This article first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.
I left home in 1999. Having packed what I needed in the back of my parents’ Toyota Camry, we drove the three and a half hours from Cambridge to Kingston, Ont., where I would spend the next four years. As I was preparing to leave home, I had so many questions. What would it be like? Would residence bring all the chaos I’d seen in the movies? What would I learn? Who might I become?
I wasn’t the only one with questions. Members of my family and church community all seemed to be asking the same thing: “Are you going to be a teacher?” I was moving 350 km down the road to study English literature, and my community was concerned that I had a plan for gainful employment. I did not.
I knew that I loved literature, and that was enough. My community was concerned for me and for my future (not to mention my future employability). These were valid concerns, but they were not the questions that kept me up at night. Thoughts of a steady job, benefits and a pension had not crossed my mind. I was hungry to learn, to find out who I was and to figure out how the things I cared about could be used to God’s glory.
Perhaps such thoughts seem strange for a 19-year-old. And yet, these were the questions that animated my life at that time. Unsurprisingly, they are questions that continue to guide my ministry to this day. What I find most beautiful is that these questions were nurtured by my family, by my church community and by countless elders and mentors along the way.
These are questions each of our parish communities needs to nurture. As young people discern their path and their future vocation, we need to find ways to ask questions that go beyond, “Are you going to be a priest, a farmer, a teacher or a chef?”
We need to ask, as Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne suggests: “What kind of priest, farmer, teacher or chef are you going to be? How are you (and your community) going to embody the Christian gospel in all of life? How will you connect your deep, God-given gifts and passions with the world’s great needs?”
In the same vein, we should be challenging and accompanying young people as they ask such important vocational questions. I think this is what excites me most about discernment programs such as the new Ascend Leadership Project in the diocese of Edmonton. (Visit www.ascendleadershipproject.com.)
These programs take seriously the need to discern God’s will for our lives, not just in what we do, but how we do what we do. For participants, they provide an intentional time of formation, leadership development and discernment. Such discernment may lead to a sense of God’s call to serve the church in ordered ministries, or it may deepen a young person’s sense of baptismal ministry.
Whatever the case, such intentional gathering, transformation and sending are precisely what our church needs. We need more people-young and old-who fully embrace the depth of their baptismal call. We need more people who will sense God’s call and respond in ways that passionately and compassionately integrate our common faith into daily life and work.
Andrew Stephens-Rennie is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada.