It’s June and – God willing! – summer should be coming into its own. Gardens should be looking lovely, cricket games should be in full swing, and many of us will be thinking about holidays. It also strikes me that June is a good time to be thinking about ‘vocation’. As people begin to think about the hazy days of summer it’s a good time to begin to prepare for the new things God may be calling us to later in the year.
Vocation is a curious, unfashionable word. Once upon a time it was common to talk about certain careers and professions as ‘vocations’. Nurses and doctors, as well as teachers, were seen as
people in ‘vocational’ professions. They were invited to see themselves as somehow ‘called’ into something higher. Rather than being driven by money or even prestige, there was a sense in which
people were called to serve. I suspect that these days, that talk seems very old fashioned! Money and status (or lack of it) take precedence over service. The days of Mr Chips and Dr Finlay are
long behind us.
Vocation clings on in religious circles. The Church talks about vocation all the time. Most particularly it sees ordained ministry as vocational. Bishops, Priests and Deacons are called by God to serve him and his church. Increasingly, the church has become alert to the extent to which all are called. Indeed, our first vocation is as baptised Christians – to serve and follow Christ in a world of need. This vision of our common calling is an exciting one. It enables each of us to ask, how is God calling St Nick’s, and how is God calling me to serve? Vocation can include everything from helping set up chairs through to being a minister of the Sacraments. Priests often find themselves doing all these things.
I’ve been thinking about vocation for various reasons. This is a month with a very significant St Nick’s ‘goodbye’. After four years with us, we say goodbye to Sally Robinson. Sally came to us in 2013 on placement. She was exploring her vocation to ordained ministry. Along with her daughter, Abbie, she immediately brought new life into our fellowship. Together they’ve made us more fully aware of God’s generous vulnerability, his faithfulness and the power of resurrection. In the last three years – during her training and formation – we have travelled through many highs and lows together and seen Sally become more fully herself. We wish her every blessing as she is made deacon and goes to serve her title with Rev. Jackie Calow in the north of the diocese. (However, we haven’t quite said adieu to her yet! We look forward to welcoming her ‘back home’ for her wedding to Lee at St Nick’s in September.)
What has become clear since Sally joined us is that vocation and calling should be treasured amongst all. I’ve been thrilled to witness people coming forward to be involved in St Nick’s liturgical, social and missional life in so many ways. We now have a new roster of readers, servers, intercessors and lay assistants. We have new people on the PCC. We even have a few people seriously investigating being ordained themselves.
At a deep level, being called and then responding to that call is a work of humility. It is about recognizing that it is God who starts ‘the conversation’. It is about listening to his voice and responding. It is, then, about understanding the world aright and daring to become the person God is calling us to be. It is in that spirit that I have some news. From the beginning of July
through till the end of September I shall be on sabbatical. That it is happening now has been the result of long periods of prayerful reflection and negotiation with the diocese.
I’m sure that some of you will be wondering what that means for St Nick’s. Crucially, it means that Fr. Alan will temporarily be ‘actingup’ as lead priest and minister. He will, of course, be ably supported by our church wardens, Alison and Jane. However, all three will be dependent on your support at a deep level, both practically and pastorally. For Alan it will an important step in his growing ministry as he takes on more responsibilities. In Mark he shall have a wise priest-colleague, and our Area Dean and our Archdeacon are both first-class.
During that three months I shall not, alas, just be ‘on holiday’. For me, that period will be a time of reflection, prayer and listening. I, like all of us, am called and, as your parish priest, I want to listen to God’s voice. In my nine years at St Nick’s I think we’ve been two phases of ministry work: the first part involved building up relationships between ourselves and our community; the second part has been acting on them. I’m keen to listen to what God is inviting us to next.
Practically, during that three months I won’t be available. When I am in Manchester, please don’t expect me to respond to calls etc. I shall be grateful for your prayers. Letting go of the parish, even for a short while, is really hard, not least because I love you all dearly. Pray for me, as I shall pray for you.