Laura Kelly Fanucci is Program Director with the Collegeville Institute Seminars. She blogs regularly at motheringspirit.com and is the author of five books, most recently Dashed Hopes: When Our Best-Laid Plans Fall Apart from Liturgical Press. Her own writing often focuses on her vocation as a mother. Fanucci is currently directing a planning grant for a new initiative with congregations on vocation. Stay tuned to the Collegeville Institute Seminars for more information.
Fanucci’s new book, To Bless Our Callings: Prayers, Poems, and Hymns to Celebrate Vocation (Wipf & Stock, 2017), is a resource on vocation for congregations. In this interview with Stina Kielsmeier-Cook, she discusses the origins of the book, the importance of honoring a myriad of callings in the church, and why blessings are making a comeback.
What was the genesis of this book?
Early in our work on vocation with the Collegeville Institute Seminars, we started gathering prayers and hymns with vocational themes to use in our worship during meetings. Seminar members started telling us that they found these prayer resources helpful to share with their own churches and communities. At the same time, we were working with congregations in the Called to Life and Called to Work small group programs, and pastors quickly told us that they needed worship resources on vocation—since Sunday worship remains the time and place to reach the most members of their communities.
So I started to search for more hymns, prayers, and blessings with themes of calling to share with these congregations. I was always searching for a collection of congregational resources on vocation since I was convinced one must exist, given how central the concept of calling is to the Christian life! But surprisingly, I could never find what I was looking for: a robust collection of prayer and reflection resources for use in diverse areas of ministry (including worship, religious education, pastoral care, chaplaincy, retreats, and spiritual direction). So I decided to write To Bless Our Callings to create the book that congregations wanted.
Why are prayers and hymns of calling and vocation important? What need does this book meet in the church?
Vocation is the belief that we are all created and called by God, that Christians have a common call to discipleship and that each of us also has particular callings to people, work, and communities. Celebrating vocation within worship anchors this belief at the heart of a congregation’s life together—that vocation is not simply an interesting topic for a sermon series or small group, but that it is central to the Christian life. The prayers and hymns in To Bless Our Callings provide ways for congregations to become “communities of calling” by celebrating and praying for the ways people are called throughout the church year and calendar year.
Supporting the callings of all members of the community by praying for them within worship also helps to overcome common misconceptions: that only ordained clergy have a calling, for example, or that only certain lifestyles (e.g., marriage) or kinds of work (e.g., traditional professions) can be a calling. To have a variety of prayer resources—from blessings for at-home parents and new retirees to prayers for cashiers and business owners—allows a faith community to honor the work, relationships, and service of all within the congregation.
What was the process like in writing this book? How much is compilation and how much is original work?
Creating To Bless Our Callings took several years. I researched denominational worship and prayer resources from a number of Christian traditions, as well as poetry collections, hymnals, and thematic prayer books. Drawing from the work of the Seminars on vocation across the lifespan and vocation in the professions, I wanted to have chapters on each stage of the lifespan as well as diverse kinds of work. So I wrote original prayers and blessings to fill in the gaps where my research didn’t turn up anything. I also created resources—like a Rite of Blessing for Workers, and preaching ideas on vocation—that could be easily adapted by ministers to meet the particular needs of their congregations. Roughly half the book was compiled from outside sources, and half was written by me. (The process of seeking permissions to use other material was by far the longest and hardest part of this book’s birth!)
It sounds like research was a big part of the book. Did you find anything you didn’t expect?
One of the most delightful parts of the research was discovering a number of contemporary hymn writers who compose frequently around themes of vocation (including Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Ally Barrett, and Jocelyn Marshall). Their hymn texts can be used with well-known hymn tunes, so they are a perfect resource for congregations searching for easy ways to weave calling into worship. In contacting the composers, as well as the writers whose prayers and poems I discovered in my search for vocation resources, it was lovely how encouraged they were to hear that congregations were asking for worship resources like these. So the opportunity to share these hymns, prayers, and poems of calling with a wider audience has been a true gift.
What about the things you weren’t able to find. What were the missing pieces out there?
I was surprised how difficult it was to find any prayers or blessings for some of the most common occupations in the U.S., including retail workers, janitors and cleaners, manual laborers, and food preparation workers. I ended up writing most of the prayers that spoke to these occupations, because I felt it was important for a congregation to be able to honor diverse kinds of work that its members do—not simply traditional professions.
It seems to me that, lately, there is a growing trend of blessings across denominations in the church (example: house blessings, baby blessings, animal blessings, backpack blessings for back-to-school). Where do you think this comes from?
I think the desire to bless the everyday moments and objects in our lives comes from the yearning to integrate faith and daily life. Interestingly, many Christian traditions have a long history (and rich prayers) for blessing homes, babies, animals, food for special holidays, and the tools of particular trades, to name a few. So I think many of the “blessing of the backpacks” celebrations we see in churches today are contemporary versions of the same impulse to bless the good we can do with the ordinary objects and resources in our lives.