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Band of Brothers in Christ: The Abiding Value of Men's Groups

  • LAURA LOKER

A longstanding men's group brings community, stability to Poughkeepsie, New York parish.


MaleFriendsPhoto by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash.

At some parishes, daily Mass is the domain of retirees. Attend Church of the Holy Trinity in Poughkeepsie, New York on a Saturday morning, however, and you'll find a tight-knit group of men in the pews.

The men are participants in the parish men's group, which meets at 7:15 a.m. on Saturdays to share in fellowship and faith formation. The group, which meets from the fall through the spring, has just begun its 11th year—and about a dozen of the participants have been attending since the beginning.

"We're as close as most families," said Jeff Futyma, who joined the group in its first year at the parish.

Parishioner George Knapp began the group at the request of a parish staff member. In his search for a program to follow, a family member recommended "That Man is You!" (TMIY), a no-cost program produced by Catholic nonprofit Paradisus Dei.

TMIY offers videos, which typically run half an hour, to help men engage with their faith. Topics range from Scripture to the catechism to contemporary cultural and moral issues. Speakers likewise vary, spanning a range of theologians, writers, clergy, and other prominent Catholic voices.

After gathering for coffee and "breakfast goodies," Knapp said, the group—typically about 16 men—watches that week's video and discusses it. They wrap up in time to head to the sanctuary for 9 a.m. Mass (an effective tactic to keep meetings from running over, Futyma noted).

Through the videos and discussions, participants have learned more about their faith, each other and themselves. Knapp attributes the success of the group and the participants' dedication to it to the quality of the TMIY program.

"It helps men to become better husbands, better fathers, better grandfathers, better men in society," he observed.

Forming healthy, holy men

The friendships formed within the group are increasingly unusual in today's world. In the U.S., men are getting lonelier. In 1990, 3% of men in a Survey Center on American Life poll reported having no close friends. In 2021, that number had risen to 15%.

Over the years, Knapp and his cohort—many of them middle-aged husbands and fathers—have grown to rely on one another.

"We're there for each other in spirit, as well as in everyday activities," he said, recalling that a few weeks prior he'd reached out to another participant for a recommendation to fix a water-damaged ceiling. "We're a band of brothers in Christ."

Parishioner Amy Towne noted that the group helped catechize her husband, who—like her—is a convert from Protestantism. The videos have served as a continuing education, she said, and the other men have helped solidify his faith in a way that she cannot.

"Hearing from men and seeing that other men do believe these things—it's not just me—I think is one of the greatest benefits for for us personally," she said.

"It helps men to become better husbands, better fathers, better grandfathers, better men in society."

Futyma reflected that the program has expanded his vision of what it means to be a husband and a father, correcting some of the impressions he absorbed growing up.

"You felt that your duty was to go out and work and make the money and, you know, provide for your family, and that was kind of your sole job," he said. "But we've found out through 'That Man is You!' that it's much more than that."

Futyma remembered that when his children were young, he worked long, late hours; since then, even though he and his wife are now empty-nesters, he has shifted his schedule to get home earlier.

"The work part is important, but not to the detriment of your family," he said. "And I think most of us have gone through that."

Indeed, Futyma is not the only participant whose relationship with his family has changed.

"Quite a few women, wives of the men, have thanked me for running the program because it changed their husbands in the way that they treat their wives and the way they treat their families," said Knapp.

At the heart of it all, Knapp reflected, is Jesus.

"Jesus Christ is present with me every second of the day," he said. "Everything I do is based on what he wants me to do."

Strengthening community

Futyma noted that the men in the group often become more involved in the parish overall.

In part he attributes this to the relationships formed there—"Well, geez, Joe is running a festival and he needs help," he gave as a hypothetical example, "so, you know, we should all jump in and help"—and in part to the program content itself.

"I think it's about being more of a leader in your community," he said.

Towne appreciates the constancy of the group, especially amid changing pastoral leadership. The men's friendships with one another have spread to their families, she said, and strengthened the the community as a whole.

"I think it adds stability to the parish," she said. "Because priests come and go, but this group has stayed."

Towne, who ran the parish women's group for six years, said that they hosted a brunch at which the men's group served the food. It was one of their most successful events, drawing over one hundred women.

"I think that's the whole feeling that we get through 'That Man is You!': that it broadens your feeling about your spiritual family in the in the parish itself," Futyma reflected.

Futyma recalled discussing this "spiritual family" with Pat Towne, Amy's husband, at one meeting.

"I said, 'You know, when we meet each other out in public or in church or whatever, I think it should be more than a handshake. I think it should be a hug,'" he remembered.

"And Pat turned to me and he says, 'I'll give you one better,'"—Futyma laughed—"and he gave me a kiss on the cheek."

Ultimately, the strength of the relationships and the mutual sharing of faith is what has made the group so consistent.

"It's like prayer. It's like receiving Communion. You know? We need that," said Futyma. "So we come back for it."

This is Meaghen Gonzalez, Editor of CERC. I hope you appreciated this piece. We curate these articles especially for believers like you.

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Acknowledgement

LauraLokerLaura Loker. "Band of Brothers in Christ: The Abiding Value of Men's Groups." Catholic Education Resource Center (October 2023).

The Author

Laura Loker is a writer in the Washington, D.C. area.

Copyright © 2023 Catholic Education Resource Center

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