Category Archives: Vocation

Blog posts on the theme of vocation

Seeing what’s in front of me

I’ve recently been reading a book called ‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’, by Eugene Peterson. Using the book of Jonah as a foundation, he explores how we understand the vocation of a pastor in a world where vocation too often becomes a career, spirituality becomes religiosity and being a pastor revolves around either being a manager or being a messiah. He makes many points, but at it’s crux is the suggestion that above all being a pastor requires us to speak of God, and point to God.

While the book was written over 25 years ago, and comes from an American context, I’ve still found it a really helpful read, as someone who is about to begin full time ministry and can echo with some of Eugene’s own vocational journey.

Over the last few days, one line has particularly stuck with me, where Peterson suggests we need to:

“develop a reverence for what is actually there instead of a contempt for what is not, inadequacies that seduce me into a covetousness for someplace else.” [1]

All too often, I find myself hearing what others are saying, seeing what others are doing, and wishing I could be doing that, that I was like that. The result is that I fail to recognise, appreciate and revere what is in front of me.

There have been a few times in the past week where I’ve found myself caught up short, realising the seduction and distraction that has drawn my attention away from what is in front of me.

One such moment was on Sunday morning. My family and I were attending my link church for the last time before we move to Bognor Regis. I’ve spent the last 2 years linked to the church as part of my training, where I have worshipped with them, lead some services and bible study’s, attended some meetings and been generally present and supporting the church and their minister. It’s a group of people I’ve come to love for their generosity, welcome and hospitality, and deep desire to worship God in the face of adversity. They welcomed Louise and the girls as heartily as they welcomed me, they even created a creche space in a side room for the girls to be able to play during services, and were never frustrated by the noise or the distraction two toddlers regularly created!

But my link church was very different to churches I’d been to before. It’s multi-cultural identity and inner city location were both a step outside of anything I’d been used to in Cornwall. I needed to get used to fact that my being white sometimes meant I was the minority in the congregation, I had to get used to the congregation numbers doubling, or even trebling in the time between the start and finish of the service. The church had very different ways of doing things that I might have had.

Neither have I been immune from field-gazing. Hearing other’s talk about their link church experiences and wishing I’d had the opportunities they’d had.

This weekend, as they said goodbye to us, not only did they surprise us with cake and nibbles after the service, they gave all of us gifts of thanks, and gathered around us and prayed for us all. They shared how much they’d been touched, encouraged and nurtured through our presence and ministry with them. The irony is that it wasn’t until I was leaving that I came to realise just what was in front of me. I’ve never felt I’ve really done much at my link church, yet now I see how much my simply being with them has impacted them.

One member said to me afterwards “you’ll never fully know the impact you’ve made on us”. That was a heart stopping moment. All I could say, was “I guess I won’t”, and in that moment that was ok. It was ok not to know, because in truth it doesn’t matter, not to me, what matters is what God is doing, what matters is that God has, is and continues to work in those amazing folk through their hospitality and love.

Me, I’ve been reminded once again to revere what’s in front of me and know that it’s not all about me and what I do, it’s about what God is doing. I hope and pray I never lose sight of that.

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[1] Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson, (Eerdmans, 1992) p.133.

Calling and Vocation (4): Rooted in God

This is the fourth (and for the moment, final) post in a series of posts around the theme of Calling and Vocation, particularly focused around my own experiences of formation for ordained ministry, but also seeking to be broader in recognising the calling and vocation of all God’s people.

You can see the previous blogs in the series here:

Calling and Vocation (1): Risk-Takers

Calling and Vocation (2): Hope-Builders

Calling and Vocation (3): Discernment

Rooted in God

Why wait until the fourth and final (for now) post to talk about God? In fairness I don’t think I have, all my reflections had been based on an assumption that God is central and primary in our exploring of and responding to calling and vocation. To take risks that enable others to explore and realise their own God given talents and abilities, to build hope, that others can see the God in the future as well as in today, and encouraging and modelling discernment as a process of seeking to respond it, test out and talk about hat God is saying and doing in our lives.

However, I’ve come to a point in my reflections where I’ve come to recognise that, with all good and Godly intentions, it can be too easy to go by or own steam, or God to be moved to the periphery and us to take centre stage. One of the aspects of faith I’ve sometimes found a challenge to sustain over the last 3 years is a sense of spirituality which keeps me rooted in relationship with God, rather than in ideas, institutions and ideologies. It’s something I continue to work at, and recently with some friends feel that I have made some significant headway.

With so many worldly distractions around us, the temptations of materialism, the draw of commercialism, the culture of instant gratification we live in, it seems is too easy to become distant from God, distant from what matters. In his book exploring vocational holiness, Eugene Peterson recognises some of these tensions. Exploring the book of Jonah, he parallels life encounters with the storm Jonah faces, as a place for re-orientation [1] a time to wake-up [2] and take note of God, when Jonah was doing all he could to escape God.

