Saturday, June 4, 2011

Same-Gender Groups and the Church

Bookgirl has a fascinating post on her experiences with same-gender groups; she wrote it after reading Adam J. Copeland's post where a pastor talks about why he wouldn't start same-gender groups in a new church if he formed one.  Let me confess to having never joined a WELCA group (the Lutheran women's group of the ELCA) in any church I've been to, although I've attended some functions.

In the same way that having a male-gendered God makes me nervous, having groups at church that are formed simply because members are male or female makes me cringe.

For one thing, there's the very modern question of how those groups treat people who don't conform to the group's expectation of gender.  And then, there's the very question of gender itself, for those of us who aren't quite sure that there are simply 2 genders, or for those of us who are transgendered, or sympathetic to transgendered people.

Far better to organize people by their interests.

But then I start to wonder about this human tendency to form groups and draw lines/circles.  I understand why the small groups are essential in megachurches.  But many of us are attending churches that have 75-125 members on any given Sunday.  Do we need small groups?

Maybe I'm just envious.  I only have so much free time, and I'm trying to be very judicious.  Of church small groups, I ask the same questions as I do of any group:  is this the best use of my time?  Of a church small group, I have additional questions, namely, how will my participation help me with my spiritual formation?

Of course, part of my queasiness has to do with the history of how the church has used same-gender groups.  Bookgirl writes:  “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.” In the church of my adolescence, I felt that way as I watched grown up women too–this expectation of all this volunteer work frustrated me.

Then the late 70′s progressed into the 1980′s, and everyone worked more and more–until we get to today, when everyone is working 40-60 + hours a week, and the expectation of volunteering has gone away. 
When my younger self wanted a solution to this expectation that of course women would be honored to volunteer, this scenario isn’t quite what I had in mind.

Many churches have abandoned the idea of groups meeting year-long altogether because no one has time.  In most churches I've seen, the women's group meets weekly or monthly, but it's mostly older women.  Younger women are too busy working (either in the house or outside).  Even when the men's group meets for breakfast, the largest number of attendees has always seemed to me to be retired men.  Every working man I know has no time for breakfast.

I have no solutions, except to acknowledge that every small group is different, every church is different, every human is different.  I am often leery of situations that other people find perfectly acceptable (calling God "Our Father," for example).  And history has a way of making our frustrations irrelevant.  I used to complain about the slow pace of change when I was younger and annoyed by all the volunteer labor in the church.

Now I know that many churches are teetering because so few people can volunteer anymore, even if they want to.  My younger self would not have foreseen that modern life could come to this.


Wendy said...

Thanks for this thoughtful reflection. Even after saying, "but I like my women's group" I continue to question it's purpose and existence and think of the people whom it leaves out. --Bookgirl

Di said...

You know, it's funny-- I agree with everything you said-- and at the same time, I badly miss having a small group.

All through high school and college (and for about a year afterward), I met with a small handful of women to share and pray. (Different groups, but it was still a regular part of my life.) I'm not convinced the same intimate, God-centered friendships can happen in large groups, and they're so vital to me.

The gender part is trickier, though there are things about my marriage that I wouldn't share with a man in the room. Actually, there are a number of things I'd be nervous about sharing with a man in the room, because of some of the power imbalance between genders.