Curate’s Corner – October 2015
Many of you may have seen some of the very popular BBC television series ‘Rev’ which follows the ups and downs of a very human priest in a struggling church in inner London. The main character, The Reverend Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) is quite often challenged to think about his vocation; his calling to ordained ministry. In one episode, when the pressures of parish life are weighing particularly heavily on his shoulders, there is a lovely scene where he is talking to his wife about all the stresses and strains of ministry, and she says, “Well why don’t you just take the day off? Don’t be the vicar for the day. For once.” Adam replies, “I can’t. It’s a calling isn’t it? I can’t be uncalled for the day”.
It’s a great piece of script-writing and one that brilliantly captures that bitter-sweet sense of responding to the demands of a vocation or calling.
It’s that idea of vocation that I want to explore further here. There is a very good book written by Francis Dewer entitled, “Called or Collared? An Alternative Approach to Vocation.” The following is written by him and really helps us get to the nub of what calling and vocation is all about:
“God calls everyone. Not just clergy, or monks and nuns, or teachers, or nurses. The word vocation has been much misused. Its true sense of 'calling by God' has been completely lost in recent secular uses like National Vocational Qualifications. And even in the Church it's been hijacked by the professionals. It is assumed that the rest of us aren't called by God.
It might be helpful to clarify three different senses in which the word is used in a Christian context. First is the general sense, the calling to become a Christian, to be a follower of Christ. This is for everyone, but it is general, it doesn't specify any particular task or job. It is the sense in which St. Paul usually uses the word 'calling' in his letters.
Second is what I call personal vocation. This too is for everyone (but it tends to be the least understood and the least recognised and valued by the Church, not least because it will usually be something you do beyond the confines of the church). God invites everyone to make some contribution to the life of the world, some piece of gift-work or service to others, that only you can do because of the particular person you are, your gifts, your wounds, your personal background and history. It will be something that expresses the unique essence of what you are, which God calls out from you to be a gift to others. This may be something you do in your spare time. Or it may be at your place of work: if it is, it probably won't be in the job description. It may, for example, be the way you do some part of your work. Notice that in the case of personal vocation the calling of God is sensed within you, in your heart.
Third is institutional vocation. This is the calling to a role or job, defined by others, requiring of you certain duties and obligations. Ordination is an example of institutional vocation; so is Churchwarden, or PCC member. Here the calling of God comes to you via the institution, the Church. So that, for example, to become a vicar you don't just decide one day to put up a brass plate on your front door; you have to go though a selection process and others, the accredited representatives of the Church, decide prayerfully whether you have the right qualities for the work. In effect God's call to you comes through the Church.
Most secular jobs are not examples of institutional vocation because the employing body does not regard itself explicitly as the agent of God. But sometimes a person may be lucky enough to feel that their paid job fits them so well that it feels like a joy to do (or some parts of it do). In that case it has something of the character of personal vocation.
It is worth mentioning that there is frequently confusion between personal vocation and institutional vocation. The Church often doesn't recognise that the two are different. This can be the cause of a lot of distress to people who feel an inner sense of call to be ordained but who go to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel and are not recommended for training. For a fuller explanation of the difference see chapter 1 of my ‘Called or Collared?’”
Perhaps the three most important words to take from this are “God calls everyone.” We are all called by God in very different ways. For some, that calling is to ministry within the church as a Reader or as an ordained minister, but for the majority it will be something very different.
I want to encourage you to consider your own calling; to consider who God wants you to be with your particular set of gifts and talents, and how you can respond to that calling.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of vocation or calling please feel free to give me a call in the first place, or if you would prefer, contact Lu Gale at Church House, Hove for an informal chat.