I am now engaged in the URC’s process for matching final year students with their first pastorate. The synod moderators, meeting as a group, offer each student a single introduction at a time, which the student can refuse. If the introduction is refused the moderators will consider the ordinand in question at their next meeting (they meet monthly). If the introduction is accepted the pastorate receives the ordinand’s profile and decides whether to invite him or her to an interview.
Thus, as a student, one is faced with a series (potentially a series of one) of yes/no decisions about whether one wishes to be considered by pastorates. Eventually (all being well) a pastorate will, having considered you, call you to be their minister. This is the final test of your call to ministry in the URC. No ordination is possible without a call from a pastorate. The theology of vocation as developed in the Reformed tradition, can clearly be seen at work in all this (whatever its differences from other Reformed churches’ ways of running the assessment/training/ordination process).
This theology asserts that my (or anyone else’s) “choice” of ministry as a “career” is in fact a call by God to a way of life. The assessment process is not intended to select people based on their fitness for ministry, choosing those who are predicted to succeed in the task, as in the recruitment and selection exercises I participated in as both candidate and selector in my former career. While it isn’t wrong to use some of the same techniques and thought processes the underlying rationale is different.
The Church doesn’t or shouldn’t, have clearly defined goals of its own, in the way a commercial or governmental body does. This is reflected in the variety and peculiarity of the way it organises and structures itself (and there are no structures more various and peculiar than the URC’s!). It is also reflected in the idea that the decision on whether to “recruit” someone is thought of as trying to discern what the decision already made by God in a particular case is.
If accepted by the Church the vocation, the call, one believes oneself to have had by God to this way of life, is “affirmed”. The assessment process “tests” the vocation. The position then is that the Church is striving to understand what God has already decreed. One might wonder why this isn’t clearer to us. To wonder this brings one close to the theological heart of all matters. If there is God and God is trying to communicate with us why isn’t everything clearer? Not a question for this post.
What I’m thinking about today is the existence of other vocations than ministry. I’m inclined to the view that there are a great many different vocations. perhaps most or even all people have vocations, both inside and outside the church, I’m especially drawn to the idea, clearly present in Luther, that marriage is a vocation. Those who are well married are so because God called them to one another.
If I’m right about this and about myself then I have (at least) two vocations, as minister and as husband (and father). This means that when I look at the pastorates to which I’m offered an introduction I do so not only as someone called to serve in the church and thinking about where whatever gifts I have should be used but also as a member of a family unit that will move to and live in the community in which those local congregations are placed.
How these two callings interact is a question for any Christian tradition which has married clergy. I wonder whether we have continued to value to ministerial calling differently and more highly than others in a way more consonant with a view of it as a fundamental change in the nature of the person ordained and associated with priestly celibacy. This is particularly dangerous and difficult as the churches decline in our society and with it the status of their ministers.
Anyway I would ask any of you who pray to pray for me and my family as we prepare for the changes in our life together.