A man who doesn’t have it all

This post isn’t perfect, it’s undoubtedly clumsy and both my argument and views poorly articulated, but I hope you’ll be understanding – I was juggling clearing up multiple piles of sick provided by my poorly son with doing several loads of washing, ferrying my daughter between school and music lessons, picking up my wife from her job and trying to study as part of my Ordination Training.  My excuse: I’m just not very good at multi-tasking.

On 9th December 2019, @manwhohasitall posted a question on Twitter: 

@manwhohasitall: I’m interviewing a male priest about what it’s like to be a priest at the same time as being a man. What should I ask him?  

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Click on the image of this tweet above, and all those below, to view them and other replies on Twitter

In the blur between what is fake and what is real on social media and in the news it isn’t immediately apparent that @Manwhohasitall is a parody account (see this article in The Independent from 2016).  The account, and many of the responses to it’s tweets, point towards the sexism directed towards women by highlighting attitudes that are all too real. The responses below show it well by rephrasing the questions posed to women as questions to pose to men.

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The sexism and double standards the responses pointed towards are wrong, but was there anything wrong in the question that was asked?

As I type, I cannot think of a job that can only be done by a particular gender.  There are female and male doctors, nurses and midwives.  There are female and male soldiers and firefighters.  There are female and male administrators, teachers and priests.  There are female and male Prime Ministers.  And the only reason a woman hasn’t made it successfully as a Formula One driver (my favourite sport) has nothing to do with their ability to drive a car.  There are no physical or biological reasons why a woman cannot do these jobs.  And though some claim a theological and scriptural reason why a woman cannot be a priest it is not one that I subscribe to – sadly others do, as some of the responses to the tweeted question demonstrated.

This is not a blog post defending men or justifying sexism.  It is not a blog post claiming that men are hard-done-by.  But it is a blog post on wondering how can we seriously and helpfully debate questions of gender from the male perspective.

My thoughts and questions come out of both conviction and experience.  The manner of my upbringing was to install in me both independent thought and a desire for justice and equality.  When I managed to get to university to study environmentalism and humanitarianism I studied Gender & Disease Development to better understand how gender and financial inequality decimated families, communities and nations.  The privileged position I have as a White-caucasian Heterosexual Male was clear then and has only become clearer as my awareness of racial, sexual and gender discrimination has grown.

But it was perhaps when I began training to become a Primary School Teacher that my desire to see an open and objective debate about the challenges of being a man in certain situations began in earnest.  I was ‘a man’ entering a mainly female profession, a parallel of sorts to that faced by women becoming priests.  I was asked to participate in an ongoing research programme led by a female member of the academic staff looking at attitudes towards men working in stereotypically female roles.  Though less prevalent than the discrimination towards women, there was nevertheless discrimination against men on account of their gender – the worse indirectly and directly accusing men working with young children of being paedophiles and forcing them out of their profession.   Today such views surfaced in response to the tweeted question about interviewing a male priest – ‘Chow’ tweeted:

@Chowxxx: Did he really think that committing to a life of supposed celibacy would actually curb his paedophiliac tendencies?

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I never faced such discrimination but I did find it frustrating people tried to discuss it were shouted down and silenced because it was no where near as prevalent as the everyday discrimination of women.  It was akin to saying we cannot talk about domestic violence towards men because the domestic violence face by women is so much more prevalent – both are wrong, both need to stop.

Ironically my time as a Primary School Teacher came to an end because of my strong sense of security in my gender.  When it came to balancing work life with parenting I gave up my career so my wife could maintain hers.  The decision wasn’t easy, not because we both wanted to pursue our careers but because we both wanted to care for our children as much as was possible.  What was at issue was not gender, both of us had the skills and empathy to bring up our children; what was at stake was the relative importance and income of our careers – mine was lower in both respects so my wife went back to work after her maternity leave ended.  Both of us made sacrifices – she gave up being the primary carer, I gave up my career.  At no time did I feel that my masculinity or gender identity was threatened, being a stay-at-home father made my sense of identity even stronger.

It was as the stay-at-home father that I experienced some of the everyday sexism experienced by women and the suspicion I heard of through the research programme.  At toddler groups I was usually the only man and was ostracised by the rest of the group.  When I was out with my children people would switch between patronising me with praise for helping their mother, or ask if I was coping and needed help.  Subtle signs that caring for a baby was not a man’s job came from the lack of baby changing facilities in men’s toilets – I never left home without a mat to lay down on the ground so I could change my children’s nappies.  None of this is me fishing for sympathy – I thank God for the chance to spend that time with my children, something I know my wife longed to be able to do.  

