Working and serving last summer in a Russian village, I was struck by the way 90% of the people in church on Sunday were female This can’t be a good situation.
Look also at situations where suddenly male involvement in church life grows. I know two: the first is if there is building work to be done (I think especially of Orthodox diaspora parishes with large economic migrant populations concentrated in the building trades), the second is male voice choirs (Welsh Methodists are the classic example). I would add the observation that the male/female ratio seems less skewed in Protestant parishes that Catholic or Orthodox ones.
My hypothesis is that there are two factors involved here, which are easily overlooked here: the first is the desire of most normal males, especially perhaps of the ‘bloke’ classes, to be working alongside other men that they consider as ‘real’ males. The second, which applies perhaps more to the better educated classes, is that a man expects to have a ‘voice’ in any venture he commits to seriously. He includes his family, this work and his other social commitments, where he considers himself entitled to analyse and critique the behaviour of those around him and the effectiveness of the structures concerned.
Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches fall short here on ‘maleness’, the Catholics with their general celibacy, the Orthodox with the celibacy requirements for bishops. Celibacy does not per se destroy ‘manhood’ – no one would question that of either Pope Francis or Patriarch Kirill. But it can create distance, from that sort of silent understanding that exists between adult men working together, conscious of each other’s sexuality and sexual lives, and who mutually support each other’s male identity. A married priest, too, who is not felt as a fully male, is at a disadvantage here.
The Orthodox Church in particular falls badly short in its division of the right to speak. Basically, the only person who the right to speak on spiritual matters in a parish is the senior priest. Everyone else is supposed to listen. Discussion groups, chaired by junior clergy of lay people, in which people honestly discuss their reactions to the Gospel, including their doubts, do not exist. This is in crass opposition to the male need for ‘ voice’. There is a party line, and that’s that. The result is that the better educated class, male and female, has headed for the door.