Our Wednesday stories of faith in real world situations looks at ‘vocation’: that sense that you have a calling to a particular purpose or role in life. Carol has ME/CFS, and she writes about how this relates to her deep sense that God calls her into Christian ministry.
It’s been really great to read the faith stories that have been published on our church website every week during the lockdown. When Graeme asked me to consider sharing my faith story I wasn’t sure how to set about it; what I’ve decided to do rather than writing and speaking about how I came to faith or how my faith supports my daily life is to share with you my experience of the faith struggle I’m going through at the moment.
It concerns my sense of vocation; I am a Reader – that is a Licensed Lay Minister – in the Church of England. I trained for 4 years through the Diocese of York and was admitted to the office of Reader by Archbishop Sentamu at York Minster in 2014, after which I was licensed to serve at a church in central Durham for 2 years. Then, when Graeme began his curacy in Welton, East Yorkshire, I was licenced to serve as a Reader in the same parish. In both of these churches I preached and led worship on regular basis and became involved in outreach work with children and families, which involved planning and leading both Sunday school activities and all-age worship as well as setting up Messy Church and other events.
I would love to be able to serve in a similar role in the churches here in the Colne Valley, the trouble is, I can’t! In 2018, after 5 years of increasingly poor health, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Over the past 2 years it has become increasingly difficult for me to even attend Church services, let alone to serve in the ways that I have been used to.
This presents me with a challenge to my sense of vocation, which has remained unchanged: I still feel called to teach, to preach, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to support others in their journey of faith, but I no longer have the energy to do this in the ways I have done it before.
The global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has produced a proliferation of different church resources, both online and through other mediums. As church buildings have begun to open again, some of these resources have disappeared. In other places churches are struggling to maintain the online resources they created as well as managing the challenges of opening buildings for physical worship during a pandemic. As a long term ME/CFS sufferer I had explored online church pre-Covid, when I first started to become unwell. While I have come across excellent resources for prayer and worship and bible study I – like many – found it very difficult to feel that sense of connection with online church that comes more easily from attending church in a building.
So my dilemma is how to continue following my vocation in the light of my changed circumstances, particularly in these difficult days. Do I embrace the online community or something else? Do I wait and hope and pray until I’m able to return to what I’ve known before?
As a Christian my primary model for ministry is (of course) Jesus, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the disciple Simon, who became known as Peter – ‘The Rock’. He seems to me to have been a working class bloke, a decent guy who had a secret desire to be something more than a fisherman but who didn’t believe he’d ever have the chance. When Jesus invited him to follow he literally leapt at the chance. His ministry was full of mistakes and changes of direction and yet he became ‘the rock on which the church was built’. He was not always brave; deserting Jesus even though he bragged it would never happen, yet ultimately facing a martyr’s death for his faith. An inarticulate man who spoke so profoundly on the day of Pentecost that thousands wanted to find out more about his story. I think he’s a wonderful example of ‘cracked pots’ – the glory of God shining through the ‘damaged clay’ of a simple man.
Like Peter my ministry has had some changes of direction and plenty of mistakes, like him I came originally from fairly working class stock (don’t be fooled by my BBC presenter accent!) and, like his, my calling to Christian ministry happened suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m afraid that if I were to leap out of a boat, like Peter did, I would soon start sinking. Right now I identify with Peter hiding in a locked room, waiting to see what will happen next. How will the Spirit of God manifest in these times? How will I respond? Like Peter I have been given a title – Reader rather than Rock – and I know what that has looked like in the past, but I’m waiting to see how I can fulfill this vocation in the days that are to come.
Perhaps a rushing wind will equip me to do things I can’t yet imagine. Perhaps someone else will arrive breathlessly to tell me that the situation has changed and I will need to respond. Perhaps I will feel the peace of the presence of Jesus giving me the confidence to persevere. One of the things that ME/CFS has shown me is that God provides, and God’s timing is perfect, although it doesn’t always match the timing I would like to see!