“A Satsuma is not a Failed Orange”: Listening to God’s call

VocationI live two varied and interesting lives. Don’t worry, this isn’t a confession of a secret life that I live. Rather, I’m referring to the fact that I have two ministries. On the one hand, I am blessed to be vicar of a wonderful church in a picturesque part of Cardiff (Roath Park), and, on the other hand, I have a role for the diocese of Llandaff – the diocesan director of ordinands. When I summarise that part of my job to those who aren’t Christian, I tell them that, in a nutshell, I help people work out whether God is calling them to be a vicar or whether God is calling them to something else, which will be different, but equally as important. Today is, therefore, an important day for me, as it is Vocation Sunday in our diocese – the day that we think about what being “called” actually means.

Little TrysWhen I was a child, I loved the Old Testament story of little Samuel being called by God in the temple at night. In fact, I loved it so much that Little Trys used to lie awake at night, straining to hear his name being called out. Is God calling me, I would ask myself… and I would listen so very carefully. But every night I was disappointed – silence! Then, and this is completely true, one night I finally heard my name – ‘Trystan…’ I thought ‘surely not’. But then I heard it again ‘Trystan…’ I was scared about talking directly to God, but I was also excited, because I knew the answer to this – I’d heard the story of Samuel in Sunday School, so I said confidently the words he had been told to say when he heard God calling him: ‘speak, Lord, your servant is listening’. And, sure enough, the voice replied ‘good, Trystan, because I have such an important task for you… tomorrow you must go out and buy your wonderful older brother the most expensive birthday present you can find him!’ At that point I noticed the shadow of my brother outside my door. I was distraught! I was actually so disappointed that, at that point, I came to the conclusion that God would never call someone like me. He only calls ‘special’ people, I thought – great prophets, very holy people, good people, worthy people.

GiftsBut, the reality is, of course, that, if we look in the Bible, God calls all sorts of people to do his work, from all sorts of backgrounds. So, being “called” is not about being ‘good’, ‘worthy’, or ‘holy’. God actually calls all of us, whoever we are and whatever we’ve done. After all, each and every one of us is a mixture of good and bad. I am the second of five children – my mum and dad kept trying until they got one they liked… (joke, mum!) When I was a child, my older brother was a good rugby player and a talented musician. I rather saw myself as the black sheep of my family, then my younger brother grew up and he was even more of a rebel than I was – and so, in my mind, he took over that mantle as the ‘black sheep’ and I was relegated to the ‘grey sheep’ of the family!

The reality is, though, that all of us are grey sheep. As the theologian Hans Kung put it, ‘a few of us are white sheep, a few of us are black sheep, but, let’s face it, most of us are zebras’. So, each of us also have a rebellious side, which can be selfish and self-centred, but each of us also have various God-given talents and gifts and He can use each of us for his purpose.  ‘Oh here in dust and dirt, O here; The lilies of his love appear’, wrote the seventeenth-century Welsh poet Henry Vaughan.

Despite our weaknesses, then, God calls each and every one of us. So, the question is not ‘is God calling you to do something?’ No, the question is ‘what is God calling you to do?’ So, on this Vocation Sunday, can I suggest that you think about two things:

I am SuperFirstly, why not take time to think how you are being called to use your gifts and talents for God’s glory? Some of our talents are obvious to all (some of us are talented singers, skillful musicians, wonderful actors, or great cake-bakers), but, alongside from our obvious talents, we must also all search for, and work on, our less recognizable gifts (like the gift of being able to talk to people, the gift of smiling at people, the gift of being patient with people who you find to be particularly annoying, or the gift of just being aware when someone needs help or needs a kind word or two). None of these talents are any less important than the others. Someone once said to me that a ‘Satsuma is not a failed orange’! All talents are important and valuable and useful to God and He’s calling you to use your talents. So ask yourself this week – how are you being called to use your gifts and talents to bring light into people’s lives? ‘Oh here in dust and dirt, O here; The lilies of his love appear’.

Ipod PriestBut, secondly, can I urge you to consider, and pray for, those who are feeling called to ordained ministry. You yourself may be feeling called to offer yourself to explore being a priest, a pastor, a vicar. If so, pray about it and talk about it with someone who knows you well and to your parish priest. But, even if you don’t feel such a call, ask yourself one question: do you know anyone who you think would make a great vicar? If so, can I urge you to have a quiet word with him or her and to suggest to them that they might consider exploring such a ministry. What’s the worst that can happen? Yes, they could burst out laughing and say: “you must be joking!” But, on the other hand, your word to them might just be the one thing that makes them start exploring a ministry that is so varied, so wonderful, and so rewarding. ‘Oh here in dust and dirt, O here; The lilies of his love appear’.

