Welcome to the College of Transfiguration, NPC - a provincial centre for the training of Anglican clergy.

HOW DO I KNOW THAT I'M CALLED?

Thursday, 28 April 2016 
 
 
Let us pray the Ember Day collect: 
 
Heavenly Father, 
You have entrusted to your church  
a share in the ministry of your Son 
our great High Priest, 
call many through you Holy Spirit 
into the ordained ministry of your Church 
and inspire them to respond to your call 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen
 
The question that is before us is, "How do I know that I'm called?". I think that is a million dollar question. In some ways it might sound like an easy question but certainly it doesn't have any simplistic answers. I'm probably going to leave you with more questions for you to go and think about than you are going to get answers from me. How wonderful it would be if I could give you a simple questionnaire like a form to fill in with the set of questions and I say to you answer each one, tick yes or no; or I have whole lot of questions and I say on a scale of one to five, say if you strongly agree or strongly disagree; or maybe I give you some questions then I say, "What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What makes you angry?”.  
 
Imagine if I could go through your questionnaires and count the points you gave me on each section and then I could say Yes! if you get so many points on this one then you're called, if you don't get enough points over there then you're not called. Even better still I could say to you if you answer these questions in this kind of way then you are called to be a priest or a deacon, but if most of your yes' are in this category then God has called you to be a lay minister, Sunday school teacher, youth worker, server, parish councilor or a leader in one of the guilds. Wouldn't that be wonderful? If we could just work it out like that, but it doesn't. That is not how God works because we are all uniquely, wonderfully, individual people; made in the image of God but all with different personalities, different talents, different gifts and different callings. The reality is that there are many different ministries in the Church. Sometimes we only think about ordination but God calls us to serve him in many different ways and all of these are worthwhile and meaningful.  
 
Let us never ever think that there is a first class Christian and a second class Christian, a better ministry and a lesser important ministry. That is simply not the biblical picture we have in front of us. Amongst the children of God, there is no hierarchy in terms of who God loves the most. If you are the Archbishop of Canterbury or a homeless person in the streets of Grahamstown, God doesn't love one more than the other. There is neither a hierarchy of who God needs the most in ministry. We are the body of Christ, the different parts have different functions. The hand can't say to the head, I don't need you or the toe say to the arm I don't need you because we need one another. We might think let us all be the head because it might seem the head is by far the most important part of the body. Can you imagine if all of us were heads, what would the body look like? It would be a monster and God doesn't want monsters. God wants bodies, eyes, nose, head, hands, heart, all of these different parts are equally important. Sometimes in the body of Christ we think we should all be priests. God calls all of us to serve him and to exercise a ministry that the body of Christ can function well.  
 
I believe the most important calling is the gracious call and invitation which God gives to every single person, a call to respond to the love of God in repentance and faith. To be born anew or from above as a child of the living God. To give our lives to the Lord Jesus that we may live our lives in love for God and in love for one another. “Come and follow me”, says Jesus. Now for many of you I guess maybe you were born into a Christian family, maybe you were baptised when you were just a few weeks old, maybe your parents or grandparents brought you up in the life of the church, maybe some came to faith like Saul on his way to Damascus, they didn't grow up in a Christian setting but God suddenly showed up in their lives. Neither is more important than the other. What is important is not how we came to faith but did we come to faith. There is no better story than the other, the important thing first and foremost, "Do you know that you are a child, a son, a daughter of the living God? Have you repented and put your faith in Christ Jesus?” In John's Gospel a question to Necodemus, "Are you born again?" or in the Greek "Have you been born from above?" not physically but spiritually into the family of God. Our identity in Christ, is by far the most important, to be a child of the living God.  
 
In the last few weeks we were made aware that for various circumstantial reasons after being asked to take a DNA test it transpired that the biological father of the Archbishop of Canterbury is not Mr Welby. It turned out that his father was in fact the private secretary to Winston Churchill. At the age of 61, with an 80 year old mother, he gets to know that his mother had an affair just before she got married. His world could have fallen apart if his identity was that he is Mr Charles Welby's son. When the Archbishop responded he said in his statement - When I was made Archbishop of Canterbury, I said I am Justin, son, servant of the living God, he said nothing has changed, his identity had not changed.  
 
How do I know if I'm called specifically to serve in the ordained ministry of the church? I have no magic answer but I will look at things with you hoping they will help you in your own continual discernment to be able to answer this question. In the charge to the Priests on the ordination service, APB 587, the Bishop says, "Today you have come to respond to the call from God, heard in your heart and confirmed by the church". In order to discern God's call there are two things we need to consider, the first one is the personal call, God speaking to me, and that call has to be confirmed by the wider church. We do not volunteer for the priesthood, it requires discernment. God speaks to us in our circumstances, in our lives and in a way that is unique to us. When God calls someone, he calls regardless of culture, race, language, background, socio-economic standing.  
 
The process of discernment differs from diocese to diocese. In some dioceses you meet with the bishop. The most thorough and probably the best process is the expectation that you are an active lay person, you don't offer yourself for ordained ministry or come to seek discernment when you are not even involved in the life of the church. The next step would be speaking to your rector then it will go to the parish council which knows you and will have to endorse that this person possibly does have a calling. If the parish council say the don't see the calling then that is where it will stand for a moment Once an approval is received from the rector and the parish council then a recommendation to the Bishop is made. Probably you will be asked to join the fellowship of vocation. Some people drop out during the fellowship of vocation and that is fine because there are many ministries in the church maybe its just that one is not called to ordained ministry. Those who continue might probably go to some kind of a selection or discernment conference in some diocese you meet only with the bishop but in some it will be a group of people. We need to hear God together, there needs to be a corporate decision. Ordination is not a prize, it’s not a trophy, it’s not a status for a discernment conference.  
 
It is absolutely essential that the church is involved in confirming your call to ordained ministry because your are not a volunteer, nor are you applying for the job. It is not a job interview this is a life calling, a vocation, when you get ordained you don't come under labour law. You are not employees, you are given stipends not salaries. You can't take the church to labour court as some have tried when its says you are not performing. As ordained clergy you will be given a responsibility for other peoples lives, they will come to you to share their deep and confidential things which can't be said to anybody. You need to prove your honesty, that you are trustworthy, that you live your life with ethical, moral and Christian standards. If you apply for a job somewhere they don't care if you have an affair with somebody else, they don't care if you get drunk on a Friday night, they don't care if you put a little bit of money in your pocket, as long as you do your job properly. But in the ministry it is different because we've got to be people of integrity so the church needs to discern. There are those who will come for ordination for the wrong motives. It is not about status but service, you are a servant of God and God's people.  
 
We are all called as Christians 
 
 
Revd Dr Claire Nye Hunter
Assistant Priest: Cathedral of St Michael and St George
Grahamstown


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