Of course, these thoughts are in no way isolated to the topic of calling and vocation. This is about Christian life, living out the faith we profess. Yet it is from the seeking to live out faith that calling and vocation emerge – one feeds the other, gives life to other. Calling and Vocation cannot be separated from faith. Peterson appears to suggest that when such a separation happens, we fall from spirituality into religiosity, from pursuing vocation to fulfilling a career. [3]

So whether exploring vocation yourself, our thinking about ways to help others think about vocation, I think it is important to never neglect the importance of bring rooted in God. Calling and vocation becomes a fallacy, for it hides a self-focused careerism, separated from the faith in which we profess.

Even more so now than when I went through the process, I greatly appreciate the emphasis on the call of God which was present throughout my own candidating experience. I appreciate that not everyone’s experience is the same, but for me, the emphasis on the call of God left me feeling assured and at peace that God’s will would be, working in and through the many conversations, panels and meetings I had, all the while feeling and knowing in my spirit that they were soaked in prayer and God’s Spirit. The emphasis also helped me to know it wasn’t all about me, it wasn’t about what I do or could/would do, but about who I am, as a child of God, feeling and responding to the call of God and allowing others to journey with me in exploring and eventually confirming that call.

In a sense then, this series of blogs therefore finishes at the place where calling and vocation needs to start, and always be: rooted in God – who loves, calls and equips, listening and responding to God call, and in the company of others, pursing vocation with God at the centre.

[1] Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992) p.46

[2] Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992) p.35

[3] Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992) see p.3-5; 20.

Calling and Vocation (3): Discerning

A couple weeks ago I began sharing some thoughts around calling and vocation,(links to the previous blogs… Calling and Vocation (1) Risk Takers; Calling and Vocation (2): Hope-Builders). Here’s a third, which focuses on discernment.

Discernment

If you were asked to describe what discernment means, how would you attempt to answer that question? And a further questions, where do you see discernment practiced, evident or talk about within church life?

If I was asked 3 years what discernment is, I think I would have struggled to answer it very well at all. Now, while still not finding it easy, words like testing, considering, weighing-up, consultation and conversation with others – all under the banner of a Christian belief that discernment is seeking to understand and enflesh the will of God in our lives, and/or the lives of others.

In my experience, and in conversation with other people’s experience of candidating for ordained ministry in the Methodist church, I’ve noticed two things;

  1. That the majority of people feel a sense of certainty of some sort of call before they share it with anyone else
  2. That while people feel a sense of certainty of call, this certainty has been one of calling to candidate, not calling to ordained ministry.

Both have their significance – and to briefly explore them, I want to start with the second observation.

Speaking from my own experience, I strongly felt a call to candidate, to offer myself to the Church. While I wouldn’t have described it in this way at the time, in hindsight I can see that this was a time of discernment, as the church and I sought to discern the will of God together. While I felt confident I was doing the right thing in candidating, I never felt any sort of certainty about the result that would one day come.

Looking back, this time of discernment was extremely significant for me, because it allowed me to time to explore what this call might mean for me, for my family and for my future. It meant I could deal with some of my doubts, name some of my fears, wrestle with some of the questions that were constantly developing in my mind. But this was done with others, supporting, nurturing and encouraging me. In many ways, my last two years at college have felt like a continuation of that, no so much about discerning vocation, as discerning about self, about identity, about the place and shape of future ministry, again done alongside others, tutors, family, colleagues, friends.

Which leads me to consider the first observation I have made – That the majority of people feel a sense of certainty of some sort of call before they share it with anyone else.

In some ways, and speaking from personal experience, that had some great strengths for me in considering ordained ministry. A sense of certainty that to candidate was the right thing for me to do meant that some of the challenges I faced through that process were supported with an inner sense of certainty and conviction which enabled me to overcome them.

However, is certainty a prerequisite of what then becomes a more public discernment process? What I think I’m asking is whether we believe we are providing people in our churches with the tools and resources for personal discernment before they make that ongoing process of discernment more public. I am pretty sure there are some things we’re good at, but I am also sure there’s going to be more we could do.

Taking this beyond thinking about the processes of discernment for ordained ministry, what of discernment for other vocations, whether it be in or outside of the church, how is the church equipping people to discern the will of God for their lives? In one way or another, I think most people would agree that we live in a culture which increasingly assumes immediacy, is built up on finding clear answers with haste and instancy, and expects a level of perfectionism and faultlessness. I’m not convinced society does the concept of discernment much service, and I’m not convinced it’s supported by the Biblical narrative either.

I’ve been reading Exodus this week, and the character of Moses has echoed with me in ways it hasn’t before. One thing that has struck me is that Moses was full or doubts about himself, his worth, his ability, how he would be received by the Israelites.

‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

‘But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me?’

‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent […] I am slow of speech and slow of tongue’

‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’

Exodus 3:11; 4:1; 4:11; 4:13.

