What is vocation?
Vocation is about the whole of life – not just about ‘being a vicar’. Traditionally, the word has been used to describe a calling to the ‘religious life’, but the Christian understanding is that God calls everybody to respond to him and to become fully the person he created them to be.
There may be critical moments on the way, but it is a journey of ‘becoming’ that lasts a lifetime.
“Vocation doesn’t just happen, once and for all, at a fixed date…. It happens from
birth to death; and what we usually call vocation is only a name for the moment of crisis within the unbroken process.”
Archbishop Rowan Williams
Does everybody have a vocation?
Yes. And because every person is unique, every vocation is unique. What matters is that each person is helped to work out what their calling might be at any particular stage in their lives.
In reality, everybody has lots of vocations: for instance, you can be a teacher, a wife and a mother or, of course, husband and father. Each of these is a vocation in itself, yet they can all be part of one person’s life at the same time. As Christians, every person is called to follow Jesus Christ – to be a disciple – and that is another vocation.
“You are called to become
A perfect creation.
No one is called to become
Who you are called to be”
From the poem Called to Become
from the book Psalms of a Laywoman
by the best selling Roman Catholic poet/author and social activist Edwina Gately.
What does the Bible say about vocation?
There are lots of examples of people in the Bible who are called by God: judges and prophets, like Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah, called to speak God’s message to the people of Israel; the Virgin Mary, called to be the mother of Jesus; the disciples, such as the fishermen, called to leave their nets and follow Jesus; and many more. For all of them there was an awareness that God was asking them to do something for him; for all of them, there was an act of obedience – even if they were reluctant and thought they were not good enough; for all of them, their willingness to say Yes to God was matched by his willingness and desire to equip them for the task.
See also our suggestions for further reading
So what about a vocation to something religious – like being a priest?
As a Christian, you can have a vocation to any number of roles: being a parent or carer, working as a volunteer in the community, being a teacher, being a probation officer, working in the health or prison services, even working in politics or the law or business or industry.
Being a priest is by no means the only way to follow and serve God in his world – but it is a particular way, and one that might be in the back of your mind as you are reading this. Indeed, this is what lots of people mean when they use the word ‘vocation’.
But you don’t have to be a priest: there are lots of other ways in which the Church enables people to undertake particular roles and tasks in mission – as you will see below.
What can I do then – and how do I find out about what’s possible?
Here are some of the possibilities – and you can find out more about each of them by following the links. Some are nationally recognised (like ordained ministry and Reader Ministry); others are locally authorised (like the Authorised Lay Ministry programme in this Diocese):
Information on the following nationally recognised ministries can be found at the Church of England website on vocation and ministry:
- Ordained ministry
- Accredited lay ministry
- Reader ministry (sometimes known as Licensed Lay Ministry)
- Church Army
- The religious life (monks and nuns)
If you are in your teens or twenties you might also like to check out the Call Waiting website.
You can find out more about Licensed Lay Ministry in the Diocese of Ely here. (This is at present being revised)
You can find more information on local ministries within the Diocese of Ely on our Authorised Lay Ministry webpage
- Children’s Worker
- Lay Pioneer Minister
- Music Minister
- Pastoral Assistant
- Social Awareness Minister
- Worship Leader
- Youth Minister
How do I work out which one is right for me?
Most people begin by finding out what’s possible, getting more information about the role and praying about whether this is what God is leading them towards.
Very soon, however, talking to a close relative or friend, or somebody who knows about these various ministries can be helpful. Most people will have an initial conversation with their vicar or minister, who may be able to refer them on to someone specifically trained to help them.
Listening to God – or discernment – as it is sometimes called, is something Christians do all the time; but it becomes especially important when we’re trying to work out whether God wants us to take a major step or make a major change, like moving from one career into another or taking on a particular, recognised responsibility within the life of the Church.
The bad news is that it can sometimes feel very hard to know which direction to go in; the good news is that the responsibility for working it out rests with the Church as a whole and not just with the individual. That means that there are others who share in what we call the discernment process – people who have gifts of listening, who are there to listen both to God and to each person on behalf of the Church, and who want to help you discover the way forward for your own life.
In the Diocese of Ely, we call these people The Vocations Team.
If you want to find out how to get in touch with a member of the Vocations Team, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be given the information you need.
Ministry & Vocation Links
- What is vocation?
- Vocation to what? Particular ministries within the Diocese and beyond
- Vocations and young people Vocations work with children, young people and students
- The Vocations Team Who are we? What do we do?
- Vocations events and opportunities Vocations Sunday and other local events
- Vocations resources Resources for parishes and individuals