A new year, a new learning project.
I’m hoping to do a number of book reviews across 2023 hopefully on a range of “church” topics. The only rule I’m using is that these will be books that I get from local charity shops.
My first attempt is for a book is “Called or Collared” written by Francis Dewar. The version I have is the second edition published in 2000. It is a book that envisages its target audience being those who may be considering ordination in the Church of England. But it is a book that seeks to explore, a much wider theme, that of responding to the calling of God.
It opens with a quote from John Powell’s “Through Seasons of the Heart”
“There is an old Christian tradition that God sends each person into the world with a special message to deliver, a special song to sing for others, with a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak my message, sing my song or offer my act of love. These are entrusted only to me.”
Dewar goes on to highlight 3 different sets of circumstance where the words calling or vocation are used. The first is the general sense of being called to be a Christian, a calling to everyone. The second is of a call to a role such as to be part of the clergy although this can also be more general in terms of a role at work. This is not a calling for everyone. The third is that of a person’s unique and personal vocation. This is something felt from within, an urging or prompting and again this can be for everyone.
Some of the language in the book particularly around clergy from diverse backgrounds now shows its age in terms of how far language, terminology and attitudes have moved in the last two decades of the Anglican tradition although sadly some of the underpinning issues Dewar seeks to address are still causing problems.
Dewar’s underpinning premise in this book is that God calls everyone to a self giving task in all stages of their lives.
Dewar shines a light on the very tough process that potential ordinands go through when being considered for these positions. Unlike a Baptist church, the clergy in an Anglican church cannot be voted out. It is therefore important that these leaders are chosen with care and that they possess the right qualities for leadership. This is why the emphasis is on other people to judge these qualities rather than just the potential candidate.
Dewar highlights the Moses position “ Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets” interpreting this as longing for the day when every Christian lives out their personal response to God’s calling.
The book contains some interesting opportunities for self-reflection and study including a section on the Exodus where you are asked to identify the pharaoh characters in your life or the times when you face Egypt or red sea moments. As always various recent god moments end up linking together. I was lucky enough to attend the recent induction of Fiona, Graham and Maire at Headland Baptist Church. Linda Donaldson shared some reflections on changing landscapes in our lives but she also firmly drew out the fact that not only were the three ministers a gift to the local community but each and everyone in that church that day were also a gift and brought their own gifts to use for God’s work. Francis Dewar shares that our gifts are not bolt ons or additions but that the gift is us, each and everyone and our unique gifts that God calls into action. But knowing your gifts is only a part of the journey, you need to find what you are called to do with those gifts.
Dewar urges us to dream dreams for others and explore whether you have a personal calling to action. Make sure it is God that calls and not your own ego or vanity prompting you. Examine and reflect on the calling stories in the Bible. Many of the people God calls are unsuitable, in society’s eyes, unwilling to take on the role and unsure of their own abilities. There is hope and a role for us all when we consider the wide variety of tasks that God called people to in the Bible, Mary called to be the mother of God, Peter and Andrew to be fishers of men, Paul to preach to the Gentiles, Zacchaeus to provide hospitality to Jesus, Samuel to anoit one of Jesse’s sons as king, Jeremiah and Isaiah to be God’s voice to the people.
A thought provoking book with a lot of useful exercises and scripture to reflect and consider. I’ll close with some questions. Do you know your gifts? Have you found your role? Is God calling you? Have you answered that call?