I am back at work this week after a couple of weeks or so off. It’s a catching up week but also a time to think about fundamentals again as I reflect on what I am called to do.
I love the simplicity of this poem by Melannie Svoboda which reminds me of some of the things which are vital. I might frame the third task a little differently perhaps but having a clear idea of my vocation is something that is important to me:
This is your task in life: first, befriend yourself. Learn to enjoy being with you. This is task number two: find good companions who share your deepest longings, and are both cheerleader and goad for you. And your third task? Find people in need and pour upon them the contents of your heart.
What is your third task?
Melannie Svoboda When the Blue Heron Flies New London: Twenty Third Publications, 2012, p94.
Seriously, we realised long ago the importance of celebrating and this feels like a big deal for me, a year of self-employment running my own business.
The biggest challenge has been marketing and how I describe what I do. I love doing so many different things that articulating a niche which several courses I have been on advise, is very difficult.
Ultimately I want people and organizations to flourish and fulfil their potential. If I use biblical language I have always felt called to equip the saints for works of service (Ephesians 4.12). Different forms of facilitating learning have been part of nearly everything I have done in 40 years of work. I often find myself doing that on the margins and have always had a particular passion for working with those who can identify with that place. That is perhaps reflected in my substantial pieces of academic work being on regenerative practice, long term incarnational urban youth work and shame in the church. Most of what I have written has a focus on practice and I am definitely a practical theologian by specialism with a particular heart for work with children and young people as well as wider ministry.
I am grateful for a year of new opportunities and look forward to see what emerges in Year 2. I am open to anything and love working with others and already have some fascinating work lined up.
I encountered this fallen tree when out for a walk this week. I like the metaphor of a well watered tree from Psalm 1 but something seemed to have gone wrong here! I still feel like I have encountered an unexpected fallen tree on a path alongside a stream.
However, I am also aware that I was able to climb over this tree and keep on going along the path by the stream. I have believed for many years that I have a vocation which I work out wherever I end up, whether paid or not. There may be obstacles to negotiate along the way but I continue to look for opportunities to help people fulfil their potential and become all they can be to make their unique difference in the world. In my faith context I have a passion for equipping the saints for works of service, and am so encouraged hearing and seeing the stories of people who I have supported for a while on their journey.
I created this stone while away for a few days recently. I have to overcome my inner critic when I do arty things as they don’t always look how I might hope but the process is so much more important for me than the outcome when I play like this.
One of the things I have been doing over the past couple of months is crystallizing what some of my passions are in a more fluid context. This sums up what has largely driven most of what I have done. I have tried to support people to be flourish and make a difference in their world, wherever that might be. I love to see people overcome barriers to fulfill their potential and to perhaps recognise some of their unique gifts and what they offer to the world. Research shows that giving is good for us and making a difference is giving of who we are.
What’s your passion? What difference do you try to make in your world?
One of my favourite weekends of the year – we take a big pile of books and hole up for a weekend in a hotel. I love reading but don’t get as much time as I like to read what fancy rather than what is necessary. I have an ecelctic range of books most of them relating to my vocation as I enjoy time and space to stop and reflect. Bettys shortbread and Carluccios apricot biscotti both lovely Christmas gifts are am added bonus to the books!
Our preacher at the CYM graduation had one message for the students, keep the fire burning. Another way of saying it was keep your passion for God. Lee Kirkby our speaker graduated 10 years ago and honestly shared some of his experiences in the hope that our students may learn from them. How you keep the fire burning long term is something I have thought a lot about having started in ministry in 1984. Some of the things which have helped me are having a clear sense of vocation, some principles to live by, a rule and rhythm of life which gives space for rest and recharge.
Paul and I were at a great conference for those engaging with children and young people in Coventry Diocese on Saturday and enjoyed listening to Lynn Alexander sharing her experience. The picture is one of her slides which I am continuing to ponder on and consider the transferability of the concept to other dimensions of my ministry. It was good to hear someone talk about theological preparation and for me to reflect on that in the light of my role in theological education. I am seeing the Holy Spirit calling people at different stages of their lives including after retirement from work as well as at the beginning of possibly a life time calling to work with young people. I am seeing diverse groups of people become family and seeing people achieve far more than they dreamt possible. This involves a cultural shift against some of the more consumeristic or value for money approaches to training for ministry I have sometimes encountered. Structural change which liberates and empowers lay ministry is to be welcomed.
Well over half a life time ago I saw the Boomtown Rats at Finsbury Park Rainbow. Monday I put on a greatest hits CD in the car as I drove home as I couldn’t fine a radio station I wanted to listen to. We had been decluttering at work and I found a stash of old CDs – I have worked in the same place for 20 years now so some of them were old! I sang along to Rat Trap at full volume. As I did I was saddened that a song which is over forty years old still seems so pertinent today. I can picture people and places as I sing it now just as I could back when it first came out. I also realised that throughout my career I have had a passion for working with people like the Billy of the song. That may seem a little odd to those of you who know what I do but for many people education is one of the options to ‘find a way out’. The thought that ‘hope bites the dust behind all the closed doors’ makes me grieve and when I think back over the years I have been involved in education my mind goes to Maria, to Jenny, to others where I began to see a glimmer of hope. Ultimately my hope is in Christ and a decision to follow Jesus as a teenager is what made such a significant difference to me. I wasn’t in a ‘rat trap’ as in the song but still needed to be set free. I am very grateful for the privilege of being involved in theological education where we seek to support people in finding their vocation and fulfilling their God-given potential. Singing the song was very cathartic. After a long day of meetings it was good to remember one of the things that motivates me.
Today was one of my favourite teaching days, the first for a module on supporting work based learning. I read this book too late to include this quotation but supporting work based learning is often about helping people see these threads, threads which help them explore their vocation. I love the opportunity to help people explore resources which may reveal something of their journey and the weaving of the story.
“You must keep collecting threads—threads of meaning, threads of hope, threads of purpose, energy and will— along with all the knowledge, skill that every weaver needs. You must keep on weaving—stopping sometimes only to repair your broken loom—weave a cloak of warmth”
On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old” by Parker J. Palmer – read on my Kindle.
This was projected on a wall at Buckfast Abbey as part of their celebrating 1000 years exhibition.
One of the joys of my work is seeing a growing sense of vocation in our students and others I work with. I am grateful that others helped me see mine as a young person and it feels like over many years I have worked out this vocation in different situations and contexts. Sometimes it has been in paid work, other times as a volunteer but there is such a sense of fulfilment in being who God created me to be. We have some vocation questions to think about elsewhere on this site and recommend a book called Sleeping with Bread to help people explore this whole area.