Vocation, for youth, is not merely ‘what I want to be when I grow up,’ but is also ‘who I am and what I offer the world right now.’ Vocation, for adults, is not merely ‘the work that I get paid for’; it is also the mosaic of activities, paid and unpaid, that make up day-to-day life. Vocation is not just ‘the time I give to my church,’ but also time spent in the rest of the world, as all Christians seek to live lives of integrity, meaning, and purpose in all that they are and do.
—Dori Grinenko Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer, Lives To Offer:
Accompanying Youth on Their Vocational Quests
How does our understanding of vocation change as we age? What does it mean for a child or an elderly person to be called by God? Is vocation defined by work and adult responsibilities? Or can callings be understood as the way humans grow in relationship with God all life long?
The Seminar on Vocation across the Lifespan brings together theologians, social scientists, and ministers to develop a more comprehensive theology of vocation from infancy through old age. The goal of the Seminar is to create resources for congregations and seminaries on the evolving nature of Christian faith and identity throughout the stages of the lifespan.
The Rev. Jack Fortin
Senior Fellow, Augsburg College’s Center for Faith and Learning
Author of The Centered Life: Awakened, Called, Set Free, Nurtured (Augsburg Fortress, 2005)
Read an interview with Jack on retirement, community, and calling (Part 1 and Part 2).
Professor of Pastoral Theology, Virginia Theological Seminary
Author of Lives to Offer: Accompanying Youth on their Vocational Quests (Pilgrim Press, 2007)
Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore
Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Pastoral Theology, Vanderbilt University Divinity School
Author of Also A Mother: Work and Family as Theological Dilemma (Abingdon Press, 1994)
Read an interview with Bonnie on the vocation of children (Part 1 and Part 2).
John Neafsey, PsyD
Staff Psychologist, Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center
Author of A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience (Orbis Books, 2006)
Associate Professor of Religious Education, Iliff School of Theology
Author of Branded: Adolescents Converting from Consumer Faith (Pilgrim Press, 2006)
Kathleen A. Cahalan
Project Director, Collegeville Institute Seminars
Professor of Theology, Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary
Laura Kelly Fanucci
Research Associate, Collegeville Institute
What We Are Studying
Since 2010, the Seminar on Vocation across the Lifespan has been meeting twice yearly to explore how vocation is experienced and articulated as it emerges and evolves across the lifespan. The Seminar published a book for seminary students and people in ministry: Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons (Eerdmans, 2017).
Childhood: How might vocation be experienced by an infant, a toddler, or a young child? How do children call forth the vocation of parents? Does the idea of a child being called by God challenge traditional definitions of vocation?
Read a reflection on calling in childhood.
Youth: What are the gifts of youth that the church and society needs? How can parents, grandparents, teachers, and ministers help nurture a sense of vocation in youth in contrast to dominant cultural scripts about success?
Young Adulthood: What does vocation mean for today’s young adults who are more likely to delay commitments to marriage and family? How can discernment become a daily practice for young adults, beyond the big decisions about school, work, and relationships?
See one young adult’s story of navigating questions of calling in her 20s.
Adulthood: How do adults navigate tensions between work, relationships and other commitments? What role can mentors play in nurturing younger generations? How can retirement be a major vocational moment of finding purpose beyond professional work?
Reflect on retirement and vocation in this interview with Seminar member Jack Fortin.
Older Adulthood: How can the concept of vocation help older adults to find meaning at the end of life? In what ways do the elderly experience God’s call through the changes and losses of their lives? What role do suffering and death play in our callings?
Watch the story of one couple who found a new calling in life with Alzheimer’s.
Our Book: Calling All Years Good
In 2017, the members of the Seminar on Vocation Across the Lifespan co-published a book titled, Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons (Eerdmans).
In popular culture, vocation is often reduced to adult work or church ministry. Rarely do we consider childhood or old age as crucial times for commencing or culminating a life of faith in response to God’s calling.
This book addresses that gap by showing how vocation emerges and evolves over the course of an entire lifetime. The authors cover six of life’s distinct seasons, weaving together personal narrative, developmental theory, case studies, and spiritual practices.
Learn more about this book and watch corresponding videos by visiting its webpage.