Vocations mean more than jobs!

Chaplaincy at Canterbury Christ Church

Vocations mean more than jobs!

Sunday the 3rd May 2020 was vocations Sunday. The point in the church’s year where we all stop to think about our vocations in the light of our Christian beliefs. For our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters’ vocations Sunday is a more significant event. Minsters and monasteries traditionally open their doors to the faithful that are considering a calling to the life of those religious communities. It is the point also where men considering the priesthood are particularly invited  to reflect on the call to the seminary and ordination because, in the Roman Catholic calendar, Vocation Sunday coincides with  Good Shepherd Sunday. (John 10:11)

For Anglicans, “Vocation means what you are called by God to be and do. For some, this is a specific calling to ministry. For others, it could mean serving God through faithful discipleship in everyday life.”[1] Therefore Vocations Sunday is a day when we pause and take stock of our lives, our careers and our aspirations. It is a day for prayerful reflection on the part that we play in working towards the fulfilment of those immortal words “on earth as it is in heaven”[2]. What could be more important than this? So, while maybe seemingly less significant in terms of the amount of publicity it receives, for Anglicans Vocation Sunday is as every bit as significant in meaning.

There is somewhat an irony that Vocation Sunday should coincide this year with the start of the university examination period. A period, this year that is unprecedented in the history of our institution. Instead of cohorts gathering in Augustine House, Old Sessions House, or the larger rooms on campus, students will be asked to take their exams while isolating in their domestic environments. It is also unprecedented, because, so far, we have no clear idea of the future or what passing those exams will bring. For our level five students it will probably mean continuation of studies, but whether that is on a virtual or physical campus is yet to be decided. For level six students, there are numerous questions about graduation, the economic downturn, job availability, post graduate study; the list sadly goes on. What do these questions mean for every one of us?

The OED defines a vocation as “a type of work or way of life that you believe is especially suitable for you”[3] and while this may seem trite in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and so much uncertainty in the world, including the prospect of having to face our own mortality, there is something that is universally true in the definition. Something, that has been unmoved for years. It is something that is unchanged with the shifts and turns of theology, the rise of post modernism or the fluctuations of the job and housing markets: ………………. a ‘way of life that you believe is especially suitable for you

One may argue that for now obeying the government guidelines on self-isolating is a vocation and the most important one we need to fulfil  day by day. But I would like to turn our thoughts beyond the immediately lived reality towards a deeper world where the kingdom of God interlocks with the earthly realm through the death and resurrection of Christ on the cross. It is in that world where the true meaning of vocation can be found. Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one moment that everyone should turn their thoughts to ordination or a life in a religious community, no matter how close to the lockdown that may appear to some. What I am talking about, is what it means to live as a child of God – a child uniquely loved into creation, to participate in the world that the creator God loved into existence to share with us.

The place in that world is everyone’s true vocation. It is everyone’s true calling. How we live this act that out defines us more than any job title or exam result. How we act upon this calling at will make more of a legacy than a thousand certificates. Let’s consider one key example of what this might mean. It is a vocation that is a varied as the stars in the sky and as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach, because the world is that diverse. However, as the stars and the sand all appear similar together so do our vocations. For example, the reduction in car use, reductions in industry and air travel during the lockdown period has made a major change to our environment. “The International Energy Agency has forecast the CO2 impact of the crisis, suggesting emissions could fall by 8% this year, some 2,600MtCO2.”[4] It must be recognised that fall has come at an economic cost so great that some analysts have stopped trying to predict what it might be. So as the prospect emerges of lockdown easing, what will our response be? Will we all jump in our cars, on aeroplanes, or continue to buy a never satisfying pile of material goods? Or will we reflect on the great human catastrophe that is yet to come in the economic downturn and threatening climate emergency and turn our thoughts towards others? What will the separation anxiety and grief over the loss of freedom, that we have all faced over the last weeks and will face in the weeks to come, do to our thought process? Will it actually change our way of thinking and align us more to towards the great Biblical challenge “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. (Matt 22:37-39). Or will it leave us cold and unchallenged, bent on the destruction of the earth that supports us, so we may advance our own selfish ambitions of wealth and greed.

Therefore, Vocations Sunday is not trite, because it challenges us with that stark reality what are you called by God to be and do?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

(Proverbs 3:5f)

[1] https://www.churchofengland.org/life-events/vocations

[2] Matthew 6:10 cf. Matt 26:39

[3] https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/vocation

[4] https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-set-to-cause-largest-ever-annual-fall-in-co2-emissions


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