What makes you sing? This was the question posed by our opening speaker at the recent Growing Vocations conference, Revd Dr Sharon Prentis. We invited people working on growing the number of vocations (both lay and ordained), to gather together to share best practice. We didn’t know how many would come, because the vocations network is still in its early days. So it was with some trepidation that Rachel and I booked 120 rooms in a conference centre back in October. In the end we had to move the staff into a Travelodge so we could squeeze in the guests on the waiting list!
Delivering the opening speech, Sharon gave us a vision of vocation in its broadest sense not only of what we do, but also as our deepest being. The ‘job’ we are given is intimately connected to our given gifts, passions and temperament. Discernment is working out what God has put in our head, heart and hands. When we are doing and being with God, when we are resonating with the Divine will, it makes us sing!
If our vocation makes us sing, why is it often so difficult and time-consuming to discern? Perhaps it is because, deep down, we are afraid of setting out on the journey. Do we really want to know what God is calling us to? Reading Pilgrim’s Progress, it always strikes me that the pilgrim, Christian, must have lived in his house for a long time, before finally setting out on his journey to the Celestial City. Did he have an inkling of how hard it would be? Is this why so many Christians have a faith that is static? We know that vocation is a journey without an earthly end, a journey on which we are always developing, always growing. The way is not easy and we need others to start us off, and keep us going.
Setting people off in their vocational journey is the bit we pay the least attention to. Websites, events and advisers, they’re all important. But, if people haven’t set out on the journey, they won’t be searching for websites, or noticing events or contacting advisers! At the conference, Bishop Alison White told us through a video clip that her gifts were called out by others. Other people could see in her what she couldn’t see herself. Identifying calling is most effective when endorsed and encouraged through community. How do we help communities to normalise conversation about vocation? How do we help them to call out the vocation of others?
Speaking of vocation making us sing, we also danced at the conference! My personal experience of faith has always been predominantely one of joy. Not the false joy of happiness, but a deep joy in walking the pilgrim’s road. Joy, for me, has never been expressed so fully than when dancing with abandon. I danced a lot in formal lessons as I grew up. However, it’s the spontaneous moments that I remember most fondly, such dancing on a Christian weekend away that was part of the Cursillo movement. Lord of the Dance played at speed; and I’m whirling; flung arm-to-arm between normally reserved middle-aged, middle-England folk, lost in the joy of God.
Every time I’ve danced like this, someone has to start the dance, and someone has to be second, third and fourth. The first person is just a mad person dancing, they don’t change the social norm. But the second person is the bravest. They suggest, by joining in, that the social norm can be changed. The second dancer chips away at everyone else’s view that the first person dancing is strange. Before your know it, the group behaving differently is normal.*
This is how we change to a culture of vocation. You have to be the second person dancing. You have to ask the person in the coffee queue at church what God could do with their gifts. You have to put the question up on facebook. You have to help parish leaders know how to to start vocational journeys. You have to ask your Bishop to preach on vocation at confirmations. Jesus is dancing. Will you join Him?
Catherine Nancekievill is the Church of England Ministry Division’s Head of Discipleship and Vocation
*Before I get accused of plagiarism, this metaphor is taken from an excellent TED talk by Derek Sivers>> . The part of my talk at the conference about how our history and our environment prevents us from changing culture is adapted from the second half of a book “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” by Edwin Friedman. Seth Godin on Tribes is also well worth watching>>