THE Church of England has “massive under-employment” of its people, many of whom have never understood their vocation, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, said this week.
In a new campaign,The Great Vocations Conversation, the Archbishops’ Council’s Ministry Division is challenging the Church’s ministers, lay and ordained, to hold at least one conversation a month about vocation “with someone different from themselves”.
It follows the publication last year of a long-awaited report on lay leadership, Setting God’s People Free (News, 27 January, 2017), which called for a “seismic revolution in the culture” of the Church to “empower, liberate and disciple” the 98 per cent who are not ordained. This majority was “neither adequately envisioned, nor appropriately trained, nor consistently prayed for, nor enthusiastically encouraged for mission nor ministry”, it said, pointing to “the absence of any systematic theological framework for thinking about lay engagement and leadership”.
Last year, there was a 14 per cent increase in the number of people entering training for ordination — the highest figure for a decade (News, 19 September), and the campaign also seeks to build on this.
The Assistant Curate of All Saints, Streetly, the Revd Dr Catherine Okoronkwo, ordained a priest last year, said that conversations had played “an enormously influential role” in her journey, including a chance meeting with the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu.
Setting God’s People Free suggested that the “huge” emphasis on the training and funding of the clergy since 1985 meant that it was “easy for front-line lay people to feel like onlookers”. It recommended that ministerial education should place “much greater emphasis on the practical skills required to discern lay gifts and support and equip lay people”.
“My sense is that there is massive under-employment in most church communities,” Bishop Watson said this week, in a podcast produced by Church House. “Lots of people who have never really understood the unique role that God is calling them to play in the workplace or the Church or the wider community around. . . Part of our job as Christian ministers is to help others understand their gifts.”
It was “very easy”, he had found, “to be so focused on what I’m doing, on the sermon I need to prepare, or the emails I need to answer, that I don’t give enough time to developing other people.
It was also easy “for us to think we know what a typical vicar or youth worker or home group leader or even Christian disciple in the workplace should look like”. The campaign was “an invitation to be open to the Spirit of God, who blows where he will rather than simply heading for people who look a little bit like us”.
One of the findings of the Experiences of Ministry Project, led by Dr Mike Clinton of King’s College, London and Dr Tim Ling of the Ministry Division from 2011 to 2017, was busy schedules, with clergy often beginning work before sunrise and not finishing until late in the evening (News, 22 September). Setting God’s People Free suggested that they have two days off a week, to “sustain friendships with lay friends and give them more time to engage with and understand the world”.
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The Revd Kate Harrison, Vicar-designate of St Mark’s, Hamilton Terrace, St Marylebone
“I’ve been reflecting recently, as I come to the end of my curacy, about how important finding your vocation is. I have never felt so alive or so fully ‘me’ as I have since ordination. Engaging in what we are meant to be is the most fulfilling, freeing thing I can imagine. And yet, so many people are not released into their vocations and so are missing something of themselves. KATE HARRISONKate Harrison
“The way vocations are discovered in many churches are when there is a gap to be filled: someone resigns as treasurer, so someone else steps in and finds they have a gift for stewardship.
“But what about those whose gift is not easily used in the tasks which desperately, obviously need doing? We, as clergy, can overlook those people, as we are too focused on making sure that the church runs ‘efficiently’. If we started from a point of who people are and where God is leading them, rather than what needs to be done in order to keep things going as they’ve always been done, then we would release more people to be the shape they were intended to be.
“Any encouragement ministers can be given to look at things with fresh eyes, focusing on people rather than tasks, has to be welcomed.”
Julia Hill, lay ministries developer, diocese of Bath & Wells
DIOCESE OF BATH & WELLSJulia Hill
“When my husband was training for ordination, we were both really active lay Christians, but I realised part-way through his course that I had almost accepted that he was now the ‘professional’ Christian — I had almost downgraded myself. This led me to think there can be an accidental disempowerment of the laity, because we take the calling to ordained ministry so seriously and the training is so strenuous.
“Today, my job within the vocations team of this diocese is a really important reminder that we are working towards both lay and ordained vocations. I have really benefited from the times when someone has spotted a gift that I have and encouraged me to make use of it — the ‘you can do it’ moment that is empowering and scary in equal measure.
“Any campaign that encourages us to talk with each other about what God might be calling us to do has to be a good thing. I hope that it won’t just be serving ministers who hold the conversations but that all the people of God will dare to encourage each other.”
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