Of Mass and Masculinity

Man praying in pew


It starts like most guy gatherings do. There are head bobs and high-fives followed by a heaping helping of familiar salutations like “What’s up man?” or “Hey dude, how’s it goin’?”

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were in any men’s locker room or sports bar in Everytown, USA _ and that’s exactly the way USD’s Director of University Ministry Michael Lovette-Colyer wants it.

At least, at first.

“It can be really difficult for men to engage each other in venues outside of athletics and ask questions that are really going to connect them with their authentic selves,” he explains. “It’s what we’re taught from an early age in American culture; young men are connected by sports, and not much else.”

In this specific instance, the assembled group isn’t analyzing Kobe Bryant’s jump shot or Peyton Manning’s late-game heroics. This meeting is about establishing connections through a heightened sense of spirituality – both with themselves and each other. Once considered a foundational component of the student experience at USD, men’s prayer groups have waned in popularity over the last few decades.

According to Lovette-Colyer, the biggest challenge is creating an environment where men can feel comfortable with vulnerability. In order to facilitate that process – and to keep a captive audience – he’s taken core messaging men receive at an early age and served it up with a slice of humor.

“At the start of our meetings, we do a parody of those ‘Man Law’ beer commercials from a few years back, you know, a bunch of manly guys sitting around a table and putting together a list of rules that all men should govern themselves by,” he says, referencing Miller Lite beer’s comedic commercial campaign which celebrated all things masculine. One example of the group’s light-hearted legislation includes establishing whether or not guys should sit next to each other at a movie theater, or keep a seat open between them: “depends on the size of the crowd,” Lovette-Colyer offers, laughing.

Creating a sense of jocularity goes a long way in breaking down some of the barriers that prevent members of the group from sharing their opinions on sensitive topics such as spirituality and self-awareness. Ultimately, Lovette-Colyer is trying to connect attendees to the importance of community, and how their discussions as a group can benefit them as individuals.

“Coming to these prayer meetings means, at some level, guys are willing to analyze some of those foundational messages they received at an early age and question their validity,” he says. “However, the benefits gained from listening to other men who are asking themselves the same questions can be huge as they move forward in their lives.” — Mike Sauer