There were 8 of us gathered around a table at St Francis Littlemoor last week to talk about encouraging vocations.
We were a varied bunch:
- 3 priests
- 2 Licensed Lay Ministers,
- 1 Lay Worship Leader,
- 1 young woman about to go to her BAP (Bishops Advisory Panel for ordination selection)
- 1 student on a short placement who feels called to be a missionary.
Our contexts were also very different, from rural villages in Dorset and Wiltshire to urban parishes along the south coast – and our student was from Germany!
But as we talked together about encouraging vocations, we found that in our stories and our experiences, there was a genuine meeting of minds. The things that had encouraged us, or tried to put us off discovering God’s calling for us were very similar and we found ourselves speaking a common language.
Indeed the things that encouraged us will be familiar to many others too:
People praying for me; friendly open worship; a challenge from my vicar! Sub-conscious guidance – looking back and seeing how God has been at work. Being able to listen to others talk about their vocation, and meeting people who are doing what we thought God might be calling us to. Encouragement from a friend in the pub, or a church leader, or going away on a Christian Festival/Holiday/Conference were all very powerful.
There were also discouragements and obstacles which tried to get in the way:
A discouraging vicar or family member, and fear of putting our head above the parapet can hold us back for years if we let them. Then there are those images we have in our mind which can constrain our vision – “Do I need to be like that (fill in the blank here) person to be called by God – can’t I just be myself?” Others talked of the challenge of finding their true spiritual home as they became aware of the difference between faith and tradition, and the need to be given the freedom to explore.
And help in overcoming those barriers is just as important:
In the face of self-doubt one person was given a piece of paper which simply said “God Can!”. Another talked about having real, honest conversations about both the blessing and the cost of ministry. Two of our group were given something tangible to remind them when God had spoke to them – even something as simple as a bootlace to tie up somewhere visible to jog our memory. Having someone to help us recognise our gifts and trust us by giving us experience in some expression of ministry in church were highly significant. And then the ultimate way to test a calling – “Give it a go!” and see what God does.
We had a time of reflection at the end and each of us took away one particular thing to help someone else in discovering their vocation. The time flew by, and we hardly had enough time to complete what we started, but we all took something with us.
What would you take away to encourage others?
Vocations Co-ordinator for the Diocese of Salisbury.
There is another afternoon on ‘Encouraging Vocations’ for those on Salisbury’s CMD programme – 30th June in Devizes – places still available. Follow this link for more information.