Nalini Joseph: Why are fewer men in local church pews?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 16, 2021

By Nalini Joseph

A young Ugandan Catholic deacon by the name of Joseph shared a meal with my family here in Salisbury a few nights ago.

He has been in America for a few years now, spending time studying and training for the priesthood at Belmont Abbey and Sacred Heart Catholic Church. He shared one of his worries with us: church pews are occupied more and more by women rather than by men. Women and children often come to church without husbands and fathers.

This was news to me, so I decided to do some research on the subject. Here’s what I read in an online blog called “The New eMANgelization: Drawing Men to Jesus Christ and His Catholic church,”  “The ‘face’ of the Church is feminine; men are underrepresented in the pews (only 37% of regular mass attendees are men). Further, a Notre Dame study shows that 70-90% of catechesis, service, bible study activities are led by women, causing the authors to suggest that ‘young males…assume that serious religious studies are a women’s business,’ resulting in greater numbers of younger men being disengaged. Men are needed for healthy and growing parishes; research shows that congregations with greater portions of men are more likely to be growing. The church has a significant ‘Man Crisis’ and needs to face the reality of the crisis; unchecked, the loss of men will have a long-term catastrophic impact on the church.”

Surely, this is exclusive to the Catholic church, I thought to myself.

It’s common knowledge that the number of priests being ordained within the Catholic church has been dwindling for decades. It makes sense that men are shying away from a religious institution that has unfortunately linked religious males with the horrific worldwide abuse scandal of the last few decades. I decided to do some further digging to confirm my suspicions – to see whether the Protestant church has also been impacted by the apparent exodus of men from churches. I was dumbfounded to find article upon article about men leaving both Catholic and the Protestant churches alike.

I was talking with a male friend just today about his new “going to church” routine. Like so many of us, he has become accustomed to watching his YouTube channel church service on Sunday mornings in the comfort of his home. His church is now going to have to work a little extra hard to get him to come back into the sanctuary on a regular basis.

So, putting aside our change in spiritual practices due to the pandemic, why are we experiencing this shift in demographics within the church? Why are women and men apparently not equally interested in spiritual growth within the confines of a religious structure?

There are a multitude of possible and probable answers to this big question. What strikes me is that throughout history our God and spiritual deities have been men: Jesus, Buddha, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu and Zeus to name just a few. Women were not permitted to go into the priesthood in the early (Catholic) church.  Men were “the wise men” – the religious astronomers who studied the stars.  They were religious scribes and advisers in the king’s court; they were the scientists and philosophers who also studied theology very deeply. Women have traditionally been mothers, volunteers and community service workers.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we now have a society that depends on women to be engaged on so many fronts, taking more and more responsibility for family, community and society at large. Since the middle of the 20th century, women have been active in the workforce. They are not only working mothers; they are volunteers, politicians, and in many cases the decision makers for the family’s overall health and financial well-being. Does it logically follow that the religious duties and spiritual health of the family naturally falls on the shoulders of the mother and/or wife as she occupies other leadership positions within and without the home? Are we re-defining roles within our households so that women are now responsible for their children’s participation in church, regardless of the father’s interest and presence in church?

Let’s talk more next week about this subject. Stay tuned for interviews from our religious leaders in our city of Salisbury!

Nalini Jones lives in Salisbury. Email her at nalinijones1@hotmail.com.

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