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  • Writer's pictureSt Giles Online

What is your vocation?

As we prepare for Petertide and the arrival of our new curate, Wil James reflects on the search for Christian vocation in all of us.

We at St Giles have long sought to be a church of encouragement, and this in a double sense: as a place where we offer support to everyone seeking to know Christ in their lives, and also as a place which recognises that the “courage” required to be a Christian can only be found in community with one another.

Surely one of the most encouraging developments we have seen in the parish in recent times has been the flourishing of new vocations. In my own small way, I have drawn enormous strength from the kindness and support shown me as I train to become a lay reader. And I believe we have all drawn much joy and inspiration from sharing in the development of our first parish intern, Edward, as he discerns his vocation to ordained ministry. This month, we will welcome another new face to St Giles when Phillip Dawson joins us as our new assistant curate. Phillip will be ordained deacon at St Paul’s Cathedral on 1 July and will, I am sure, by lifted up in all our prayers as he takes that major step in his life and faith.

But I realise all this talk of ordination and vocations can also have something of the air of “shop talk” – very interesting to those who stand at the front of the church, but not particularly relevant to those who sit in the pews. Yet it would be a mistake to think that vocation has no meaning for you unless you’re ready to don a cassock. Each of us has a responsibility to explore and understand our personal vocations as Christians if we are to fully live up to the life for which we are called.

Newly ordained deacons pose on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, Petertide 2017

It is no coincidence that the ordination of priests traditionally takes place around St Peter’s Day. Not only is Peter the rock on which Christ’s church is built, he also had some fairly clear ideas about vocation. In his first epistle-general, Peter describes the church as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9). And by this, he means the whole church - a “priesthood of all believers.”

What might this mean? Quite clearly, Peter didn’t think that the only way to express vocation was to be an ordained minister. While that is one significant and valuable calling, he acknowledges – as St Paul does - that the church is made up of people with all sorts of different gifts. “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” he says, “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4.9-11) Whatever you’ve got to give, he says, you need to offer it in service for the glory of God.

In one sense, this is an extension of the idea of Christ’s priesthood: If we can access God through faith in Jesus, and if through faith he comes to dwell in us and we in him, then we necessarily come to share in his “priesthood.” But it would be a mistake to think of this as simply a metaphor for faith. Peter is evidently also thinking in practical terms about our very state of being as Christians: what is it to live as a community bound together under Christ?

If we share in a royal priesthood with Christ, he suggests, then we share, both with him and, vitally, with each other, the burdens and challenges of that priesthood as it finds ongoing expression here on earth. We are not called to act for our own advancement, or through our own strength, but as the living expressions of the love of God that has come to dwell within us.

Which is where courage comes into the equation – because figuring out what your Christian vocation might mean for you requires the courage to really look inward, to ask yourself what your life looks like under the spotlight of Christ’s saving love and then to be willing to bring the special and specific gifts you possess to the surface and to share them with others. As Peter’s letter suggests, that vocation might take the form of serving others – at the refreshment table, or in homelessness outreach or by ordering the music for the choir. Or it might be through consistent and conscientious prayer, or through the very act of constancy involved in turning up regularly and engaging with what the Good News has to tell you.

For those, like Phillip, who have been called to ordination, the expression of vocation is very public. But we mustn’t for a moment think that the formal ministry of those who preach, teach and consecrate in any way diminishes the other, quieter vocations that we each possess. Quite the opposite is true. The ability of our clergy and lay leaders to minister is entirely dependent on each of us living out our own vocations fully, responding to one another and thereby drawing the courage to press on. As St Peter makes clear, it is only through working together that we glorify God.

So, as we approach this important Petertide for our parish, take the time to ask yourself, “What is my vocation?” “How does it benefit my fellow Christians?” “Am I allowing it to develop fully?” and “What support do I need for it to flourish?” This is the constant and life-giving challenge of all Christians and, as we continue to work for the thriving of God’s kingdom here at St Giles, everyone has a part to play.

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