And so I finish with the prayer that I put together for the diocese of Llandaff for this Vocation Sunday:

Loving God,

thank you for calling us at baptism to be your people

and for inviting each of us to serve you through the gift of our lives.

In response to your call we again say, “Yes.”

Keep us faithful to your mission and our vocation.

And, gracious Lord, we ask that you inspire more women and men

of faith and compassion to ministry, service, and leadership.

Fill them with your Spirit of wisdom and grace

to proclaim the Good News,

to bring peace and hope into their situations,

and to witness your presence among us.

May those who are already opening themselves to your call

be encouraged and strengthened

to take your love into our communities with joyful and hopeful hearts.

Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

Amen.

(Parts of this blog post are taken from my book Real God in the Real World: Advent and Christmas Reflections on the Coming of Christ)

4 thoughts on ““A Satsuma is not a Failed Orange”: Listening to God’s call

  1. Thankyou for a thoughtful post. I went through that process of feeling called, and resisted it, asking ‘Why me God?”, but eventually submitted and spoke to my Parish Priest. After a journey lasting four years I eventually reached the decision point at BAP, where somehow that sense of vocation that had grown and been nourished and sustained through discernment and preparation seemed to vanish. I acknowledge that nerves intervened at BAP, in a way that they hadn’t during the preceding diocesan panel, but somehow BAP (on reflection) seemed to be a melting pot, which measures people against criteria, which are both challenging and in some ways unkind. The failure after such a journey, being affirmed along the way, creates a huge sense of failure and rejection, something that the church doesn’t always address, and which can cause some to leave altogether.

    Somehow, I’ve struggled on in the past 20 months since that rejection, but have come up against a level of carelessness on the part of the church. Having affirmed in the BAP report that they saw a strong sense of vocation towards some form of ministry, just not ordained ministry, they have singularly failed to encourage or sought to discern exactly what that vocation might be. Instead, inquires have been met with insurmountable barriers and doors firmly shut in my face. So, taking the decision to leave now is the only option available.

    Fortunately, a neighboring diocese isn’t so unkind and having joined a new parish there, they are at least prepared to meet me and to seek along with my Vicar, a pathway that might make the best use of those gifts that I can offer. I still have a strong sense of vocation to serve, but have been totally turned away from Ordained Ministry, my experience at BAP has given me a horror of having to submit to such a process ever again.

    So, if I meet or know someone who might make a good Vicar, what should my response be? Am I to point them towards the process, with a strong health warning, or say nothing and just mention that they might want to consider it? Neither appeals to me, as I’d be reluctant to be thought responsible for putting someone else through that build up and knock down process which discernment can be – they’d be better off opting for sitting in the pews or some form or lay ministry than going forward for ordination.

  2. I was convinced when reading that you had ‘two roles’ that it would be as Vicar Trystan and Family Trystan – so I wonder now whether you see that role as separate in any way from the working roles you describe, or if it is integrated in any way? Or is that your real ‘secret life’? :(Joking!) I remember at ordinations Archbishop Barry would always say that we must consider the families of those he ordains, because they can often bear the brunt of the sometimes all-consuming nature of their family member’s vocation. Perhaps there should be a support group for carers of the ordained! Seriously though, it is really important to remember that supporting, encouraging and facilitating others to use their gifts is a ministry in itself!

    Speaking of integration, I love the concept of the grey sheep – the dialectic between a black and a white sheep is new to me! But it is very representative of the disparities in the spectra of life, and the reality that things are often neither one or the other but less discriminate or helpfully subjected to ANalysis. All very evocative of Buddhism’s ‘middle path’ with the lotus akin to the lily, and interconnectedness favoured over compartmentalism.

    There are some massive questions this blog raises for me – about who or what is doing the calling, and if everyone is called is that by one God (universalism) or is religious the only difference between being called to do ‘loving’ deeds vs ‘Christian’ deeds? Obviously these can be seen as one and the same, so where religion fits in is a massive question!

    Thanks for the provocation!

  3. Pingback: Reasons to be Thankful: A Year in Review | Trystan Owain Hughes

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