Why did I share these experiences? What relevance do they have to my frustration about common responses to what it is like to me a man in a certain role? Because it helps to demonstrate that the tweeted question was simplistic – what is a man?  A man may be an alpha-male fuelled by  testosterone and a competitive nature, but a man may be lots of things.  A man can fulfil what has traditionally been a woman’s role and vice versa.  And if we want more of that to happen we need to talk about it, we need to take seriously questions such as what is it like to be a ‘man and a priest’.

What my experiences taught me was that there were few avenues to discuss what it was like to be a man in certain situations, and not just in ones normally the domain of women.  It was similar when attending Men’s Groups or going to the gym: those who conformed to occupational and physical competitiveness of the Alpha Males were fine, those who did not were to be despised and laughed at – I over-generalise of course.  But there is some serious reality here: society’s view of what it means to be a man, coupled with the fact we don’t make it easy for men to get over their fear of talking about their identity, is a dangerous mix: “Middle-aged men are one of the most high-risk groups for suicide – they remain three times more likely to take their own lives than women” (from a report and website by Samaritans on Men and Suicide).  We need to talk about what it means to be a man because too many male stereotypes are toxic, damaging men’s mental health as they fail to live up to perceived or actual expectations of what it means to ‘be a man’ (I’m not suggesting this issue is unique to men, it clearly isn’t).

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None of my experiences, direct or indirect, are included to excuse or demean the sexism directed towards women.  It is understandable that people struggle to take questions such as “what is it like to be a man and a priest” seriously.  They have been used to throw shadows on the sexism women face every day, and they have been used by misogynistic people with insecurity chips on their shoulders.  But deflecting discussing issues from a male perspective not only limits our ability to reduce sexism and increase equality.  We need to find a way of talking about male perspectives and experiences without either being dismissive of, or dismissed by, the unequal burdens faced by women.

Asking a how it feels to be a male parent or a priest is not in itself a sexist or trivial, they are important questions.  Not all men think, act or are the same, just as not all women are the same, just as not all parents or priests are the same.  But questions of what others like you experience are helpful to raise and answer – they create a frame of reference for you to assess your own feelings, thoughts and experiences.  I, for example, know how it is to be a husband and a father and juggle the needs of my family with the needs arising out of my training. But I do not yet fully know what it is like to be that person and be a priest – and it is something I have struggled with throughout my journey towards ordination (take a look back through my blog and you’ll see).

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The closer a person’s  identity is to my identity the more relatable the insights will be.  I can learn what it is like to be a priest from lots of people but another priest, whether they are male, female, married or single, will give me particularly relatable insights. But there are some things that I can only learn from a priest who is a man.  Asking what it is like to be a man and a priest is not a wasted question or an automatic sign of misogyny.

If you want to know what it is like to be man and be a priest, ask the question.  If you want to know what it is like to be a woman and be a priest, ask the question.  If you want to know what it is like to be single or married, a mother or a father, white, black, Asian, or any other identity you can think of and be a priest, then go ahead and ask the question.

And if people ask the question, answer it, with the respect it deserves.

A discussion of this post is taking place over at Rev Jules Middleton’s twitter account @redjules – she is the author of the Picking Apples of Gold Blog.


The art of seeing salvation

Each summer those beginning or continuing their ordination training at Sarum College gather for a week of fellowship, exploration and reflection.  This year’s ‘Summer School’ focused on the use of art to help us ‘see salvation’: in the stones that have been calved and placed to gather amongst; in the sculptures formed by hands and machines to walk around; and in the paint applied to paper, canvas and plaster to gaze upon.  Although much of the art looked at during the week was formed with a clear religious intentionality behind it, an expression of faith and worship by an artist, not all of it did.  Indeed it was one of these latter pieces that provoked the greatest reaction and insight into ‘seeing salvation’.  The piece was Zak Ové’s “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness”, seen during a visit to the New Art Centre at Roche Court, near Salisbury.  Continue reading

This time now

Nervous excitement woke me up early.  I put on my glad-rags and left for the cathedral before my neighbours had begun to emerge into the daylight.  I didn’t want to be late.

