Ben Bloom shares his experience of discerning his vocation to ordained ministry.
Like many, I am looking ahead at the final weeks of summer with a mixture of feelings. Because of my work in higher education, the summer is generally a time where we can take a breath and steady ourselves for the oncoming chaos of September. However, this September brings with it a new, and quite unexpected journey, as I shall be leaving my work, and London, to become an ordinand and start my training for ordained ministry in the Church of England at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield.
I say unexpected because if I had considered that I might be doing this 10 years ago, I would have become quite breathless from all the rolling around on the floor laughing. Even my friends and family, who are completely supportive and have had to learn to put up with the many curve balls I’ve thrown at them in my life, have told me they would never have seen this coming. And yet now, in this moment, as I look ahead towards my future ministry as a priest, we all agree that it does seem to make some sense of everything that has come before, as if I might have been unknowingly hurtling towards this moment for my entire life.
As Christians, we are all invited to discover and lean into who God is calling us to be. In 1 Peter 2:9 we hear:
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
This, of course, is not to say that we are all called to the distinct ministry of being an ordained priest, but it is to say that we all have a role to play in God’s ministry. Just as we are each known to God by name, we are each called into living out our baptismal vows and sharing God’s light with the world. That calling is our vocation.
I felt an initial call to ordained ministry right at the beginning of my own faith journey back in 2017, which at the time felt, frankly, absurd. How could I possibly be being called to be a priest when I was only just discovering who Jesus is? Since then, I have spent the last 5 years figuring out, testing, questioning, running away from, and charging head on into discovering what my own vocation is. The CofE has a formal mechanism for this time of discovery for people exploring ordained ministry called the discernment process.
As seems to be true for all things in life, asking for help to share the task of discernment has been essential. I began by asking for God’s help in this, in prayer and journaling, asking for clarity, and courage. I then began sharing my jumbled thoughts to people I trusted, which led to me speaking to Lucy and some other clergy, before eventually being handed over to the London Diocese’s ministry division with all its forms, mentoring, interviews, and assessments.
The single most helpful thing I did to help discern what vocation God was leading me towards was to start talking to a spiritual director. Every month I met with my spiritual director, who is a nun, to discuss and discern where God had been in my life. This helped me clarify my vocation enormously and enabled me to develop a foundation of trust in my calling to ordained ministry that I personally needed. This has been vital in sustaining me throughout the official discernment process.
Until now, I have pretty much lived my life in such a way that when I have decided to do something after looking at all the options, I just go ahead and do it. Discerning my vocation was not like that. Sifting out what was my will, and what was God’s will, was something I could not have done by myself. Which is not to say that God would not have blessed, or been present in, whatever I settled on as my vocation. Nor is it to say that one’s vocation is a fixed identity, or something that doesn’t change over time. But discernment is about discovering that thing that enables you to feel most alive, and in the fullest sense, most yourself, and thus most who God made you to be. As ridiculous as it once seemed to me, becoming a priest in the Church of England feels like the most right thing that I could ever do to be fully myself.
If you are on your own journey of discovering what your vocation might be, whether that be to ordained ministry or not (although we could certainly do with the Church having more SJP types to address the balance, so please do step forward if this is your calling!), I really hope you will share that journey with others, sooner rather than later. I encourage you to speak to a member of the clergy, or a spiritual director, or a trusted spiritual friend. Left to our own devices, it’s so easy to get stuck in our heads, worrying that we’re not clever enough, young enough, old enough, wise enough, able enough, spiritual enough, whatever enough. You are more than enough. You are chosen.
As Christians, we all have a vocation, for all the seasons of our lives. I pray that we all find the courage to quieten out the noise of our lives and listen out for the invitation, and gentle nudge, of God’s call on our lives.
For more information on vocations, you might like to have a look here:
For help in finding a spiritual director, you may find these websites useful: