-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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
Office of Admissions and Financial Aid Intern