Hazel Whitehead, Director of the DVM team in the diocese calls for an atmosphere of encouragement in Vocation - and recalls how it goes a long way...
When we had a Clergy Study Session last November, we were reminded by James Lawrence of CPAS of the importance of affirmation and encouragement for anybody who does anything – however small – within Church life. He recalled how, as an 11-year-old, an elderly parishioner told him that he had read the Bible really well (even though James himself thought that he hadn’t).
This reminded me of a parishioner in another place saying quite loudly of Roger, an 11-year-old who had just mumbled his way through a bible passage, ‘Couldn’t hear a thing!’ Roger hadn’t read well; but that was less important to me than the fact that he was there joining in. I don’t know if Roger heard those discouraging words – but James certainly heard the encouragement he needed to give him confidence to do more.
"When I look back over my vocational journey, especially as a young Christian, I squirm with embarrassment at some of the things I did"
When I look back over my vocational journey, especially as a young Christian, I squirm with embarrassment at some of the things I did. I remember having a conversation with the Head Master of the newly formed, model Comprehensive School – an unwilling coming together of the local Grammar and Secondary Schools. The Head did not have the gravitas of the recently retired Mr Baggs - and appeared to have no interest at all in taking Christian assemblies. When I asked him whether some of the Sixth Form wouldn’t be better placed than he to produce and deliver assemblies to the 750 gathered pupils (as we called them then), he was more than willing.
You couldn’t really call it an encouraging response in the sense that he just seemed glad to hand over a rather onerous job – but it wasn’t discouraging - and the encouragement of other staff members was genuine.
And what about all those Youth Services we wrote (in the days when guitars were trendy and adolescent poetry was just as tortured as it is now.) What if the kindly congregation members, and the very old Rector and his wife (who must have been at least 50) hadn’t come and joined in and smiled and made friendly noises? I remember all that tacit and explicit encouragement with thanks.
"Any sense of well-being makes its mark in the moment and is worth its weight in gold ... your mind may not remember being encouraged; but your heart can."
But even if we didn’t remember acts of encouragement, said James, because people often don’t, it will have had its effect. Any sense of well-being makes its mark in the moment and is worth its weight in gold. A counsellor once said to a bereaved child whose father had died when she was 3: ‘You’re right. Your mind can’t remember Daddy cuddling you; but your body can.’ Perhaps it’s the same with vocational encouragement. Your mind may not remember being encouraged; but your heart can.
Questions for personal or community reflection or discussion:
In what ways does our Church engender an atmosphere of generous encouragement?
When did I last encourage somebody who was doing something in public – even if they weren’t very competent?
What would happen if 6 people in our congregation agreed to be intentional encouragers for 3 months?