By Sue Lawrence, Senior Tutor for Pastoral Assistant Foundation Training.
“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job Chapter 2, verse 13.
Job’s three friends heard of his troubles and met together to go and console him. His consolation came in their willingness to just come alongside and be with him. Did they have a vocation? No more, perhaps, than as a good friend at that point. We know how Job’s story worked itself out, but I wonder what emerged from this experience for his friends. What did they learn about themselves as that sat with Job and listened to his anguish? What did they carry away from the experience of staying alongside Job in the stillness and storm of his grief?
I have met and trained many people in pastoral assistant ministry. For most, their emergent calling to this vocation has come from moments spent in this way with others, or from experiencing someone coming alongside them in this way, when they themselves were in anguish or need.
"Over time, I have become very aware of how my life experiences have shaped and defined, not just the person that I am, but also the person I am called ot be with and for God."
I think back to my early twenties when I spent such time with my mother in her last weeks of life. At the time it felt like the hardest thing I had ever done. Looking back I can see how the experience contributed to my journey with God (at the time in its early development) and a developing sense of vocation that eventually emerged. Over time, I have become very aware of how my life experiences have shaped and defined not just the person that I am, but also the person I am called to be with and for God.
We can all be the good friend and neighbour, but I firmly believe that for many there is a vocation to be more than that. I am truly humbled each year as I watch those who have been bold enough to engage in pastoral assistant training recognise their own shaping and allow themselves to be stretched and deepened. Both in their relationship with God and their capacity to come alongside others grows, dwelling with them in those difficult places, to be there knowing God’s grace and embodying God’s love.
Christian people, of course, have a desire to be a good friend and neighbour, but many stop there. Yet there is nothing extraordinary about those who don’t, those who realise their vocation into a formal ministry of some kind. But there is something extraordinary about the way God works in us through ordinary life experiences, the ups and downs, times of joy, contentment, pain and hardship, through the times of brokenness and the times of mending. There is something extraordinary about the way in which we can grow from such times if we reflect on them as an experience rich with God’s grace.
"Perhaps yours is a vocation to 'be'. To be alongside, to be more than a neighbour or friend, to be there knowing God's grace and presence."
If you are reading this because you feel a stirring of vocation, if you are reading because you have been considering vocation but have recognised that you are not called to preach or to teach or to lead, then perhaps yours is a vocation to “be”. To be alongside, to be more than a neighbour or friend, to be there knowing God’s grace and presence as you do so, to be ready to dwell with someone as they find their own way through whatever life has brought to their door.
Hundreds of people in this diocese have discovered this is their vocation, grown and developed through training and are ministering in this way today. Here is what one of them wrote about his experience when we celebrated 40 years of authorised pastoral assistant ministry in the Diocese a few years ago:
“Ask a Pastoral Assistant about how their own journey in Faith has progressed during their pastoral ministry; especially when they come to understand that God is reaffirming a calling that they have been wrestling with. How does it feel to realise that being able to walk alongside people in need, to help guide them out of emotional and spiritual gloom towards the light of Christ and the Church is something that can no longer be denied. Well, I’ll tell you; it’s great!”