Recognition, respect and love. These were the messages of Dr Douglas Board’s keynote to close the recent Growing Vocations conference. Exploring the future world of work, careers and vocation, and where the Church fits into it, Douglas noted the dramatic changes many observers have predicted for our traditional working practices. The future, he said, is one in which organisations of all sizes reinvent themselves to meet the opportunities and challenges of automation and globalisation. This environment might be good for business, but can be precarious for individual employees. In this context, the Church must become an energising community, offering insightful and caring conversations about work and vocation.
Growing Vocations brought together thirty nine dioceses to discuss practical ways to become this energising vocational community, and to overcome the specific challenges of encouraging vocations to lay and ordained ministry. The Bible teaches us to be filled with love for each other, not to shut ourselves in and struggle alone. Sharing ideas and resources is vital therefore if we are to succeed in growing vocations everywhere.
We heard many positive stories of great work being done up and down the country. There’s plenty of great material on this site, so do check back often as it is regularly updated. If you have an idea or model you’d like to share, don’t just sit on it, let us know so more parishes can do the same!
You may remember from the update I gave how answering one’s calling tends to follow four distinct stages: awareness, articulation, confidence, and finally decision. For each one there’s plenty we can do to meet explorers where they are. Underpinning all of this is the frequent acknowledgment of the diversity of calling, valuing all vocations with open eyes to what God is doing in the Church.
A proactive approach is integral to raising awareness, yet our research found this is the stage least attended to. Suppose you are putting on vocations events and have a superb website. Fantastic, but an explorer will only come if they are already thinking about their vocation. Everyday actions, like initiating conversations and regular preaching on vocation and gifts, make all the difference.
Diocesan vocations teams can inspire lay and ordained ministers to be seed-planters. The visibility of role models of all backgrounds is also particularly important, as part of a shift to an inclusive vocational culture. Why not also look to new avenues, such as careers fairs?
As people begin to articulate what they believe their calling to be, we need to be there to help them answer it. From our research, we found open access to vocations advisers, champions and mentors were common among dioceses with increasing numbers of lay and ordained ministers. It may sound obvious, but being able to get confidential support and advice from someone other than the one making the decision on whether to put you forward for selection is very popular amongst potential candidates!
One of the best ways though to build confidence is just to have a go at ministry. The Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme is quickly becoming a leading route for people under 32 desiring to formally test a vocation to ministry. Confidence means understanding what you are called to be and do for Christ, but also believing it is possible. Too many walk away, thinking ministry impossible for someone like them. “People like me don’t become vicars” is an all too familiar phrase. Communicating clear information about family life, disability and academic support, backed up by visible and diverse role models, and recognising our own unconscious bias, will together help to banish this phrase to history.
Finally, we need to ensure explorers are equipped to make the right decisions. This includes pastoral support, honest explanation of the selection and training process and timeframe, and offering ongoing theological learning and reflection. Creative thinking to reduce bottlenecks is needed, such as the examples in this report.
Have a read also of our best practice report for more on how each of these tips were put together. A great example of these strategies at work in real life is what’s being done in Liverpool with Life Call, a dedicated body of vocations work bringing together events, courses, and advisers around the common goal of enabling Christians to uncover their unique calling to fulfil God’s plan for their lives. Their fifteen session Directions Course is a fantastic demonstration of what can be achieved. If you’re looking to develop similar courses in your own diocese or parish, then this tried and tested model would certainly be an ideal place to start!
Catherine Nancekievill is the Church of England’s Head of Discipleship and Vocation