Calling

A Summer sunny afternoon needed a ‘thinking walk’, as Winnie the Pooh called them. To be honest though, it was more of a ‘ranting walk’.

As our churches emerged from the intensity of the pandemic restrictions, the criticisers and complainers had gone back to normal too. Whether lay or ordained (and we have both in our house) being a minister is not always halos and wings – indeed there are plenty who make sure one is regularly tilted or clipped.

My thoughts ranged the full spectrum from resigning as a lay minister to discerning what God might be calling me on to.

And of course, God knew what he was doing more than I did – and how often I am grateful for that. For just after returning home, in comes the weekly newsletter from the Diocese of Exeter (that part of the Church of England in which we live). ‘Voluntary Chaplain wanted for South West Ministry Training Course’. (SWMTC trains people for both lay and ordained ministry.)

Oooh… that sounds good. That sounds very good. That even sits of the edge of excitement… (I don’t do excitement).

I’d not been looking to do any kind of formal voluntary work but as a lay minister, clergy spouse, long-term listener of people and with an almost equally long-standing passion for supporting those in ministry, it seemed a good fit.

Discerning God’s call often involves letting something ‘sit’ and then, after a while, sharing it with others. I did both. Application and interview followed. My first interview for 18 years… but God was good (as were the interviewees). I felt seen for who I am which was an unexpected and welcome blessing.

Even more of an unexpected and welcome blessing was that I was offered the position!

God’s call was clear. I have not felt so sure about something in quite the same way for a while: all the same it was still a surprise!

The role involves attending a couple of residential training weekends each term together with an Lent/Easter school. To be there with two other Chaplains accompanying those in training: companions on a journey. It is not a smooth path but if by fellow travelling I can help remove a few stones, there will be much joy in the journey also.

When I trained to be a lay minister some twenty years ago, I felt that was bringing together my then previous experience of church life and faith. This new calling provides a similar ‘bringing together’ of the skills and experience God has granted me. What a honour and a privilege.

different threadsI often find it helpful to think back and see how the different threads of life are brought together. Perhaps you feel the same? What patterns do you see in your life? What skills and experiences has God given you that have developed or been used throughout it?

Maybe take some time to listen and reflect on the words of a song which, for me, represents all there is to say about our openness to God’s calling on our lives:

Here I am, Lord.
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

 

 

 

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I, the Lord of sea and sky by Daniel L. Schutte (b.1947) © 1981 Daniel L. Schutte & New Dawn Music

 

All in a Day’s Work

‘Behind the scenes’ documentaries have been part of TV viewing for decades and, with the growth in streaming alongside hundreds of channels, there are a multitude of different settings for the cameras to spy on.

One series I’ve enjoyed recently has been Channel 4’s The Yorkshire Jobcentre. Given my own career of nearly 40 years helping people to find or remain in employment that may not be a surprise.

Up until 2003, I worked in a variety of settings of what is now the Dept for Work & Pensions including in Jobcentres. The programmes have portrayed both job seeker (often maligned as scroungers) and job advisor (often portrayed as unhelpful bureaucrats) fairly and respectfully, observing difficulties and progress, frustration and commitment for both alike.

I certainly recognised the spectrum of customers from the harder to help long-term unemployed through to the harder to help professional and well-educated, and from the unrealistically ambitious to the desperately lacking in confidence. Similarly, I was fortunate to work alongside very committed colleagues, rejoicing together when someone got a job – but yes, there were a few who stuck to rules as if they’d written them.

The series certainly echoed my experience of it being an honour and a privilege to have played a small part in the lives of so many. Watching people make progress is a wonderful thing.

This coming Sunday’s Gospel reading is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Like many of Jesus’ stories, it’s based on events happening in his time. An employer recruits labourers to work in his vineyard but to our 21st century ears, this parable would raise the hackles of any business person or union representative.

Taken literally, the concept of people who worked one hour and people who worked a full day being paid exactly the same would not go down well – as indeed it didn’t with some of the labourers in the vineyard.

But that’s missing the point of the parable. And the point is not a literal interpretation of the story being told – beyond the fact that for those labourers, among the poorest in 1st Century Palestine, working in the vineyard was a gift, a welcome source of employment.

One common interpretation of the parable is that the owner is God and the labourers are us; the vineyard is God’s kingdom and the wage that is agreed is not only the provision of our daily bread but also our salvation.

Rather than being unfair or unjust, God’s generosity transcends our human ideas of fairness. God is not answerable to the people and can do as he pleases with his gifts.

God’s gift is that everyone – rich and poor, powerful and powerless – receives the same.

In God’s economy, all of us are equally deserving so the reward is equal as well. The reward is not based on each person’s merit or quality or quantity of work but rather from the grace of the one who hires, the grace of God.

As God’s people we are to be those who work in the vineyard because it is a good thing to do rather than because we hope to earn merit or greater rewards or greater recognition by others.

That said, the work itself doesn’t have to be something highly visible or deemed to be more important than others – remember this parable features the poorest of society.

Whatever we do if we do it for the Lord and not for our own personal reward, we will bear witness to God’s kingdom and we will see God’s vineyard bearing fruit.

 

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Reflection for the New Year

This post takes you to a really helpful reflection for the New Year written by Martin Gee at Bible Reading Fellowship. Within it, Martin picks up the theme of work and productivity and focuses on how each of us can face whatever tasks or work await us in the year to come, whether your ‘work’ and ‘tasks’ are paid or voluntary, at home or away, at church or with family, serving or caring. Click here to read