Vocation, discernment, selection & MSEs/WPs.
Church talk tends to lay great emphasis on vocation and 'being called'. I don't argue against the practical belief that in taking God seriously a person must give careful thought to what that requires of him or her. But I do think we should be both more rigorous and more agnostic in our approach to the ways in which God might address such claims to individual followers of (in the Christian view) God's incarnate Word, Jesus.
An example might help. There was a priest in London who was named as the new suffragan bishop of a particular area - we'll call it 'X' - within another diocese. He was widely quoted in religious media as saying: "I sense a profound call from God to the Diocese of [Y] and specifically to 'X'".
What astonished me was the (then) bishop-elect sensing a "profound call from God to the Diocese of Y and specifically to X" with such a degree of GPS satellite accuracy. What are we to make of this use of claimed, or perceived, divine certitude in matters of calling? And if we reckon it to be how God operates in the call to priestly or episcopal work, why is God so imprecise (silent, even) in other matters, arguably of far more importance to the world?
When I acted as an Examining Chaplain I was surprised and sometimes disheartened to find very able people who were already serving God in roles such as teaching and education, law, publishing, building and health quite certain that God was calling them to stipendiary parish ministry. When I asked whether they had asked whether God might want them to serve as a priest-teacher or priest-surveyor or priest-medic, the answer was nearly always too quick and certain. A common response was 'but I want to be full time'. Well, yes, all priests are full time!
This state of affairs must surely reflect the world-view of the church and those doing the selecting and sponsoring. And it betrays a narrow view of what constitutes the church, its ordained ministry, the laity and the way God is at work within the world.
It is very easy to romanticise priesthood and ministry, and to do so in a way that cuts it off from life beyond the confines of the institution. (And I suspect that this is a tendency which then leads to disillusionment and loss of vision for many stipendiary priests once the initial fervour has worn off and they find themselves caught within the sometimes constricted worlds of parish and diocese).
Without a properly balanced and enthusiastic view of a range of commissioned, priestly ministries which embrace those who are paid stipends and attached to parishes and those who operate in the 'secular' world, we are doing the idea of vocation a disservice. And the same applies when the term and concept is focused on the ordained at the expense of the laity.
Sorry...could you repeat that please?
Ministry Division, C of E
C of E on MSE vocations
Ministry Division note Selecting Ministers in Secular Employment (undated)
"The hidden status system of Anglican and English culture needs to be exposed for what it is: baseless in Christ, where there are neither stipendiary nor self- supporting, neither male nor female, neither trained full-time nor part-time, but all are one, valued, accepted, loved. For instance, cathedral honorary canonries need to be spread between stipendiary and self-supporting – the labourers in the vineyard."
From note of a meeting of the Hampshire Rural Group 2010
"If Ministry in Secular Employment is to mean 'work focussed ministry' then the Church of England, like the French, needs to establish its own 'non-territorial Diocese' and a Bishop whose exclusive role is a sign of the Church's commitment. Until then, no one, including the Bishops' Selectors, can blame potential ministerial candidates for feeling uncertain of a role about which the establishment itself is ambiguous and which, in practice, it has so far failed to support."
Bishop John Mantle