Different experience speaking to women’s group and men’s group

In the past couple of weeks I spoke at two ProBus meeting in Limerick. (ProBus groups are made up of retired business and professional people, who come together on a fairly regular basis, have some input and discussion, and also a social dimension.). The first group was all men, and the second one all women. The topic was the same, Church reform.
Both events were very enjoyable, in that they were very receptive groups, and there was no pressure in speaking to them. There was about the same number, around forty, in each.
But there the similarities ended, and I found the difference between a mens group and a womens group fascinating and interesting.
The men were arranged theatre style in the room, lines of chairs facing the table at the top. After an introduction, and having elicited a small bit of response from them to give me some feel of what was in front of me, I spoke uninterrupted for a half an hour or so. Then we had questions and comments, of which there were many, both interesting and insightful. They were all about Church and faith, and tended to remain mostly in the objective area, meaning not a lot of personal exposure. Neither was I asked any particularly personal questions about my present position in the Church.
The women were seated around the wall in rectangular shape, so that everyone could see and relate to everyone else. The ‘top table’ was also part of the line of people. After introducing myself, I began to launch into the topic. I hadn’t gone more than a couple of minutes before comments and questions began to come from the group. And from then on, for about an hour and a quarter, it was dialogue all the way. I loved it. The women really warmed to the subject, and there was no shortage of opinion and analysis. In contrast to the men, who were inclined to remain objective, the women were much more personal. So we heard, for instance, about how, as young mothers, they had to go through the ‘churching’ ritual. One woman told us about how, as she left the maternity home with her newborn baby, she was warned by the famous Canon Punch that she was not to return home before going first to the church to get herself ‘churched’. Otherwise she would bring her ‘uncleanness’ into her home.
The questions that I was asked were much more personal than those asked by the men. Was I sad or angry about what had happened? Is the situation I am in now a lonely one? Why do I not cut my ties from both Church and Redemptorists, and be really free of it all? Am I afraid of the future? Why did I not refuse to accept a document with no address or signature? Do I still believe in God? And what about an afterlife?
It was quite a discussion!

As I face into speaking tomorrow evening on Women in the Church in Galway, my experience with this group of women brought home to me again what a terrible loss it is for the Church that women are not involved as equals in all aspects of decision making and ministry in the Church. There is no doubt that they would bring a different and very important dimension to the table.