Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one!’ C S Lewis
My interest in forming a Catholic men’s group arose when I joined a new parish as a young husband and father. Looking around the church on a Sunday morning, I saw very few men my age – in fact, hardly any men at all. It was an isolating experience.
Over the weeks, other men emerged and we would acknowledge each other’s presence, but no more. Eventually, I introduced myself to some of them and suggested meeting monthly to get to know each other. The first year or so was a little awkward, with just 3 or 4 of us trying to generate conversation for a couple of hours with others we didn’t know too well.
Roll on a few years, however, and there were over 25 men on the mailing list. To visitors especially, it seemed a small miracle that the parish was full of couples and families, young and old, husbands and wives, grandparents, dads and mums. Outside of the Eucharist, of course, the men’s group was one of many good things that brought families together. But I like to think it played a big part in encouraging families to join the parish – the fathers felt they had something to call their own.
Interestingly, it took a long time before the women of the parish met as a group. By that stage, the men had not only been meeting regularly each month, but going out for meals together, hill walking and canoeing annually, catching up for drinks after work, and some even going to football matches or the Oktoberfest together. Bit by bit, as we invited each other and our families for dinner or attended parish social events together, bonds were strengthened and the women and children built up their own network of friendships. Coffee time after Mass almost became a social event in its own right, and many of the men eventually realised their primary social partners outside of church life were actually their fellow parishioners!
It is in this regard that we recommend, as far as possible, that a men’s group is centred within the parish is and made up of parishioners. Forming social and spiritual bonds are easier when you see each other regularly at Mass and at parish events. Indeed, the parish should be the natural habitat for the extension of familial bonds and the establishment of a community, the Body of Christ. The Church does indeed go by way of the family.
Of course, the parish will benefit from the regular and committed presence of a body of men calling it their own. On a practical level, lawns will get mowed and walls will get painted.
More importantly, however, a growing body of men will become a visible sign of faithfulness, of constancy and resilience in a time when male attention is so easily distracted elsewhere and when being religious is viewed as a weakness. There will be nothing more heartening and encouraging for a Catholic man than to see a throng of fellow men, his friends and brothers, to the front and to the rear, making their way to reverently receive the Blessed Sacrament.