I am currently in the process of exploring a call to ordained ministry within the Uniting Church in Australia. As part of this process I was asked to present to my Presbytery (regional church council) for them to discern a shared sense of calling. They did so affirm my calling. There are a few steps along the way yet, but here is the text of my presentation from today.
The question of calling and ministry has for a long time been difficult for me. In the church contexts I grew up in, discussions of calling often followed the common narrative of a singular turning point. A vision or word from God, a moment of realisation, a heart strangely warmed.
While this kind of experience can be profound, and play an important role in many people’s journeys, this has not been my experience. And I can, after all, only talk honestly about my own experience.
What I have experienced in terms of a calling to ministry has been a constant outworking of the Gospel in my life. To characterise this journey as broadly homogeneous, as though it were marked by “fate” or “destiny,” is probably dishonest. Instead the language I’ve found helpful comes, incidentally, from a sermon Sandy gave on the journey of the Jewish people through Exodus. We are tasked with looking at our own journeys “from the perspective of faith.” To do so recognises that for all of us our journey is one of embodied life: messy, surprising, fun, and at times disheartening. Vibrant spirituality is cultivating an attention to the breath of God animating this messy, embodied life. Indeed, that the Christian life could be anything else seems to betray the very body and blood at the visceral core of our community.
It is not, then, that my habit of asking questions about life, meaning, and the world -- which lead me to a philosophy degree … It is not that this habit of questioning is an inevitable precursor to pursuing ministry. Rather, this is simply a part of who I am that has graciously been caught up in my life of faith, through thinking and reflecting theologically. I am simply the fortunate recipient of opportunities to connect myself to work beneficial - I hope - to the communities of faith I have found myself in.
The question of calling, then, can never be an individualised one. It is always, for me, a question of the giving and taking, the ebbs and flows, the opportunities and responsibilities, of being caught up in the life of God, and being drawn into discrete Christian communities. In those ebbs and flows I am learning to find my identity and voice.
To put this in more concrete terms: I understand that my calling is reflective of me, and is shaped by my lived experience. But that I am called, that I can identify an experience of calling, cannot be unique to me -- and I would want to say, not unique to anyone who feels a call to ordained ministry. To be called is to be drawn as we are, in our own particularity, into the life of God, and the Christian communities that witness to that life.
We are all so called.
What leads me here, now, is not that I have a calling while others don’t. What leads me here is my particular journey, my particular way of questioning the world. My particular - but by no means unique - conviction that the love of the Gospel is defined through mercy and justice. These things about me find their rest in the Uniting Church, and so to it I offer my service.
Affirming with St. Paul’s reflection on ministry that it is the task of proclaiming the Gospel, and yet not I by Christ through me. It is the task - as if we were Paul at the end of Acts - of teaching and empowering the people of God, and yet being under house arrest, unable to leave. Because the point is to empower the work of others through service to them, and proclamation.
Simply: I feel called to bring myself, as myself, to serve the community that is church.