Reflecting on Calling: What we can learn from Vocations Sunday testimonies

CofE Vocations

If you follow our activity on social media you’ll have noticed the weeks leading up to Vocations Sunday were spent thinking and praying about vocations, gifts and calling.

As part of this, a number of people, lay and ordained, shared their own experience of being called, and how they went about following their vocation.

In case you missed it, you can catch up on the stories shared by Revd Zoe Heming, Capt. Nicholas Lebey CA, Bishop Paul Bayes, Revd Margery Grange, Kirsty Borthwick, Revd Karen Lund, Lee Chantler, Very Revd Stephen Lake, and Loretta Minghella at the links below:

Revd Zoe Heming: Feed my Sheep

VIDEO Bishop Paul Bayes: Nothing better than to get alongside people in their need and in their joy

VIDEO Loretta Minghella: Celebrating Vocations

Revd Margery Grange: Footprints in the Sand

Kirsty Borthwick: It’s scary, by oh what an adventure

Revd Karen Lund: The mysteries of the Christian faith are beautiful

Lee Chantler: From comedian and singer to priest

Very Revd Stephen Lake: In tune with heaven, in touch with daily life

Capt. Nicholas Lebey CA: I had to tell people about Jesus

We thought it would be worth looking at some of these examples in more detail, to reflect on what we can learn from them when it comes to nurturing vocation in others.

Ministers don’t look like me. This was Zoe’s fear as she was struggling to determine what God was calling her to do. It was a feeling shared also by Margery, who felt her lack of academic background made her unsuitable for ministry. Eventually though, both Zoe and Margery allowed the truth of God’s word to overcome their apprehensions, and recognise the gifts God has given them. We can help others see this too, by boosting the prominence of role models from all backgrounds and circumstances. As Zoe says, people become braver when they see God’s strength at work.

Zoe’s story centres on Christ’s instruction to “Feed my Sheep”. The emphasis here is on how ministers live out their vocation through the work they do, not on the stereotypes we imagine. What ministers do is also a key message of Bishop Paul’s video, that there is nothing better than to get alongside people in their need and in their joy.

To learn first-hand what it’s like to be in ordained ministry, you need to get involved in church life. The Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme (CEMES) provides a formal programme for this, which we would encourage all dioceses to take up.

Bishop Paul also talks of the scale of the decision to pursue a life in ministry, describing the commitment as transformative. Personal stories of people’s vocational journey provide a massive encouragement to those unsure of whether to put themselves forward or not. Hosting events linking explorers together with those who have gone before have proved incredibly successful.

Bringing people together like this helps foster peer support and prayer, which is vital for testing vocations. Kirsty felt unsure of her calling because it wasn’t the loud voice she had expected. Karen too wanted to be sure her experience was real. Immersion in pray and worship, particular amongst peers, helps explorers consolidate their understanding of calling, and offers a means to articulate one’s sense of vocation.

Events also grant opportunities to ask practical questions on the discernment process. Communicating clear information is important because many will have already chosen their own path, and may find it hard to divert from it. In Bishop Paul’s video he mentions his original plan to become a theatre director. Similarly, Stephen’s journey to ordination, and to becoming Dean of Gloucester, required him first to walk away from prior ambitions to serve in the Royal Navy. It takes courage to step out of the boat and abandon what you had originally planned to do, but it is a step we can make easier through clear explanation of what ministry is, and of what the selection and training process involves, so explorers know what to expect.

Finally, to truly unleash the gifts and talents of every Christian, they must think widely about the types of ministry they are best suited to. Nicholas knew from a young age that he wanted to tell everyone about Jesus, but it was his vicar and a Church Army evangelist who gave him the final nudge to become a minister. They could have sent him along a typical pathway, but instead saw his gifts were better placed in a completely different context, working as a pioneer youth evangelist in a fresh expression of church. Similarly, Margery’s incumbent recognised that difference is a strength, and allowed her to form her own ministry rather than simply following in the incumbent’s footsteps. The lesson then is we must be proactive in talking about vocations, and expect God to call people to surprising places, in surprising ways.

We hope you find these reflections helpful for your own vocations work. Please do continue to pray for a growth in vocations and for all exploring their calling. Once again a reminder that you can download resources from the Church Support Hub, and you can continue to see and share prayer requests on social media using the hashtag #BreadOfLife.