Jan 28 2011

Worthy of Your Call

As seminary students, we spend a significant amount of time wrestling with our call to ministry. We analyze it, discuss it with our friends and in the classroom, and we are always trying to come up with new and better ways to articulate it.

A few of us have a concrete vision of exactly what God wants from us, but most of us only have a hazy picture at best. However, it’s easy to come to terms with this as you begin to realize, that not only are you in good company, but that it’s okay not to have all the answers.

But sometimes I think we assume our call is a future one, hidden beyond all the caps and gowns of graduation. I think we forget that regardless of where God leads us in the future, he has led us here in the present.  A present call, I’m discovering, is much more difficult that a future one.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4[1], “Therefore, as a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

Now that perhaps is even scarier than having a call in the first place, having to live a life worthy of it. After all, it is a dangerous request Paul is making.  It requires us to take personal responsibility, stops us from resting on our laurels and reminds us that we have far to go.

But Paul doesn’t stop there.

He talks about attaining maturity, as though realizing you have a call is really only one of the first steps.

He talks about pursuing unity in Christ, reminding us that perhaps our call is bigger than just ourselves and that we were each called in order that body of Christ might be one.

He tells us to build each other up, to be careful what we say, to not speak in anger or bitterness, to love each other and forgive each other.

He seems to be concerned with how we live our everyday lives, with how we live out Christ in our routines and chores and arguments.

So maybe the question we discuss should include more than an analysis of our call, but a conversation about how we are living up to it and how we can help each other pursue that life that fully reflects both our call and the Holy One who gave it to us.

Ephesians 3 has some encouragement, and this is my prayer for you, for Candler, and for the whole Body of Christ as we strive to live lives worthy of our calling:

“ I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[2]

-  Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 1st year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.

[1] Notably, Ephesians is one of the disputed letters. However, that conversation will have to wait for another day, or maybe another blog post.

[2] Ephesians 3:17-19

Oct 12 2007

Call and Vocation

“The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”

-Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

I believe that vocation and call go hand-in-hand, and in fact, that we are all called and presented vocations in the whispers and nudges given by God. One of the blessings of being in ministry is that we are paid to live out our vocation. We are allowed the space to grow into our calling. We are encouraged to be in constant discernment about vocation and God’s call upon both our own life, as well as the lives of those with whom we are in ministry.

Discernment is a lifelong process, and we hope that seminary is yet another place where we can dialogue and discern our vocation and call in a community of other discerners. One of the hallmarks of the new Master of Divinity curriculum at Candler School of Theology at Emory University is the attention it gives to the first year experience of MDiv students. A key part of the first year experience is Candler’s revised advising program, designed to create regular occasions for faculty and student conversations about a student’s vocational and educational goals. The idea behind this change in structure is that the faculty/student conversations that begin in advising groups the first semester will model faculty involvement with students throughout one’s time at Candler.

One of the aims of the advising groups is to provide a place for collective conversation on vocation. As one means of fostering this collective conversation, all entering MDiv students and their faculty advisers read the same book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Pulitzer-prize winning author Tracy Kidder. Right around the time that bills were due in the university bursar’s office, entering first year MDiv students were sent a free copy of the book. Who doesn’t love to get mail and surprise presents?!

The book tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his pioneering work in health care with the poor of Haiti. Paul Farmer’s story of vocational discernment and service provided the advising groups with a beginning place for conversations about vocation, religious leadership, and theological education. Is Paul Farmer an ordained minister? No. But is he in ministry? Certainly! Ministry happens in many forms and in a variety of vocations. Dr. Farmer received an honorary degree from Emory University at the May 2007 commencement exercises and gave the commencement speech, which pushed graduates to live their lives to the fullest by answering the call that theologian Frederick Buechner names above as the union between the world’s brokenness and where we find wholeness.

This week, Tracy Kidder, the author of the book that has all the Candler first year MDiv students talking about vocation, was at Candler this week for a conversation with students, faculty and staff. His visit represents the finale of a 6-week study on vocation here at Candler. Kidder is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Times Book Review, and he has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Award, among other literary prizes. We were delighted with anecdotes from his travels with Paul Farmer as well as the world’s brokenness as he perceives it. Though the advising groups focused on Kidder’s book about Paul Farmer, it was clear from his presentation that we could do a case study on the vocation and call in Tracy Kidder’s own life as he invites readers into new possibilities for living through the words he writes.

What books have you read and found helpful that offer thoughts on vocation and service?

What changes do you hope to effect in the world? What mountains, as the title of the book suggest, or new vocational adventures, do you see on your horizon?

Kidder ended his presentation by saying, “I often feel like I’m jumping out a window and I don’t know what floor I’m on.” Isn’t that a great visual image for what answering God’s call is all about? Living out one’s vocation can bring such joy, but it can also be a leap of faith. We are not meant to do this work of discernment alone in isolation, which is why Candler is providing intentional space for students to talk about vocation, call, and discernment. Perhaps this is the community to continue your discernment process within.

If you are interested in exploring your call and dialoguing about vocation in the Candler context, please contact us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at candleradmissions@emory.edu, call us at 404.727.6326, find us online at http://www.candler.emory.edu/admissions/index.cfm and look for my profile on Facebook (Candler Intern-Theology) and the Candler School of Theology group at www.facebook.com.

By Lane Cotton Winn 07T
Candler School of Theology
Emory University
Office of Admissions and Financial Aid Intern