‘Celebrating the vocation to science,engineering, medicine and business’

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.

Vocation

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’)

 

 

 

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Celebrating the vocation to science, engineering, medicine and business.

The next Choral Evensong at Imperial will explore the connections between faith and work. We will be celebrating the vocations to do science, engineering, medicine and business. Here is an extract from some conversations about vocation.image

Christianity talks about ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’. It starts with the idea that people are ‘called by God’. Often this means unexpected people are ‘called’ by God to do surprising things. Moses, for example, was a Hebrew raised by an wealthy Egyptian princess, who leads the enslaved Hebrew people to freedom. Saul is persecuting Jesus’ followers when he has his Damascus Road experience and becomes Paul a disciple of Jesus.   In Christianity everyone who is baptised is ‘called by God’ to follow Jesus.

‘Vocation’ and ‘Calling’ are also closely linked to our working world. ‘Calling’ expresses something about each person’s unique skills, gifts and personality.

We also talk of some careers as being ‘callings’, for example, nursing, medicine, and teaching. But what about other forms of work, like running a business, administration, catering? Can these be callings?

The religious language of calling can prompt some practical questions about how we see our work.

How much of our deepest self goes into our work? Too much, not enough?

If work is what I do to pay the bills, is my  ‘calling’ something I do outside of my work?

How much enthusiasm or passion do I have (or still have) for my work?

Does my work or voluntary work ‘fit well’ with my skills, temperament and talents?

Is my work or voluntary work making the world a better place for others? Does it bring life or hope?

Am I being ‘called’ to something new? How would I recognise that calling?

 

Every person has their vocation. The talent is the call.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Love doesn’t sit here like a stone; it is to be made like bread, remade all the time, made anew’.
Ursula LeGuin

‘In the Gospel, vocation means being a human being, now, and being neither more, nor less, than a human being now…And, thus, each and every decision, whether it seems great or small, whether obviously or subtly a moral problem, becomes and is a vocational event, secreting, as it were, the very issue of existence.’
William Stringfellow

 

 

Intersection of religion, sexuality and transgender.

Screen shot from Imperial's Diversity page

I have been invited to join the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Form at Imperial.

It has been four years since I have been involved in EDI groups in HE. Coming back into the structures I notice the increased interest in how religion is just one of often several ‘protected characteristics’ in a person’s life.

The overlap of diferent aspects of identity is now being talked about as ‘intersectionality’.

Intersectionality considers that the various forms of what it sees as social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are complexly interwoven. (from Wikipedia)

As the College is preparing a policy to improve the experience of students and staff who are transgender, I gathered some links to UK-based LGBT+ groups for different world faiths. These are some of the places where religion ‘intersects’ with sexuality and transgender. Please share the links with those who might find them useful.

Imaan  is the long established Muslim LGBT+ network and support agency.

The national Jewish LGBT+ organisation goes by the local title Gay Jews in London.

For the intersection of Christian faith with transgender and sexuality check out:

Diverse Church  is an LGBT+ support network originating from HE Chaplaincy and a university LGBT+ student society

And there is a wealth of information and links at Transgender Christians.

 

Watching the darkness come in…

 

imageBefore Mindfulness, we had Silent RCA. This was a student inspired project that offered fifteen minutes of shared silence each week. People used the silence in their own way. Some just sat, others prayed, and some did meditation. One person sat on the floor and did yoga.

The student who started the project told me when she was a young child her grandmother would say

‘Come and sit with me by the window… let’s watch the darkness fall and the night arrive, then we can light the candle’.

She remembered it as a special time, sitting with her grandmother watching the darkness slowly arrive.

Rowan Williams, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, was asked a question about how to pray when life is busy. He said that even when life was hectic each day gave two invitations to pause; the arrival of daylight and the arrival of the night time.

In Christianity and many religions, these are the traditional daily moments to pray. Perhaps dawn and dusk remind us of our place in the world and our place in time. The sun will rise and set with or without us noticing. They are always there – an invitation to pause, to pay attention to what’s unfolding around us and to notice ‘where we are’.

Grateful (for not using religious language)

David Steindal RastI greatly admire the way the Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast talks about gratefulness and thankfulness without using religious language.

