Feast of St Anastasia the Martyr of Rome
THE MEETING is about to come to order here at the Hall of Men, where heroism is celebrated and masculinity is encouraged. The men, seated at an oak table that nearly fills the room, push away their soup bowls.
“Gentlemen,” says George Elder, raising his glass at the head of the table.
He offers a toast, drawn from a tale from the Battle of Maldor, where the Vikings overran the English at Essex in 991 A.D. During the battle a swordsman stood to rally his fellow soldiers after their leader had fallen, or so the story goes. In his toast, Elder quotes from a poem that preserves the moment in lore.
“Let us all remember the speeches we have made so often over our mead, when we stood in the hall boasting upon a bench - heroes about hard fighting. Now, let the man who is bold prove that he is so. Boldness is of no use, unless it is proved.”
There is a hearty “here-here” from the table and a clink-clink of beer mugs.
“George, that should be out motto,’ says College Hill Resident Erin Doom, remarking on the toast. Doom hosts the Hall of Men, offering a home for the 12-foot-long table (“It wouldn’t fit in my house,” says Elder) and the men who regularly gather there.
Gary Gensch, also a College HIll resident, has another suggestion following the toast.
“Next time we should smash the glasses together,’ he says, “that would be more manly, more Viking.”
It is hard to imagine a more masculine atmosphere than you’ll find at the Hall of Men, which is not a secret society so much as it is a fellowship group for select, well, men.
There is no hint of a woman’s touch in the raw, commercial space where tales of heroism are told late into the night over sips of some home-brewed-beer and cider, and pipe smoke sometimes swirls in the air. A naked bulb illuminates the buffet, an old wooden television cabinet in a back room where on this night there sits two pots of stew and a butcher knife to cut the bread.
“It is kind of the best environment for good masculinity, if you will,” said Scott Spradlin, who was making his third visit to the Hall. “I think we’re all here to have our minds challenged a little bit, to think about our devotional life, but we’re also free to sit and gab, eat some good grub, and have some homemade beer.”
Most of those that attend the meetings are Christian - some devoutly so - but it is not a requirement for invitation.
Doom has hopes of one day opening a pub and coffee house in the space, a place where discussions, debate, lectures and film series can continue even when the Hall of Men is not in session.
Like Elder, Doom is scholarly - both are instructors at Northfield School of the Liberal Arts - and talk around the table can get heady.
“We’re not just coming to drink beer,” Doom says. “There is definitely a formal, productive element to the night.”
There is a lecture on a hero presented at each meeting and the presenter is asked to provide an image, as well. Those heroes then find a place on the wall, which Doom hopes to one day see filled. Joshua Sturgill, an Uptown resident and employee of Eighth Day Books, spoke about his hero, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. He left time for a Q & A session afterward.
Remembering the great cloud of witnesses is at the heart of cultural renewal.
If you believe the Hall of Men and other Eighth Day works like
the Sisters of Sophia, the Inklings Festival, the Symposium, Florovsky Week, and Synaxis
are important ways to begin renewing your culture,
“I’m a teacher,” says Doom. “I want people to learn.”
So far, most of the heroes highlighted in the hall have been Christian Orthodox saints. But Doom is committed to keeping the meetings ecumenical.
“Part of my goal is to say, Hey, listen, we have a lot of things in common. Let’s get to know one another, enjoy each other’s company, and stand together for what we believe in,” he says.
When Doom heard what his friend Elder had done at Clemson University - he built the table to facilitate the regular gathering of his friends that grew into the Hall of Men - a partnership was born. Elder moved his table into the space (and built a kegerator for the meetings). Doom went on Facebook, looked up a few old friends, and sent out invitations.
“We’re going to get together, we’re going to drink beer, we’re going to eat, we’re going to talk about a hero, we’re going to pray, and we’re going to hang out,’ was the message. “We had over 20 guys the very first night,” Doom says.
Elder perhaps best explains the appeal of this muscular sort of Christian fellowship.
“The Vikings tried to take from the English everything that they had,” he says. “ But in the end, the Vikings get converted to Christianity and they bring with them this delightful sort of tradition of really strong, manly fellowship in which men grab each other and wrestle each other to the ground. They might even hit and bite each other. Some people consider that unchristian, but what I think is that people need to remember that Christianity is not a safe, simple sort of religion. We serve a God who is powerful, a God who is sometimes even violent. I wanted to recover a more full sense of that.
Then Elder excused himself to bid adieu to a departing friend.
“Take care,” the fellow says, reaching for a handshake. Elder pulls him in for a bear hug, complete with a growl.
*Originally published by Barry Owens in The College Hill Commoner, January 2009
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