When people ask me about my calling, it seems almost always assumed to be "a priest". But I'll let you into a secret: that's not how it looks and feels to me. I think that I (and everyone else) have several callings. Some of mine add up to being a Priest, some of them add up to being in the Church of England, some of them add up to being a chaplain and some of them add up to being involved in Higher Education . Oh, and some of them add up to being a spouse and a parent. And they all intersect in changing constellations. Some of them feel more fundamental than others and some of them seem to be capable of being expressed in different ways according to circumstances. I'm a chaplain in higher education because more than sensing myself to be drawn to preach, teach, minister sacraments and help people discern God in their sometimes messy lives, I can't shake the conviction that the church needs people like Chaplains to counterweight its own tendency to become a world in itself -rather than becoming itself in the world. Chaplains work as public representatives of the churches on that worldly interface beyond where church normally publicly reaches.I had felt drawn to HE chaplaincy for ages but thought lack of opportunity meant I was a mistaken until a hefty push from circumstances and especially others' discernment shoved me out of parish Ministry into the local university. And I thrived! My intellectual curiosity, inner-drive towards secular workplace issues, and disposition to improvise missionally, make higher education chaplaincy a good place to be, for me. But beyond feeling drawn, I had to experience it to see the fit.The combination of inner conviction, self-awareness and the insights of those around me coalesce and re-coalesce in me to convey the voice of God in the context of living with the Scriptures and the prayer of the church (I think that the Holy Spirit hovers over all those waters).It should be said, though, that I could imagine my sense of vocations (note the plural) being worked out in different contexts. (Perhaps this other blog post might help explain a bit further: http://nouslife.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/priesthood-ontological-change.html). Other situations and circumstances would change which vocations came to the fore and which were most usually expressed, but they'd all be there acting as stars to steer by or prompts to pay attention. So, discernment did not end with ordination: weaving together the various strands of calling as a human being, as a Christian, as a member of several families, as someone with various God-given gifts and interests is still one the main tasks I find surfacing as a talk with my spiritual accompanist and my nearest and dearest.
Vocation to ordination plus ...I was very clear in my very late teens when 'what are you going to do after university?' was becoming a pressing question that the ministry of the whole people of God in the world is the primary church-related vocation: redemptively related to the human vocation to tend and till and to 'surprise' God with how we name the creatures making culture along the way. That's how I express it now, btw, not then!So while I first looked to live out a Christian commitment in secular life, I became aware of an inner nudging towards helping God's people to be equipped to live God's mission in the world. So I thought "being a Reader?" ... but the nudging seemed to have presiding at communion in it. So, "non-stipendiary ordained ministry then?" You see, I couldn't really shake that sense of ministry pressed close into the 'secular' world. I decided it was easiest to go for a conventional route to ordination (as I didn't have a career at that point) with a view to revisiting that 'in the world' issue further down the line. You may, rightly see in that brief description (and, oh, so many questions it begs!) how being a chaplain might be a good way to be a priest pressed up against the secular.Of course, I could have been kidding myself about that 'inner nudge' and I knew that. So I didn't act on it without much thought and chatting things over informally with friends and more formally with people like chaplains and other clergy. Because they seemed to discern in me things that confirmed that inner nudge, I kept on with the process of enquiry as the CofE then had it. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense of the person I felt I was becoming. I sensed then and now more-or-less know that God speaks to me most in these growing inner convictions which are sensed by those around me. Clearly, that's not a quick process.