Here is the text of a sermon I preached at the Choral Evensong this week sung by Imperial College Chamber Choir in Holy Trinity Church, South Kensington. The questions for pondering about vocations in work or volunteering that were in the service sheet are at the end of the post.
The theme of this evenings service is ‘Celebrating the vocation to science, engineering, medicine and business.’
My conversations as a Chaplain with students and staff are often about what people enjoy in their work, the challenges and problems. It’s also often about whether their work is a good fit with how they see their skills and experiences. I want to continue these conversations tonight with a few reflections about vocation and calling.
‘Calling’ is a term that is applied to some professions – medicine, nursing teaching. But I would like to extend it to cover most work. Some of the features of a calling or vocation might be;
- a sense of the work being a good fit with our skills and abilities;
- service to others
- making the world ordered, safe or more connected
- bringing creativity to bear on problems
- the need for determination
- application over time
These features could all apply to work within business, engineering, administration, and support as much as in medicine or ordained ministry in the church.
Reflection on our calling might also be about discerning how to keep going at a role or project when times are tough. It could be about learning when to look for new direction in work or how to let a deep passion and interest flourish outside work.
Events can shape these decisions. For example. George Dyson who composed the music for parts of tonight’s service, was a soldier during World War One. He wrote a pamphlet about the use of grenades in warfare before suffering with shell shock. After the war he followed a career in music eventually becoming the Director of the Royal College of Music across the road. Following a calling and finding a vocation is often not straightforward. George Dyson, for all his success as a musician once applied to be the organist of this Church – unsuccessfully!
There is encouragement in many of the Bible stories. There is often a sense of unexpected people being called. So, David the youngest son who has to be fetched from tending the sheep when the next king of Israel is being chosen from among his brothers. It is David who becomes the greatest king of Israel. Saul was persecuting the new followers of Jesus when he hears his call during his conversion on the road to Damascus. He then becomes Paul, one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers. The idea is that others, including God, might see things in us that we cannot see ourselves, and that there is more to be called out from within us.
All this is talk about vocation and calling is against the background that most of us have to work by necessity to provide shelter food and warmth for ourselves and our families.
Sometimes our passions outside of work might be our calling. In the 19th century this was called an ‘avocation’ – a pursuit followed with passion and determination over time that fits our skills and the deep sense of who we are. Examples of avocation that I know include an IT technician who draws with great skill, medics who sing and compose music, a guy who works in a factory and who does amazing youth work in the evening.
Olivier Messiaen the composer of our last anthem tonight had a lifelong interest in birdsong and birds. His passion for ornithology often led to the sounds of birdsong being incorporated into his compositions.
The Canticles, the Song of Mary and the Song of Simeon, are sung at every evensong and also speak of ‘calling’ (and thanks to George Dyson for the musical setting for these tonight). These Canticles are the songs of a young woman accepting a calling, and of an old man who finally sees his calling come to fulfilment. For Mary it’s the beginning of intimacy with Christ. For Simeon it is the practice of looking out for Christ in daily life.
The readings we are going to hear from Isaiah and Matthew set work in the context of God’s love. For Isaiah it is a love that leads to the practical justice where everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of their work. In Matthew we hear the call to set our minds above all on the values of God’s kingdom.
To help our reflection tonight there are some questions to ponder from John Adair, an army officer and management consultant. The questions are around vocation or calling in the widest sense. They might be good ways to reflect on our work or how we might slowly recognise the emerging call to new projects or commitments.
My God’s spirit of wisdom be present in all our reflections tonight. Amen.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 65:20-23
New Testament Reading: Matthew 6:24-34
Text from the service sheet.
Reflecting on Vocation
During the service you might like to look at the questions below.
Which question captures your attention the most?
Which one is ‘the question to live with’ for a period of time?
Do you feel a long-term commitment to your present occupation or field of work?
Has anyone used the adjective ‘dedicated’ to describe you or the way you go about your work or voluntary work?
Do you feel that your abilities match the requirements of your particular role?
Can you think of another profession, trade or field that you would rather be in?
Does your present work give you scope for creativity?
Are you always seeking new and better ways of doing things?
Have you discovered work or volunteering that you can be really enthusiastic about, in spite of its ups and downs?
Has your enthusiasm for your work or volunteering been tested and sustained over a period of years?
Do you have a sense of being, as it were, at the call of your work, and through your work to others?
Are you learning about yourself through your work or volunteering?
Is there something else you would rather be doing that gives life to others?
What helps you keep going?
(adapted from John Adair’s ‘How to find your vocation: a guide to discovering the work you love’)