The Church of St. Paul & the Redeemer is an Episcopal parish in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. The congregation took part in our Exploring Vocation in Community program in 2013-14.
Rev. Peter Lane reflects on how the Collegeville Institute Seminar’s Called to Life program has impacted the community where he serves as rector.
What impact have you seen in your community as people begin to explore their sense of God’s calling?
The two greatest impacts of the Called to Life program at St. Paul & the Redeemer are a movement to see all of life as a theater for God’s glory and a concerted effort to share those lives with one another. Or to put it in simpler terms, people have shared with one another how their lives on Monday are impacted by the God they worship on Sunday.
For our parish, the Called to Life program was influential not just in its content but also in its structure. We used what we learned in Collegeville to kick-off a strong focus on small groups in our parish. In the two years that we have been doing small groups, we have made a concerted effort to attract people into small groups to share their lives with one another by engaging with thoughtful, well-produced materials.
The other significant impact is the opportunity to help the congregation see that what they do day in and day out is deeply connected with God. Talking about vocation keeps us focused on an incarnational faith and away from a disconnected, Gnostic spirituality.
What new insight have you gained about vocation through helping to lead your community’s efforts?
The key insight I gained about vocation is how much change there is in understanding over the life cycle.
The small groups made up of people either in graduate school or recently graduated initially had a hard time with the term “vocation,” knowing that they would not only have many different jobs in their lives, but also probably several different careers. Since we are located in a neighborhood with five seminaries or divinity schools, we initially had to undo this sense people had that vocation was a fixed, lifetime commitment.
That concern returned for our groups mostly populated by retired people. We had a couple of reports that the “free time” of retirement was actually very busy with commitments, but often commitments that were not drawn together the way they had been during full-time work.
For both the young adults and the retired adults, adding an “s” to the end of the word helped. Each of us has “vocations,” plural. That is true at any one time (lawyer, mother, amateur pianist) and over time (lawyer, then consultant; mother, then grandmother; amateur pianist, then no more after arthritis). The insight of talking about vocations in the plural opened the idea to many.
What advice or suggestions would you offer to congregations interested in exploring vocation in their own community?
Particularly impactful for our community was understanding that we were in a place to adapt and then create a new curriculum with the inspiration of Called to Life. Our particular setting, in a neighborhood with lots of professors and lots of people who are seminary-trained, gives us an opportunity to have skilled group leaders and retired professors eager to create a contextualized curriculum.
For Lent 2013 we created “Called to Love” which is a modified version of Called to Life. Then for Lent 2014 we created “Fully Alive,” which looked at five fruits of the Spirit and invited the groups to think about how to cultivate those fruits in individual daily life.
For both curricula we tried to include music and art for each session. In “Called to Love” we talked about and watched the cellist Jacqueline Du Pre as an example of someone who had found her vocation. In “Fully Alive,” we looked at John Motley Jr.’s painting “Nightlife” in order to discuss the idea of joy in relation to dancing.
What group within your community would you next like to engage around vocation? Where do you see the greatest need to help people come to a deeper understanding of calling?
St. Paul & the Redeemer plans to continue to focus on both small groups and vocation. The group that has gotten so much out of putting together Lenten curricula is already at work on a curriculum for Lent 2015, probably around the language of sin that is so prominent during Lent, and how it can be helpfully appropriated in a liberal, 21st century, urban, academic church.
But perhaps it is the fall small groups that we are planning that will touch more directly on vocation. We did a parish survey recently and it was clear that people really valued the small groups. It was clear that there was a desire for groups that would speak directly to people’s callings. This fall we might have a group on parenting and a group on dating. If God shines in all that is fair, as a vocational theology certainly proclaims, then the local parish should help people think about how God might shine in their daily lives.
Click here for more on the Called to Life program that inspired St. Paul & the Redeemer’s ongoing work on vocation.