Vocation, discernment and selection:
MSEs and worker-priests

Church talk tends to lay great emphasis on vocation and 'being called'. I certainly don't wish to argue against the practical belief that in taking God seriously a person must give careful thought and attention to what that requires of him or her.

What I want us to do is be both more rigorous and more agnostic in our approach to the ways in which God might address such claims to individual followers of (in the Christian view) God's incarnate Word, Jesus.

Some preliminary points.

An example might help make clear what I mean. Just a couple of years ago a priest in London was named as the new bishop of a particular area - we'll call it 'X' - within another diocese. He was widely quoted in religious media as saying:

"I sense a profound call from God to the Diocese of [Y] and specifically to 'X'".

What astonished me was the (then) bishop-elect sensing a "profound call from God to the Diocese of Y and specifically to X" with such a degree of GPS accuracy. What are we to make of this use of claimed, or perceived, divine certitude in matters of calling? And if we reckon it to be how God operates in the call to priestly or episcopal callings, why is God so imprecise in other matters, arguably of far more importance to the world?

When I acted as an Examining Chaplain I was often bemused and sometimes disheartened to find Get thee to a stipendvery able people who were already serving God in roles such as teaching and education, law, publishing, building and health quite certain that God was calling them to stipendiary ministry. When I would ask whether they did not think that God might want them to serve as a priest-teacher or priest-surveyor or priest-medic, the answer was nearly always too quick and certain. A common response was 'but I want to be full time'. Well, yes, all priests are full time!

This state of affairs reflects, I suspect, the deeply held world-view of the church and those doing the selecting and sponsoring. And it betrays quite a narrow view of the church, its ordained ministry, the laity and the way God is at work within the world.

It is very easy to romanticise priesthood and ministry, and to do so in a way that cuts it off from life beyond the institution. (And I suspect that this is a tendency which then leads to disillusionment and loss of vision for many stipendiary priests once the initial fervour has worn off and they find themselves caught within the sometimes constricted worlds of parish and diocese).

Without a properly balanced and enthusiastic view of a range of commissioned, priestly, ministries which embrace those paid stipends and attached to parishes and those operating in the 'secular' world, we are doing the idea of vocation a disservice.

Knowing quite what to wear at work as an MSE can be challenging...