As a monk the religious tradition influences every aspect of his daily life.  Yet, in his TED talk  he does not use religious language. He gets right  to the heart of our human experience.

He has a striking phrase ‘What is the opportunity of this given moment?’

Religious practice is supposed to bring life. It is not supposed to be an end in itself – a language and practice for its own sake.

Here is an extract of his conversation with Krista Tippet from the On Being podcast.

David Steindl Rast:
When you are in practice, a split second is enough to stop. And then you look. What is, now, the opportunity of this given moment? Only this moment, the unique opportunity this moment gives? And that is where this beholding comes in.

And if we really see what the opportunity is, we must, of course, not stop there, but we must do something with it. Go. Avail yourself of that opportunity. And if you do that, if you try practicing that at this moment, tonight, we would already be happier people, because it has an immediate feedback of joy.

 I always say not — I don’t speak of the gift, because not for everything that’s given to you can you really be grateful. You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence, or domestic violence, or sickness, things like that. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful.

But in every moment, you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience, what to grow by it, or even to protest, to stand up, and take a stand. That is a wonderful gift in a situation in which things are not the way they ought to be.

So, opportunity is really the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but in every moment.’

 

 

 

 

 

Resources for the Advent Journey

Autumn mist (4)This coming Sunday is the start of Advent – the time of preparation for the Christmas celebration of Jesus’ birth.

This is time of  ‘waiting and watching’  but also seeking hope in the face of suffering.

Here are some links, resources and services for Advent that you might find useful, or prompt you to find something else that will work for you.

If you would like daily reflections on Advent themes check out:

  • Richard Rohr’s Center for Contemplation and Action
  •  The World Community for Christian Meditation  encourages Centering Prayer. Subscribe at ‘Support for your practice’ at the foot of the linked page.
  • The Evangelical, student inspired, international 24/7Prayer community is committed to action for justice. They are offering a series of pod-casts for  Advent.
  • AdventWord is produced by Virginia Theological Seminary and the Anglican Communion Office. Sign up or follow @adventword or search on Face-book.

For a longer read
The Advent season also invites us to reflect on the themes of death, judgment and the end of the world.
This can be a less traveled part of the Advent season. But these themes can also be an entry point to the depth of God’s love in a world containing far too much suffering and conflict.
I recently came across a great sermon on these less comfortable Advent themes by Rev’d Lucy Winkett, Vicar of St James’ Piccadilly.
You can find the full text here but this is foretaste…

‘all this Advent spirituality is as far away from the tinsel-covered Christmas commercialism as you can get. It is choosing to hope in the darkness of not knowing. It is revolutionary patience,stubborn hope that will not ignore the suffering of the world but acknowledges that somewhere, even now, the war is over, and the uncovering of things is upon us, beside us, within us.’

best wishes for reflective prayerful Advent.

Andrew

Higher Education after Brexit

Here are a few brief observations from Chaplaincy on the uncertainty created by Brexit for  UK  Higher Education.

exit-2-1235955-1279x857-2

Chris Hale, Head of Policy at Universities UK spoke at the HE Chaplains annual conference in January 2017.  He outlined  the general uncertainty that now affects staff and  students, as well as threatening future research funding and partnerships.It is a picture chaplains see in thier own universities.

I have had conversations with staff from EU countries worried about whether they can stay in the UK. Some have been working here for decades.There is now much evidence that the usual right to remain procedures don’t work for existing EU nationals. See the LSE Brexit blog on this.

At Imperial about  20 per cent  of  students and 25 percent of staff  come from EU countries other than Britain. Student applications from EU countries are down by 7%.

A significant  amount of research funding comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The UK Government has now agreed to meet any loss of funding to these projects when the UK leaves the EU. This may do something to maintain collaborations between EU and UK  universities.This area is being watched closely. What will happen to science funding after 2020 is not yet clear.

 

See also Universities UK Brexit round-up.

 

Tom Beaudoin: speaking a second religious or secular langauge.

thomas-beaudoinAs a team of Buddhist and Christian chaplains at Imperial we were really excited to hear Tom Beaudoin’s key-note talk at the Conference of European University  Chaplains  in the Netherlands last year.

Tom is Associate Professor of Religion at Fordham University. In his talk he was looking at life in a globalized world. He argued that there would be great advantages if we were all to learn to speak a second religious or secular  language.

Language, as a metaphor for our worldview, suggests that we all have a religious or secular ‘first language’ for talking about how we see the world and what we believe, for example Christianity, Islam, Buddhism  or atheism, humanism, agnosticism.

To learn a second ‘religious language’ does not mean  giving up our first language, our ‘mother tongue’. In a world were we are constantly meeting people whose world view is very different from our own it is good to be able speak even a little of another language.

So, while Christianity is my first language, I can ‘speak’ a little Buddhism. I have learned this second language from working with colleagues, sharing silent meditation together and hearing about their traditions. I am not fluent and I am not a native speaker.  But I know enough to be a good ‘house guest’ and (I hope!) to travel courteously  with my second language. This way I learn more, and see a little from the Buddhist perspective.

The other gift of learning a new language is returning to our first language with new eyes, and a better ear for the language itself. I now have a better understanding of my mother tongue for having started learning a second language!

New year and a new role!

30 B TorringtonNot many posts this last year!

The reason – I spent six months temporarily acting as  lead Higher Education Chaplain for London Diocese. Then, since the retirement of our boss Stephen Williams in March, I was asked to continue in the role. It is an ‘additional responsibility’ and not a new job!

So I am also continuing in my present role as Chaplain to the Colleges here in South Kensington (which is the calm way of saying I have been trying to compress an extra full-time post into one day a week! – the reason that blog posts have stopped!)

It is a great opportunity to support our Diocesan team of nineteen highly talented HE chaplains.

Looking forward to a new year year ahead.

Space for Spirit, Room for Religion

Here is a copy of a post about the European Conference coming up in June ’15 for ‘Thinking Chaplaincy’ – a blog for university chaplains.

Hi, as the UK and Ireland rep for the Conference of European University Chaplains I want to invite all of you working in HE Chaplaincy to  our conference in the Netherlands, June 8-12th 2015.

All the practical details are on the website and there is a very ambient trailer to watch too!

The theme is ‘Space for Spirit, Room for Religion’.DSC_0225

As Higher Education Chaplains we are always talking about space. “What kind of space do you have?” is a frequent question we ask each other- some of us work from a desk in student services, some of us manage multi-faith centres, some of us have space ‘off campus’, and while some dream of what could be done with ‘more space’, others deal with the daily caretaking issues of ‘shared space’.

Along with these very practical issues the conference will explore the question “Is any space left for Spirit in contemporary, secular society?”

I like the approach of the organisers when they say,

“We won’t approach secularity as a problem nor as something to regret. Rather, we consider it as a given fact that shapes both our context and our work. In the keynote speeches, we will be considering society, secularity and the changing role of religion and spirituality. Among the many related themes we will consider some contemporary tasks of theologians, the room we give to our ‘clients’, as well as the rooms we are given and spaces we claim for ourselves.”

There is information on the conference website about the key note speakers but here is my own summary of what’s going to be on offer in the Netherlands.

Hope to see you there.

Andrew Willson, UK and Ireland representative for the Conference of European University Chaplains  a.willson@imperial.ac.uk

The conference will be opened with an address by Karin van den Broeke, Chair of the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN).

The first key note speeches are on ‘Exploring chaplaincy in a dispossessed world’  with Prof Tom Beaudoin, from Fordham University, New York, USA and Prof Theo de Wit, Faculty of Catholic Theology, Tilburg University, the Netherlands.

There’s a trip to Amsterdam, where we will hear Prof Mechteld Jansen, Protestant Theological University, ask ‘Why does society need theologians?’

Followed by a visit to ‘De Nieuwe Poort’, a pioneering chaplaincy Center at the Amsterdam Financial Center and a meeting with its founder the pastor and social entrepreneur Rev’d Ruben van Zwieten. (There is free time in the great city of Amsterdam too!)

There is also a key note talks on “chaplaincy, theology and innovation – what can we learn from internet marketing and customer feedback?” by Florian Sobetzko, Innovation Evangelist and teacher at University of Bochum, Germany.

Finally, Prof Martin Walton (who has a great reputation for using singing, drama and artistic improvisation in his talks), will reflect on these themes from his perspective as professor in spiritual care and chaplaincy studies at the Protestant Theological University, in Groningen.