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Correcting the Church’s gender imbalance: generally, too few men

08 January 2016


From the Ven. Norman Russell

Sir, — I was surprised and saddened to read The Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh’s attack on the Revd Paul Eddy (Comment, 1 January). His words on reaching out to men at Christmas, precipitately withdrawn from the Oxford diocesan website, have apparently offended sensitivities to such an extent that there has been a successful lobby for their removal.

I am not sure that, were I still an incumbent, I would implement all of Mr Eddy’s suggestions for Christmas services; he might sometimes have his tongue in his cheek. Until my retirement, however, I was his archdeacon. I believe that he deserves to be heard when he voices important concerns about reaching out to men.

Like most archdeacons, on Sundays I was out presiding or preaching in churches with a wide variety of traditions and social profiles. There are wonderful exceptions, but frequently I returned home concerned about the age and gender profile of the congregation.

Supportive as I have been of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, I confess to sitting through many of the interminable debates and wishing that the Synod would become as passionate about having men in the pews as women presiding at the altar.

Dr Cleugh is right to warn against unwise gender stereotyping, but, alongside issues of the marginalisation of women, the under-representation of men in our congregations needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

The Church, with financial support from the Church Commissioners, has undertaken good evidence-based research work in connection with funerals and weddings. If this spat, to which you have given a high profile, can facilitate a move from denial and anecdote to good evidence-based research into what can be learned from churches with healthy gender profiles, we will all be indebted to you.

47A Theobalds Way, Frimley
Camberley, Surrey GU16 9RF


From Miss Prudence Dailey

Sir, — The Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh takes exception to suggestions by the Revd Paul Eddy, originally on the diocese of Oxford’s website, for making church services more "man-friendly".

Dr Cleugh appears to be objecting not only to Mr Eddy’s specific proposals (which, I am sure, were intended to invite further discussion and exploration), but also to the general principle of attempting to make church more attractive to members of the male sex. It is understandable that she does not perceive any need for such an endeavour, since (as she says) the congregation of her college chapel in Durham is overwhelmingly male.

Across the Church of England as a whole, however, there is one man in the pews for every three or four women, and the perspective of middle-aged and older men spanning the social spectrum, grappling with the pressures of money, work, and family, is likely to be very different from that of students in an elite university.

Dr Cleugh is, of course, quite right that we should not make the mistake of thinking that allmen (or all women) will conform to particular tastes or patterns of thinking, when it is quite clear that individuals vary widely in their perceptions. At the same time, population effects are as important as individual differences when considering factors that might encourage people to attend church, or deter them from doing so.

As the attendance figures incontrovertibly demonstrate, men and women are, on average across the population as a whole, different in ways that influence their decision whether or not to come to church.

Against this background, it is hard to conceive that anyone in the Church might not want to take the gender imbalance in our congregations seriously, or might shy away from the question what can be done about it.

Member of the General Synod
9 Spring Lane
Oxford OX4 6LF


From Canon Chris Sugden

Sir, — I wonder how Dr Cleugh will be acting to bring the gospel to a very marginalised group in north-east England where she ministers: young unemployed white males, who will never go to university; or to some of those men driving the northern powerhouse whom the politicians would like to be their saviours. Did she, before publishing, write to Mr Eddy, in the spirit of Matthew 18, to see if she had understood him correctly? Finally, does she think she might benefit in any way by examining Mr Eddy’s research and experience?

21 High Street
Eynsham OX29 4HE

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