the East Midlands Baptist Association Day and our main speaker was Bishop of Durham Elect, Rt Rev Paul Butler. This question was raised and he talked about reaching out to men, but stated very clearly that he didn't believe that the so called 'feminisation' of the church was the cause of the problem.

After the main session, I was leading a workshop on children's ministry and I think part of the answer might be found in that seminar. Of the twenty or so attenders only three were male. John Westerhoff talks about the 'hidden curriculum'; in other words our practice sometimes doesn't match our words, and it's our practice that teaches children what we are about. If little boys are taught that church is 'women's business' from their earliest days, they will struggle to see it as something for everyone regardless of gender when they are older.

It's a challenge to the men in our congregations: do you ever consider working in the Sunday School? Or is that women's work? Patterns of child care in the home are changing so where once men would actually be incompetent with children because they never looked after even their own children, they now regular care for, and spend time with small children. Is the problem to do with safeguarding? Perhaps men feel that they might be regarded with suspicion if they work with small children.

Whatever the problem is we need to address it, and we made a good start on Saturday. I'm pleased to say that one of the three men in my workshop was Bishop Paul. Given that he started his ministry in children's work with Scripture Union and has continued to prioritise this side of his ministry, I did feel pretty nervous about having him there - talk about teaching your grandmother to suck eggs! But most of all I think it sends a message that this workshop was as valuable and important as the others, because children are valuable and important, whether they are boys or girls.

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