I find it interesting, in today’s society, that we no longer talk of ‘vocation.’ Vacation – sure we’re willing to talk of that, but of ‘vocation’ it just never seems to happen, except in very rare circumstances.
And at the same time, at every level of the life of the church we wonder where the next generation of leadership is going to come from? And this pondering, this wondering affects everything from education, to parish work, to pastoral work.
So, now, it appears that we need to talk, once again of the idea of vocation as it applies to us, and our lives. Vocation is a noun. And we all know a noun is a person, place, or thing. It’s is the idea of a particular occupation, business, or profession, ideally it’s ‘a calling’. It’s the strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career. It’s a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
And this, then, is the word we gravitate to when we talk about a life in the church – whether an occupation in the priesthood (deacon, priest, or bishop), or as a lay reader, reader or lector, or any of the behind the scenes tasks that makes sure that the church and the services go forward smoothly and seamlessly.
Yet it’s a word that indicates a profession. It denotes participation which is something that we all seem to shy away from for any number of personal reasons. I’ve even heard one pastor attempt to encourage a young person to consider a life as a pastor only to receive feedback from the youth’s parents belittling the minister and his attempts to sow the seeds of ministry; and yet God keeps calling us.
God calls us to love our neighbour as we love our selves. God calls us to love God with our hearts, minds, and souls. God calls us to serve our brothers and sisters in whatever capacity is given to do that.
In reality, God continues to call us to consider a vocation of love in whatever shape that love may look like.
But maybe the most difficult part is actually desiring to hear the voice of God, the promptings of God to have sway in our lives. I know that ‘voice’ has had many different speakers throughout our history of faith, and ongoing throughout each of our lives. And so, each of us is given the challenge to discern what is truly God’s will in and for our lives, as well as for the future of our lives of faith. And it sometimes involves an internal wrestling, a discerning, that involves discovering new aspects about ourselves along the way.
My own call to ordination, to the priesthood, was not just a personal decision. The discernment process included a sense of call by not only me, but my family, my home congregation, and the wider church. It was an involved and involving process taking almost a year just to hear from all the necessary voices to say the same thing, and for the Bishop’s office to determine that a true call to ministry existed. And from that point, then my ‘formal’ education on how to be a minister, a priest was able to begin.
This brings us to perhaps another ‘sticking point’ for many who are contemplating or perhaps have contemplated the idea of a church vocation. The idea of feeling a call to the priesthood, or to be more involved in the life and function of the church is not just a personal feeling, but one that involves the feedback and support of family and church family as well. And it involves learning many things that we may not see the value of until we’re hip deep into the call that God has in mind for us from the beginning.
So, once you’ve come to grips with the idea that God is calling to you to be more active in the life and function of the church, then the next step is to be open to the training, education, or even schooling that is needed to fully understand the vocation, the state to which you have been called.
We’re each called, and because of this, we may feel that God will endow us with the gifts and skills we need, at the moment we need them. And for even the first disciples and apostles this both was, and wasn’t the case. Even the disciples spent a period of time following Jesus, learning from him, and testing out the skills and lessons they were learning along the way.
Up to the point of the crucifixion the disciples didn’t feel ready to strike out on their own, to change the world the way the Son of God envisioned the church would grow in the world. And yet, he still died on the cross, he still rose from the grave, and before the arrest, Jesus prayed that the disciples would stay true to their calling even in the face of their fear.
Remember, Jesus called Simon Peter to be “the rock upon which I will build the church”, and yet on the night of Jesus arrest and trial, he grew afraid and denied knowing him, three times. (Matthew 16 and Matthew 26)
And yet, between the resurrection and the ascension, Jesus completed the training of his disciples and gave them the encouragement, the promise of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and the New Testament is the record of their work in the world.
And today, today we need to embrace the word vocation. We need to explore for our own lives the concept, the noun that helps us to hear the word ‘vocation’. Today we need to find ways and individuals who are open to following where God calls, to be the leaders and the teachers for today, and for tomorrow.
Because it is only by being open to the word of God, that we will find our way into the future, and to come closer to the Kingdom of God.