Aged 18 to 71, 20 men gathered at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp from June 20 to 21 to explore what it means to be a Mennonite man in the 21st century. “Under construction: Reframing men’s spirituality” featured Gareth Brandt from the biblical/theological studies faculty at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B. C.
Cramming four sessions into just over 24 hours, Brandt led three discussions on what it means to be a man and a spiritual man, “pouring a foundation” for men’s spirituality and working out that spirituality. A fourth session involved a discussion between a therapist, a pastor and Brandt about what they are seeing in men in the Mennonite church today.
Key to Don Neufeld, a family counsellor from St. Catharines, Ont., Pastor Scott Brubaker-Zehr from Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener, and Brandt, was the establishment of a comprehension by men of the love of God for them as they are, and not only for what they can do. Brandt and Brubaker-Zehr both spoke of contemplative spirituality as their entry into this, while Neufeld spoke of a significant professional/personal crisis that resulted in him focussing on Brandt’s book.
All three spoke to the contrast between what was happening at this Mennonite Men-sponsored retreat and what happens at many other Christian men’s events. Instead of re-establishing some kind of male-run hierarchy or hegemony, the call at “Under construction” was for men to get in contact with their often-supressed emotions, that can negatively affect their ability to nurture and be nurtured in their marriages and families.
Karl Dyck, a retired teacher from Waterloo, spoke of appreciating the emphasis on spirituality being a “24/7” thing and not on just Sunday mornings. “Spirituality is more than devotional life,” but affects all of life, including work, he said.
Five young adult men, all with connections to Conrad Grebel University College, talked about a men’s group at Grebel that does more than sports and games. Instead, members discuss what it means to be a Christian and Mennonite man in a feminist society. But this group’s existence highlighted the difficulty men often have sharing about their feelings and spirituality. One young man’s father who was at the retreat didn’t know of his son’s involvement, nor did the young man know that his father has been part of a male spirituality group that has been meeting monthly for 12 years.
The gathered men agreed that such retreats need to be repeated, and that men need small groups in their professions, congregations and community in which they can feel safe to share their struggles, joys and experiences with God.
--Posted August 13, 2014