I spent some time this week in a Connexional focus group exploring vocation and calling with other young student and probationer Methodist presbyters. The time we shared together is contributing to some ongoing Connexional work focused around how Methodism explores and develops its thinking and practice around vocation and calling with youth and young adults.
Reflecting on our conversations, and on my own experience of being a young person in the church, hindsight has brought into focus for me things in my past which have significantly shaped where I am today in my ongoing vocational development as a presbyter. The more I think about them, the more I feel that theses reflections speak to the church today as we think about vocation, calling and the future. While I don’t feel like these thoughts are by any way ‘complete, I hope to share where I am with them over the coming couple weeks.
So to begin, I want to think about being risk-takers. I am pretty certain that if it wasn’t for people and congregations who were willing to take a risk with me, I would not have reached the place I am today. At about 9 or 10 years old I used to occasionally lead the pre-service ‘chorus’ singing in my local church. Looking back now, I see a local church that risked a child leading them in worship. I can’t remember how I started doing it, but looking back I struggle to believe how trusting and risk-taking that congregation was.
In my early teens the young people in the church I then worshipped at would often lead fellowship/own arrangement services. I’m not sure now whether it was because it was an easy way to fill the many fellowships the church had each quarter, because the church liked hearing the young people lead, or because there was an intentionality in allowing young people to lead worship, an openness from the congregation to take that risk, to trust us and empower us to lead. Perhaps all three hold their truth.
At 14 I felt called to train as a Methodist Local preacher. I thought I was too you, so was surprised that within Methodism there isn’t an age limit on this vocation. I met with the circuit Superintendent to discern this together, and I soon had a note to preach. Again, looking back I struggle to believe there can’t have been some who were surprised by such a young person leading worship and preaching, yet the circuit empowered me to learn and grow, they trusted me and trusted God, they trusted God’s call.
There are many other times people have taken a risk which has empowered me, helped me to grow, contributed to who I am today, who I am becoming, and to the vocation I now pursue. From the church which asked me to become a steward, later becoming lead steward; my parents who asked to the preach at their circuit farewell service; those who allowed and encouraged myself and my wife to direct and produce our circuit Easter musicals; churches, circuit and district allowing me, along with other young people, to be part of church councils, circuit meetings and district synods. However I also recall times in my youth where I, and other young people, were discouraged from being involved in church life, where barriers were put in place, where rejection was exclusion was the response to young people’s desire to be active in the church and to explore and develop their gifts.
The question I now ask myself is, will I be a risk-taker? I hope so. Reflecting on the meeting I had this week, being reminded of my experience as a young person, I hope that in circuit ministry I will be able to trust, to be a risk-taker, offering space for empowerment and formation of others to young people, and to all people, whom God also equips and calls to many forms of ministry.