Tag Archives: Vocation

Reflecting on Vocation

Marking Vocation Sunday 2021. To explore the theme of vocation further head to the Methodist vocation website

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On Sunday 2nd May the Methodist Connexion marks Vocation Sunday. A day when we celebrate and reflect on the vocation of individuals and communities.

What do we mean by vocation?

it’s perhaps a church-y word – but it’s an important one.

it differentiates from the idea of work, of job, and of economic activity.

Vocation connects with our very selves, our identity, our humanity, and says this is what I am created for at this time, in this place. My collection of gifts and skills suits me to this role, this function, this way of being – this vocation.

And of course, all of that, within our faith, is encompassed in the belief that God gives each of us life and breath and gifts and skills. The truth and belief that God gifts us and equips us for the vocations he calls us to.

But not only that, but also the belief that God is active in the world inviting us to notice and respond by getting involved with what God is doing. For getting involved in what God is doing is indeed our vocation as Christian people. Noticing where God is at work, the places where there is evidence of the fruit of God’s Spirit – and joining in.

Words like calling and vocation can scare us sometimes. Perhaps it is helpful to think of it like this: the primary call of a Christian is to follow Jesus, and the journey that emerges from that, for each of us, is our own unique vocation.

Do you see your journey with Jesus as a vocation?

Or do you think that vocations are just for Ministers, and nurses and teachers?

A couple weeks ago my daughter Lydia lost a particular soft toy – dog from TV programme Paw Patrol, – and we searched high and low for it. The last time we knew we’d had it was on a bike ride and we wondered if it had fallen out of the seat it have been sat in.

We looked and looked but could not find it anywhere. After 4 or 5 days of looking, Louise and I had just about settled that it was lost, and gave up looking. Then, one evening Louise noticed something behind the pedestal sink, and there was the toy. We’d been looking in the wrong places.

Do we sometimes look for a sense of vocation where it is not?

In John 15 we read of Jesus presenting himself as the true vine and that those who follow him are the branches.

A vine is a plant that bears grapes. For a vine, or any plant to grow strong, it needs to be well fed with nutrients, water and sunlight. Different plants can require different combinations of this food to grow and, if fruit bearing, to produce fruit.

On this Vocations Sunday, I wonder where our life is bearing fruit.

‘could this be evidence of my vocation?’

Sometimes a plant needs its branches cutting shorter, to be pruned – because this helps the new branch that grows to have more fruit. Sometimes there are things in our lives, and the lives of our faith communities that were once bearing abundant fruit, that were once our vocation, but are not anymore.

Are there things you are doing or were doing, possibly in the name of God and church, that are actually now a burden & chore that bring a sense of gloom, and either don’t bear any fruit or the fruit is no longer abundant and juicy?

If so, it might be time for change, time to have those branches pruned.  Sometimes pruning plants looks and feels brutal, but it is sometimes necessary if the plant is to grow new and delicious fruit.

Vocation is not only something that is about you and me as individuals; it is also about the vocation of the church.

As we emerge from lockdown, this is the time to ask, what is the vocation of my church in the time and the place we find ourselves?

Footnotes

Some material in this weeks reflection developed from material for celebrating Vocation Sunday 2021 vocations-sunday-2021-english-language.pdf (methodist.org.uk)

Called Deeper

Part 3 of a 3-part series reflecting on the ending(s) of John’s Gospel, ch20 & 21.

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Last week our journey through the ending(s) to John’s gospel took us to the shore of Galilee to Peter and some of the other disciples having fun fishing on the lake, meeting the risen Jesus and enjoying fresh fish with him around a campfire. Friends enjoying breakfast together as the sun breaks on the shore.

This week we pick back up where that scene left us, because as breakfast is finished and the campfire moves from flames to glowing embers, Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks him ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

It feels like a change of pace in the story – we move from an intimate breakfast with friends perhaps having fun and laughter together, to an intimate and deep 1 to 1 between Jesus and Peter.

“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” comes Peters’ reply.

I wonder how he spoke those words. What his tone and body language was? Was Peter filled with confidence and conviction, as he must have been moments before when he had jumped into the water and waded to shore. Or was he filled with remorse and guilt, his denying Jesus that night in the Jerusalem courtyard coming back to haunt him?

This conversation repeats, 3 times in total Jesus ask Peter do you love me, each time Peter responds, “yes Lord you know me, everything about me, you know, you know I love you.”

It is interesting and perhaps not surprising given how we often find numbers used within scriptures storytelling, that after Peter 3 times denied, Jesus asks him 3 times ‘do you love me’.

I wonder if, for Peter, there was something redemptive and transformative in that being asked 3 times – if it helped him to find forgives and wholeness after his 3 times denying Jesus. But let’s not get Jesus wrong, there is no suggestion here that our wrongdoing, our guilt, our sin, needs to then be corrected by actions, words and works that go in the other direction – as if we have to rebalance the scales. That’s not how Jesus’ love and care for us works.

Jesus is not reprimanding Peter. Yes, he is asking a question, but it seems to me that this conversation is a gentle, friendly, loving one between 2 friends in a corner on the beach after sharing fish sarnies.

Each time Jesus responds to Peter in a similar way.

Feed my lambs. (v15b)

Tend (or shepherd) my sheep. (v16b)

Feed by sheep. (v17b)

Different words – and there may be some significant to the nuances there, but a common thrust. In just a few small words Jesus calls Peter deeper, responding with love, acceptance, welcome, forgiveness and commissioning to serve the flock of Christ.

Sometimes I wonder if, as we see this encounter move from the fun and laughter of breakfast to this 1 to 1 with Jesus, we think Peter is expecting to get his comeuppance for his denying. But Peter knew Jesus, and I wonder if Peter would have been expecting the exact opposite. Expecting Jesus would forgive and love and accept him, and still call him deeper – and feeling guilt and shame because he didn’t think he was worthy of it.

I wonder if this challenges some of our assumptions as Christians about how we think about our own worth. I wonder if we too often feel guilt and shame more intensely than we should or than Jesus ever intended us to. I wonder if we expect reprimand when Jesus just wants us to receive his love, and love him too. I wonder if we have allowed the notion of sin to become a barrier in our relationship with Jesus and our responding to his call to go deeper.  

Jesus says to you today: do you love me?

Friend, no matter what I love you. I forgive you and I still call you. Come deeper with me, serve me, follow me.

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