Some thoughts on vocation as our Evensong Celebrating Older Adults approaches
For many years, my “go to” reflection on vocation has been Frederick Buechner’s: “Vocation comes from the Latin vocare (to call) and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done….The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.“
I have recently connected with another component of vocation in Gavin Knight and Joanna Knight’s Called by Mind & Spirit: Crossing the Borderlands of Childhood.” They suggest the New Testament’s “particular sense of calling” comes from the Greek words transcribed as para (beside) and kaleo (to call). This calling alongside “can also be interpreted as cheering on, exciting and encouraging” which was particularly used by Paul in his letters to new Christian communities and “these formative years in the life of the Church depict what it means to get alongside one another.”
Through years of conversations and visits with older adults, my own reflections suggest that vocation is often overly identified with active work in the world – something objective – rather than a state of being open to the calling of the Holy Spirit and to whatever changes in our life and relationships that entails. Theologian Nancy Duff claims that the concept of vocation affirms: “Your life matters; furthermore, your life matters where you are right now….Our lives have divinely ordained purpose where we are and who we are at any given moment.” So, vocation changes and evolves over the course of a life. Vocation can become somehow privileged to those of us who are ordained, especially in a denomination like ours; we need to remind ourselves that our calling as Christians comes through our baptisms.
And when we are no longer able to continue our active work in the world, we sometimes feel useless. I want to suggest – and sometimes do when I am brave enough – that those of us no longer able to have an active “work” can be holding up our loved ones and the rest of the world through our ministry of prayer and presence. Moreover, we can be helping others to embody their own vocations by being open and generous to those who are helping us with our lives as we age or when we are ill – our family members and friends, pastoral care-givers, medical personnel, those who clean our rooms in hospital, nursing home, or CCRCs, medical and pharmaceutical researchers. Vocation given to us as a gift of God always involves deep respect for the vocations of others – we are all unique and we are all together as members of the Body of Christ.
As the Diocese of New Jersey celebrates the wisdom, gifts, and leadership of the older adults in our midst on 9/24, 2 p.m., at our Older Adult Evensong at Trinity Cathedral, we will have the wonderful opportunity to say thanks to the many faithful servants whose ministries, whose mentoring, and whose very being gives us hope and embodies the presence of Christ in our midst. Our preacher Genevieve Bishop, a candidate for Holy Orders in our diocese, is an elder law attorney whose work embodies a love and concern for persons impacted by age-related dementias. Her vocation, evolving throughout the course of her own life, led her “to grapple with the theological and pastoral questions that arise in this field. “ She writes: “This is now my passion. I firmly believe that ministry to Older Adults is both a gospel imperative and a 21st century mission field. I believe we are called to witness to the truth that those who age are given an amazing gift (no matter how difficult it is). Those who age receive the gift of growing toward our truest self, a being completely dependent upon God, loved by God, and valued precisely because we are loved and sustained by God, not because of what we can accomplish.”
We are so very grateful to the elders who will be honored at our service and to the churches who enable us to celebrate with them, to Bishop William H. Stokes for his continuing commitment to older adults and the Diocesan staff including our staff liaison the Rev. Canon Dr. Brian Jemmott for all they do to support this service and our committee throughout the year; to Dean René John, Canon Deborah Ford and the Cathedral staff and ushers; to Genevieve Bishop, to the Diocesan Youth Council, and to all those who will participating in our service.
on behalf of The Diocese of New Jersey’s Committee for Ministry with Older Adults