‘Vocation’ is one of those words that we all think we know what it means, and then find that everyone else is thinking slightly differently. We might talk about ‘vocational courses’, which are often seen to be more practical and less academic. Or ‘vocational careers’, like teaching or nursing, meaning you really need to want to do them because they’re quite tough! The term ‘a vocation’ is used sometimes to refer to thinking about becoming a monk or a nun, what we call the Religious Life.
So, what exactly IS vocation? And why do we use it so much in church?
Quite simply it means calling; the idea that we are called, summoned, beckoned towards something. And what is the reason we use this word so much in church circles? Because we believe God is always calling us, calling us towards him, to love, to follow and to serve.
In the Confirmation service we’re reminded that God has “called us by name, and made us his own.” This is our first vocation, our first calling, to be disciples. Many of us respond to multiple calls in our lives, the call to our family, the call to our work, the call to our church community. For some of us there is a call to service in specific ways within our church life, including the call to Licensed ministry, both lay and ordained.
It is important to start with the fact that there isn’t a hierarchy of vocation. Ordained ministries and Authorised and Licensed Lay Ministries are simply different ways in which we are called to exercise our vocation as baptised children of God.
Some people are called to exercise that vocation in their Monday to Saturday roles, as parents, teachers, bus drivers, accountants, doctors, administrators and so many other roles and jobs! They might also have volunteer roles working with their community or church.
Others are called to have specific roles within the church and within the leadership of church communities, responding to the needs they see, and the call God gives them. On the Ordination Resources page you can read the descriptions of Priests and Deacons from the services of Ordination.
Lay ministry is not less important than ordained ministry, nor is it taken less seriously. LLMs are called to lead worship, to pastor people, to be part of the leadership of a church, to take funerals and look after the bereaved amongst many other local and contextual responsibilities. They can be people of any age, who feel their calling is to minister in this way, in any tradition of Church.
The routes to Ordained and Licensed ministry are ones which are not walked alone. These vocations are jointly discerned by the candidate and by the Church and so we work together throughout the process.
These pages and resources are intended to explain how you might explore and discern these vocations within the Church of England, and particularly in the Diocese of Winchester. They will also be helpful for those who are supporting people exploring vocation (incumbents and other clergy).
The Exploration and Discernment Process
The Church of England website also has a lot of information about vocation and ministry and it will be helpful to look at this alongside our local pages. The Shared Discernment Process is a national one, but every diocese will do the detail differently.