In 2016, Laura Macfarlane was one of the CTC summer interns who went on to initiate the Vocation Project – designed to create spaces for vocational discernment for all. She is now serving on the Stepney Intern Scheme.
Here she reflects on the value of community for discernment…
There is a famous passage in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 which likens the church to the body of Christ and its members to body parts. Paul writes that each person, like each part of the body, is vital and can fulfil a role that no other person can. Each person is equal but all are unique.This is an often preached message by the church; a message which can be comforting in times of confusion or fear. As Christians, we believe that God has a plan for each of us which is personal and could not be carried out by any other. By searching for our vocation, we are searching for that perfect path which God has laid for us.
In the modern world, this message of individualism is becoming more and more dominant. We are encouraged by Western society to build our skills and work hard to achieve our personal goals. From a young age, careers advisors encourage us to take tests and complete forms, hoping to uncover our own special calling. Each individual must look out for themselves in order to succeed.
But the message of the Bible is not the message of society. Verse 25 says “that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” Paul explains that no part of the body can reject a different part, as they cannot survive apart from each other.
An eye is valuable to the rest of the body: it helps the legs to walk in the right direction and the mouth to know what was good to eat. At the same time, the eye relies on the rest of the body to keep it clean and healthy and to receive and carry its signals. In equal measures, each individual is vital to the community, and the community is vital to them.
One of the maxims which we try to apply to our work with vocations is that discernment is a communal rather than solely individual activity. Throughout Acts, we see the early church members praying for each other and helping individuals to find the perfect vocation for them. In a church, workplace or society full of unique individuals, there is so much we can learn from each other as we find our own path.
Our project aims to provide communal spaces for individuals to discern their vocations. Over the last year, we began to create such spaces within a number of institutions. At London Design & Engineering University Technical College, in collaboration with church-based community organiser Shermara Fletcher, we led a short meditation prepared by Frankie Webster on the journey of the Magi. At Regent’s Park College, Oxford, Zoe Mathias brought together different interests – students, chaplain, and a careers representative – for a mini-retreat where participants sketched out their spiritual autobiographies and reflected on the call on Abraham to the desert. At Exeter Vineyard Church, Laura Macfarlane led a reflective discernment session in which the sharing of testimonies was at the centre. In the Catholic Parish of Manor Park, Dunstan Rodrigues has been integrating Gospel meditations on the discernment of vocation into the confirmation programme. And, finally, on CTC’s 2017 Summer Internship, we led a morning retreat reflecting on the promptings of the Spirit in our lives, meditating on the images of the Spirit.
At all events, attendees were able to hear and be encouraged by the stories of other members of the community. We hope to grow this area of our ministry through further events, and through online resources such as blog posts. Sharing stories is hugely important to individual discernment as we strive to help individuals discover the wide possibilities of vocation and to follow the examples of those older and wiser members of the community who are further along the vocation journey.
God’s plan isn’t for one person alone; he has a plan for the whole world which each person has an amazing role in. As we search or our vocation, God has given us so many people to encourage and understand us, and in turn he has given us to them to do the same. Vocation is about finding your individual space in a larger, more meaningful, communal reality. It is about finding a hole in the wider world that only you, with your God-given uniqueness, could ever fill.