A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a conversation about a new congregationally based program at The Fund for Theological Education (FTE) in Atlanta, Georgia. I was among local church pastors, denominational leaders and executives of church-related organizations, all of whom were gathered to talk about how local congregations could learn to care for vocation.
I find that vocation is not a word we use often in the church, even though the concept originated in our tradition. We associate the word with a job, but it’s not simply the work you do. Wikipedia defines vocation this way, “… Latin for “calling”, is a term for an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained or qualified. Though now often used in secular contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.”
So, it’s funny that people in Protestant churches, the ones who affirm the concept of Martin Luther’s priesthood of all believers are so disconnected from this concept.
When I’m travelling to churches all over Iowa, I often talk about how people are “called”. Most people usually tell me that they still think of a “call” as something only their pastor has.
But, I don’t buy that. I think God stakes a claim on all of our lives. Our vocations can be our actual jobs, something in the church, in our family, among our friends and neighbors or in all of the above. I think this sense of calling is so foreign to people because too few people realize that their faith is something that is to be lived in every moment of their lives, not just in select times in the church.
Thinking about YOUR WHOLE LIFE as something claimed by God is probably a daunting concept. I say this not to make you feel like you’re not doing a good enough job in your faith. (That is why we have grace after all.) I say it because of my own experience of finding my call.
I spent the beginning of my career as a professional journalist; and, though I wouldn’t have been able to identify this at the time, I did see this as a call, or at least as having a higher purpose. After I asked God for direction about my career and was struck with a powerful call to ordained ministry, my life has never been the same, mostly in good ways. God has used my gifts in ways that I could NEVER have imagined on my own. In fact, God has helped me discover gifts I NEVER knew I had.
I sincerely want all people to feel this satisfaction of feeling so closely aligned with the divine movement of the spirit. I want everyone to feel that they are doing God’s work to make the world better than the way they found it. This feeling may prompt you to work too many hours, as it does me sometimes. It may prompt you to think too hard about how God would want you to handle difficult situations; but, I can promise it is for the greater good. And, you’ll be all the better for having lived life this way – no matter what way you live out that call.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the recent movie, Juno, (screenplay by Diablo Cody) that I think illustrates my point very well. It’s the scene where the pregnant teenager, Juno, meets her baby’s potential adoptive parents, Vanessa and Mark, along with her father, Mac. Vanessa talks about her natural draw to becoming a mother and Mac echoes her sentiment in a wholly unexpected way. Vanessa asks emphatically, “Well, haven’t you ever felt like you were born to do something?” Mac replies with the same passion, “Yes. Heating and air conditioning.”
That’s how I want you all to feel – like you were born to do what you do. Go do it today!
I've been giving this some thought lately, too, particularly as I've noticed that at least two of our kids seem to be very interested in the work I do. While of course I'm wondering how we nurture a potential call to ordained ministry among our tweens, I am also wondering how we nurture vocation among all our children and youth.
I also wonder how much of this has to do with class. Is it a privilege of the middle- or upper-classes of society to consider vocation? How do we nurture this sense of vocation among working-class families, or where generational poverty is pervasive?
As always, Havelka, you get me thinking about ministry. That's why I like you so, and am so glad you are here in Iowa!
That is an interesting thought, LiturgyGeek. I think that the idea of vocation is privileged if you limit the idea of vocation to only a job. Certainly, a person who is taking minimum wage jobs just to feed themselves and/or a family are pressed for time to think about these loftier issues. However, I think that call happens in all situations and doesn't necessarily have anything with the job we have or the work we do. Responding to call means that we are living each action in our lives according to the way that God would have us live and that can take on many forms.