For many centuries,men and women across Sussex have been responding to God’s call to proclaim the gospel afresh to their generation, and the Church has been responding - equipping “God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’ (Ephesians 4.12). Responding to God’s call in our lives is invariably a risky venture, and can often come with considerable personal cost. None the less, those who do not shirk that invitation, but who respond – however tentatively – also discover in time that this obedience leads to a richer life. They grow in the sense that they are becoming more truly themselves and are discovering – not a heightened sense of religiosity – but that freedom and fullness of life which is promised to us by God in Jesus Christ (John 10.10).
This is the adventure and invitation of all who are baptized in Christ and, in this sense, everyone has a vocation. Nonetheless, as St Paul taught us, there are a variety of ways in which we all contribute to the building up of the body of Christ and the advancement of His kingdom. Some are called to teach, some to encourage, some to heal, and so on (cf. 1 Corinthians 12). In the early Church, there slowly emerged three distinctive orders of ministry – deacon, priest and bishop – which the Church of England retained at the Reformation:
Deacons “share in the pastoral ministry of the Church and in leading God's people in worship. They preach the word and bring the needs of the world before the Church in intercession. They accompany those searching for faith and bring them to baptism. They assist in administering the sacraments; they distribute communion and minister to the sick and housebound.” (Ordination Services) Some people remain as deacons throughout their ministry, while most clergy are ordained as a priest after a period serving as a deacon.
Priests remain as deacons, always keeping watchful for those on the edge of the community and those who are most vulnerable. The Church of England Ordinal states that priests “are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord's table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God's name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God's people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.” With the bishop, they share in the oversight of the Church, and function in a variety of roles as vicars, rectors, in cathedral and diocesan posts, and as chaplains in schools, universities, hospitals, the Armed Forces and prisons.
Bishops are “called to serve and care for the flock of Christ…As principal ministers of word and sacrament, stewards of the mysteries of God, they are to preside at the Lord's table and to lead the offering of prayer and praise. They are to feed God's pilgrim people, and so build up the Body of Christ.” They baptize and confirm, and, leading Christ’s people in mission, preside over the ordination of deacons and priests. As chief pastors, they administer discipline, speak out against injustice, and are granted special care for the poor and those in need. Bishops remain as priests and deacons.
Might I be called to ordained ministry?
God calls individuals in a variety of ways, from what seem like clear signs to a nagging sense that can’t be ignored, however much you might try. If you sense that you might have a call to ordained ministry, this call is explored in the prayerful company of others to discern whether it is informed and realistic, and whether this is indeed the right path for you.
The first person to talk with about your sense of calling will be your vicar or chaplain and, if together you feel it is worth exploring further, you should be in touch in the first instance with the Vocations Officer, the Rev’d Paul Redparth. If you are under thirty, you’re invited to have an informal chat with the Young Vocations Officer, the Rev’d Robert Norbury. Although some paperwork is involved, you’re not being placed on a conveyor-belt towards ordination, but rather beginning a pilgrimage of discovery in the company of the wider Church. If you push forward with the conversations, you should be aware that the process demands honesty and extensive self-examination. Accordingly, the process normally lasts at least a year.
What should be stressed is that God calls all people. He calls young people and older ones, men and women, the wealthy and poorer from all walks of life, social classes, ethnic backgrounds and educational abilities. The Church of England is particularly committed at the moment to making sure that the clergy reflects the ethnic diversity of our nation and to nurturing vocations among younger people. If you’re under 30, do have a look at the national website that offers some good resources: www.callwaiting.org.uk
For more on the process of discernment, selection and training for ordained ministry, please click here