His questions and his wrestling with this call come alongside the fact he had run away from Egypt because he had murdered an Egyptian (2:12). Moses wasn’t perfect, he lacked self-confidence, I think he lacked certainty, but God called and used him all the same.

So as Christians, as God’s people, I think we need to be more intentional about how we talk about and practice discernment in the public sphere, which will impact upon the private sphere. We need to show that it is ok to not know, that it is right to take time in discernment, that discernment does not necessarily require certainty, that it is proper to take that journey with others, in discerning the will of God. Discernment should be part of our making sense of calling and vocation, wherever direction we sense that taking us, whether for a season or for a lifetime. To affirm that calling comes with doubts and fears, and that these feelings are natural, human, and part of what discernment is.

Calling and Vocation (2): Hope-builders

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.

Hope-builders

Continue reading Calling and Vocation (2): Hope-builders

Calling and Vocation (1): Risk-takers

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.

Continue reading Calling and Vocation (1): Risk-takers

Going around the bend…

Initial formational training has at times felt like a tremendous gift, and at other times a hard slog. As I begin June 2018 I find myself beginning a new phase of life. I‘ve completed the academic work for the academic year, lectures are over, and I have opportunity and much more personal freedom to choose what to read, and get some more practical learning through a summer placement.

So much of the last 2 years has been spent looking ahead at what is coming next, planning for the next essay, reading for the next lecture, preparing for the next service, that I find myself finding this change of pace somewhat disorientating.

People tell me to take it easy, to enjoy the time, rest and relax, and while I want to do that, I feel ill equipped for all the unknowns of what the future holds, and want to use the time I have now the best I can to be better, to feel stronger.

Last week we went for a walk as a family down the canal, never a fast walk with two toddlers ambling along. As a canal boat slowly turned the corner and moved out of sign, I had what I can only describe as a moment of revelation. I found myself realising how pertinent that image of the canal boat slowly turning the corner was for me. Having been in such an intensive period of life, this time is for me, to go slowly, to relax, to enjoy the path ahead as I slowly turn into the unknown.

I confess, that doesn’t come easy with me. It runs against what I tend to call my own pragmatic disposition. All too often wanting to get on with what needs doing, and struggling to accept that for my own wellbeing, the pragmatic thing is not always to be doing. Not always planning ahead, not always looking to the future. So I’m learning. Learning to be. Learning that sometimes the most pragmatic thing to do might actually be to sit, to wait, to be, to enjoy what I have, where I am, now. To meet with God as I slowly sail around the bend…and enjoy it.

Stay with me,

remain here with me,

watch and pray.

watch and pray.

Taize Community (C) Ateliers et Presses de Taize

Header Image: Birmingham Canal, May 2018

Finding my voice

It’s a long time since I last wrote or posted anything here, on what is meant to be a place where I intended to share something of my journey as I undergo formation for presbyteral ministry. It would be easy to say I’ve been too busy studying at college to have time to write, and while that would be true in part, it isn’t the whole story.

The truth is that I lost my voice. No, not literally, but spiritually, theologically, personally. Many times I’ve desired to post, but I have lacked inspiration and conviction to know what to write. I’ve struggled writing sermons too.

Among the cacophony of voices in the multitude of books, articles and writings from the centuries of Christian tradition, along with the wonderful voices of those I am learning and journeying alongside and being taught by, I’ve lost my voice, my confidence and conviction. I’ve been left feeling that so many other people say things so much more beautifully than I believe I ever can, what can I say? What use is there me adding my little, inexperienced voice to this cacophony, won’t I just muddy the waters?

But in the last few weeks I’ve begun to feel different; as if the tide has been changing. Having finished our second term I’ve been on what has felt like an essay marathon, but as I’ve approached the end I’ve come to realise I have a voice, a voice God has given me and I need to use it, and to make space to use it.

Holy Week this year has so far been very different to the past few years. I’ve not been selling Easter eggs and cards as I have since I left college, and nor have I been busy in church life, previously either preaching, organising or stewarding for various events This year I’m at Queens in the midst of the Easter holidays, at the tail end of my essay marathon without anything to specifically ‘do’ this Easter.

But that has been a wonderful thing, because not doing has meant I could ‘be’. While there are no lectures and few people on site at Queens, a part-time group have been here for ‘Easter School’ and I’ve taken the opportunity to join them for worship on a number of occasions, and I’ve benefitted from dipping into some of their services as holy week has progressed. Today I joined the Easter School’s ‘hour at the cross’, which consisted of a collection of readings, mediations music, prayer and silence which lead us through an hour of reflection. As I sat in the stillness I sensed the Lord speaking to me, reminding me that he called me, for who I am, made in his image, and that includes my voice.

So while I still struggle to know what to say and feel my voice isn’t as good as others, I know that that isn’t how God sees me, that I need to overcome my feelings of unworthiness and rediscover my God given voice, because he’s called me for being all that I am.

I hope sharing where I am in my journey at the moment will help and encourage others of you too. And hopefully…as I find my voice…I won’t be so quite on here any longer…