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Men listening; men talking

1/31/2024 By: Ken Ogasawara

Men listening; men talking

What does it mean to be a man in today’s world? A Christian man in North America? How do men deal with harmful legacies of “traditional” masculinity? These were just a few of the questions that 18 men gathered to ponder and reflect on during a half-day retreat at Zion Mennonite Fellowship, in Elmira, Ontario.

The idea for the retreat started with a book edited by Don Neufeld and Steve Thomas called Peaceful at Heart: Anabaptist Reflections on Healthy Masculinity. It is a collection of essays from men and women from all over Canada and the United States who reflect on their experiences, traumas and healing related to masculinity using Anabaptist theological themes of discipleship, community and peace. 

Monty Woodyard was one who participated in a virtual book study of Peaceful at Heart facilitated by MCC’s Restorative Justice program staff Rod Friesen and David Blow. “I was surprised and impressed by the combination of good resource material, uncertainties involving life in the pandemic and guidance of the Holy Spirit,” reflected Monty. “Those conversations led us to speak and listen about struggles we had all experienced being male in North American society during the early twenty-first century. It was an eye-opener for all of us. I had never been part of such a group of men willing to engage in depth over serious issues relating to masculinity.” 

Monty was so inspired that he wrote a sermon about this exploration of healthy masculinity at his home church, Zion Mennonite Church. Around that time, Neufeld and Thomas co-authored another book, Living that Matters, designed to serve as a guide to men’s study groups on healthy masculinity. Monty noticed on the Mennonite Men website that Steve Thomas had offered to facilitate half-day weekend retreats in the U.S. on healthy masculinity. “I thought that a retreat might give men a first-time experience in speaking about things that really mattered with other men,” says Monty. “I hoped it could be a first step for some to a more sustaining study group on healthy masculinity.”

Monty reached out to Rod Friesen, who was enthusiastic about the idea for a men’s retreat, and together with Don Neufeld and David Blow, they began planning the half-day retreat. MCC supported financially and with outreach to its diverse constituency. 

“Honestly, the hardest part of putting this together was getting the men out,” remembers Monty. “But in the end, we were so thrilled that we got as many men out as we did.” There were men from nine different area churches in Southwestern Ontario, with ages ranging from young fathers in their 30s to men in their 80s. 

“The most encouraging and enjoyable aspect of the morning was the active conversations, in small groups and in the larger group dialogue,” says Don. “They were just so willing to lean into honest conversations about masculinity.”
Monty agrees that the vulnerability and willingness to share showed a real appetite for this kind of sharing amongst men. “We heard that men crave more than just a 20-minute sermon every week. I was seeing people connect one-on-one outside the agenda to arrange to follow up personally on something that was meaningful to them, which was also great to see.”

The richness of sharing on the topic of healthy masculinity revealed to Monty, Don and Rod both the benefits and the need for more of this deep discussion.

“I would love to take this event on the road and would welcome any partners who would reach out,” reflects Don. “I believe this first run was a grand success in showing the potential of this type of event in the future!”

You can find Peaceful at Heart: Anabaptist Reflections on Healthy Masculinity here.
And Living That Matters here.

If you are interested in joining this discussion or are simply curious to learn more, contact Rod Friesen at or Don Neufeld at

Photo credit: MCC photo/Ken Ogasawara


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