I descended the Mendip Hills into Wells over an hour before the service began.  The Cathedral greeted me as I emerged from my car, and the Bishop of Taunton waved as she walked past.  As long as I kept both in sight I was going to make it in time. Continue reading

Breaking the chain and cynicism of Father’s Day


Insert “World’s Best Dad” name here

The signs are coming: “World’s Best Dad” printed on multiple t-shirts hanging on a clothes rails; scores of cards with “Number 1 Dad” on; “Perfect gift for Father’s Day” on everything from albums of 1980s soft-rock to packets of beef for the barbecue, essentially anything the real industry deems ‘manly’.  Their prevalence making the statements meaningless.  Their appeal to sentimentality for commercial gain that turns fatherhood into an apparent competition.

I’m not a fan. Continue reading

I belong because I don’t

Sunrising behind 3 crosses on a hill

Sunrise in Easter Day 2019 from an ecumenical service on The Roundhill, Bath

I am over half-way through my Ordination Training and thoughts are starting to turn to curacy.  When my diocese asked me to indicate which type of church I would and wouldn’t work with my reaction surprised me.  The question saddened me.  It was asking me where I belonged.  At once I realised that I belonged everywhere and nowhere. Continue reading

Silently Speaking

Sunset over the island of Coll

Listening to the silence

Growing up as the youngest of three, opportunities to talk were few and far between.  Each one had to be seized upon in case it would be a year before another would come again.  Silence was my chance to speak. 

Whatever the truth of my memory, the impact was that silence became an entity that I needed to fill; if I didn’t, and it continued, I would become increasingly uncomfortable.  And so I filled them.  I would jump into the silence with whatever opinion, facts or half-baked humour I could muster.  It wasn’t always the best idea. 

Filling the silence risks not hearing the very thing that needs to be heard.  Increasingly I’ve realised that isn’t me.  

Continue reading

An Ordinary Office on Iona

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Iona Abbey

Earlier in 2018 a group working to make church and faith accessible to all, called Disability and Jesus, produced a Daily Office – a set of prayers for different times of the day. Their website “An Ordinary Office” includes Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer in text, Makaton, audio and video formats.

During a visit to the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, I recorded the Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies. They were filmed at various locations on the island including Iona Abbey, Columba’s Bay (where St Columba is said to have landed from Ireland and brought Christianity to the area) and the White Strand of the Monks where visiting Vikings killed the Abbey’s Monks that had come out to welcome then).

I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful (there are subtitles available if required).

Morning prayer from Iona

Evening Prayer from Iona

An ambient tour of Iona

Over 9 minutes of peaceful landscapes filmed for the prayer videos.

Testing the limits

2384200Geraint Thomas riding to victory in the 2018 Tour de France (Source: Eurosport)

Over the course of 3 long-read blog posts I am reviewing my first year as an Ordinand, each post focused on 1 of the 3 words that sum up my first year: tea, testing and transformation.  This, the second post in the series, is all about testing, and no, they haven’t brought in doping tests for prospective priests in the Church of England.  

One section of life where tests for performance enhancing drugs is common place is sport, and in particular cycling.  Each July athletes race in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France.  For 3 weeks cyclists mix sprinting for glory with climbs up some of the highest and toughest mountains that Europe have to offer.  It is a tremendous feat of endurance just for a person to make it to the end on the Champs Élysées in Paris.  This first year of training has similarly felt like a feat of endurance.

Continue reading

Mr Tea


More tea, Ordinand?

Tea.  Testing.  Transformational.  Three words which capture the essence of my first year of Ordination Training.  This post, the first of 3 blog posts reviewing the year, is all about the power of a cup of tea.  Well, partly.  It’s also about self-awareness and mental health.

A travelling tea set I found in the French town of Périgueux seemed just the thing for a trainee vicar who would often be away from home at a theological college.  Contained within hinged cylindrical metal case, held closed by 2 leather straps, were a trinity of tea caddies and an infuser.  It played up to the stereotype of “More Tea Vicar”, but did so on my terms: the blends of tea inside were drinkable.  Just as I don’t like instant coffee but love coffee brewed from the bean, I love lots of varieties of tea but can’t stand the crowds’ favourite of English Breakfast Tea or ‘Builder’s Tea’.  This, I know, is potentially problematic for someone who may be doing pastoral visits in England, but there is always the simplicity of a glass of water!

What was brought as a piece of amusement proved to teach me an important lessons that carried me through the year: the need for solitude and reflection, and to care for my mental health.   Continue reading