When I was in seminary, it was common to be asked, “So what’s your call story?” This question always made me wince, because it felt like our personal stories were being measured, graded, and ranked. There was this palpable sense of inferiority when call stories weren’t flashy or dramatic, as if those stories and calls were more legitimate than the others. On some level, we all want the flash of light, the burning bush, an experience that leaves no doubt that we are gifted and called and sent.
But call is so much more than this. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the nature of call, saying—
“If my own experience can be trusted, then God does not call us once but many times. There are calls to faith and calls to ordination, but in between there are calls to particular communities and calls to particular tasks within them—calls into and out of relationships as well as calls to seek God wherever God may be found. Sometimes those calls ring clear as bells and sometimes they are barely audible, but in any case we are not meant to hear them all by ourselves. It was part of God’s genius to incorporate us as one body, so that our ears have other ears, other eyes, minds, hearts, and voices to help us interpret what we have heard. Together we can hear our calls, and together we can answer them, if only we will listen for the still, small voice that continues to speak to us in the language of our lives.” (The Preaching Life, 23-24)
If you look in my copy of The Preaching Life, this page is dog-eared, and these words are underlined, highlighted, and bracketed. They have been invaluable to me over the years, deeply resonating with my own experience. I did have a dramatic moment in my childhood that pointed me towards ministry, but just as important, if not more important, was that I had a community that walked with me in that time and afterwards. They embodied God’s love for me, taught me to think theologically, and helped me hear and interpret and fine-tune my call.
As part of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, our role is to journey with inquirers and candidates through the ordination process—to confirm and challenge, to be conversation partners and sounding boards as they seek to explore and act on the call that they feel. But just as important in this process is the role of our communities of faith in helping to form and nurture call.
We are curious to know—how did you discern your call to ministry, to service, to a particular community or relationship, both within the church and beyond its doors? And how are your communities equipping and empowering people to think and lead and explore calls to ministry?
The Rev. Elizabeth Smith-Bartlett is the Associate Pastor at the Larchmont Avenue Church and co-chair of the presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry.