Last week I began sharing some thoughts around calling and vocation, having been stimulated in my thinking and reflecting by a Connexional focus group I was part of which was exploring the area of calling and vocation in youth and young adults. See here for the first post in this blog series.
Here’s the second blog exploring some of my reflections and ongoing thoughts.
Talking with other young ministers, and reflecting on my own story last week I was led to reflect on where I found hope as a young person in the church? Where do I find it now? As a young adult, anticipating around 40 years of Connexional ministry ahead of me, where do I find hope for the future in my vocation?
Growing up in a Methodist manse, and active in the life of the church, the sense of decline, struggle and uncertainty was always strongly present, to an extent that I sometimes lacked any conviction that there was much hope for the church, or at least much hope for the Methodist Church. In my later teens, I think I could well have left Methodism if I hadn’t begun training as a Methodist local preacher at 14. While at times I felt somewhat disillusioned with the church I saw, I couldn’t turn my back on the call I had heard, and which had been affirmed by the church.
When I began to shared with others my sense of calling to candidate for Methodist ministry back in 2015, many responded with encouragement and affirmation, and to my puzzlement, many didn’t seem at all surprised. Yet there were also questions such as ‘are you sure?’; ‘is that really what you want to be doing?’; ‘but what future does the Methodist Church have?’.
These questions came from lay and ordained people, and I am sure they were well intentioned questions, probing for conviction and certainty in the call believed to be from God. However, after reflecting with others last week I’m left wondering if these experiences are symptoms of something more significant. It led me to wonder if the vocation of ordained ministry in the church (for my own context specifically the Methodist Church) is facing a lack of hope, a hopelessness in vocation. If this is the case, how does it impact upon the calling and vocation of others in the future?
For Paul, faith, hope and love are a trio of virtues needed in Christian community (1 Cor 13:13), writing to a community which was struggling through disagreement and disunity (1 Cor 1:10-11). In our 21st Century context, we frequently continue to struggle through disunity and disagreement at all levels of church life and Christian community, often bringing out attention to the here and now, to the present situations we find ourselves in. Yet, I wonder if in the midst of our struggles with the now, we can too easily lose sight of what is yet to be; lose sight of hope.
In his book, ‘The Wounded Healer’, Henri Nouwen suggests we are facing ‘the death of a future oriented culture’.  He suggests that ministers are called to bring hope to the hopeless, to enable people to look beyond the immediate, to find a future vision of hope which reaches beyond the desires for certainty, hope that points to new life in the face of corruption and death.  He then writes;
“hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory”The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, p.81.
In the midst of the here and now of the present, and the activity orientated focus on future churches and ministers are often undertaking (planning for services, Christmas, Easter,- agenda planning, diary management), I wonder if we’ve lost sight of the hope which liberates us from the present and enables us to face the unknown with confidence and resilience.
If we, as a church want people to be inspired for the future, to continue to witness people called into ordained vocations (and indeed see people find their calling and vocation in other places, in and outside of the church), then surely some responsibility to inhabit that falls on ourselves and our ministry.
The question which I now find myself pondering is a tough and challenging one, but one that I think needs asking if we do have a sense of hopelessness in the vocation of ordained ministry. If ministers are the ones who hold responsibility to bring hope to the hopeless, what happens when ministers may have lost a sense of hope in the future of their own vocation?
I’m not convinced there is an easy answer, and the answer may well be different for different people. However for me, I think a good place to start is the other virtues within Paul’s Corinthian trio; love and faith. Faith, rooting myself in a God who is timeless, life-giving and ever-present. Love, redeeming me from my own brokenness, personified in Christ, present in face of others whom I encounter. Through my own awareness of faith and love, I can see afresh the mission of God around me, igniting within me a greater awareness of hope.
That is why I think we are called to be hope-builders; rooted in and drawn out of faith and love. Hope which nurtures, inspires and empowers others as we seek to build-up and encourage those to whom we serve to know and experience for themselves a future filled with hope.
 The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, Darton, Longman and Todd (London, 2014), p35.
 The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, Darton, Longman and Todd (London, 2014), p79-81.