The last three years of my life have seen more all-nighters, last-minute panics, existential crises, terrible essays, and general laziness than (almost) the rest of my life. They have also seen more joy, hard work, excitement, deep friendship, country walks, self-belief and discovery than the rest. I suspect a similar picture emerges for most people when thinking about their time at university, and whilst there are of course exceptions, the point is that by and large university is an incredibly stressful, yet wonderful experience.
Given this context, it’s no wonder the thought of a career can be a daunting one. Indeed, there are many of us who fall into postgraduate studies with the absurd hope that if we can stave off the impending devastation of adulthood just a little longer, we may come to some meaningful decision on what exactly we ought to be doing with our lives. The church has a special word for such circumstances: vocation.
One definition of what vocation is was brought to us recently at the SCM Gathering in Manchester, by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe OP. “Vocation is the thing the world needs the most, that we love the most.” For Fr. Timothy, the key to this is the idea that vocation isn’t simply the purview of a few lucky folks who can get paid for doing what they love, but is in actual fact for everyone. The name of this gathering summed this up very well. What, we must ask, are we ‘Called to Be’?
SCM has long been known as an organisation unafraid to challenge the status quo, to speak truth to power. To steal a quote from a friend, there are many who see SCM as a “voice of radical sanity”. Happily, this was on show over the weekend, with Fr. Timothy asking questions such as “can investment banking be a vocation?”, and “how can we challenge the capitalist system?” He left both questions tantalizingly unanswered. This however, was the perfect foundation for the next two speakers.
First was a workshop from Liam Purcell of Church Action on Poverty about their campaign End Hunger UK. Here the causes of hunger in the UK were set in sharp focus, from the fact that the government’s so-called “national living wage” is not a living wage at all, to their use of hunger as a punitive measure. Each person was then given a paper plate on which to write a message for the government with #EndHungerUK.
Church Action on Poverty’s former director and former Labour MP John Battle was the next speaker. His opening gambit was a simple but memorable one. Who in our lives had inspired us? John, who confessed more than once of his own loquacity, needn’t have worried as he regaled us with stories of a teacher who allowed him to play truant in favour of the library, a community who kept their local swimming baths open, and a prisoner who went straight after forming an unlikely friendship with a young person with a learning disability when a fitness class decided to use the prison gym. John’s message was a clear one: in the age of zero hour contracts, the ability of communities to draw together, to collectivise, is more important than ever, and most definitely achievable if we only try.
Over the course of the weekend, SCM got a foretaste of this community collectivism thanks to the welcome and hospitality offered by those at and connected with St Peter's House Church and Chaplaincy. Our hosts offered us delicious food and board, as well as fellowship and other activities. Our first evening, spent with the Mandarin speaking community at St. Peter’s, was a personal highlight, and thanks must go to them and to Rev’d Shou-Hui Chung. We were also looked after over the weekend by Rev’d Caroline Ryder, who shared her expertise in fitness and wellbeing in a particularly good (and surprisingly difficult!) pilates/meditation session. We are also indebted, as ever, to the wonderful SCM people who made this all happen. To the staff workers Rach Collins and Ruth Naylor, as well as Sarah Derbyshire (SCM trustee and holder of the events portfolio). It is not an exaggeration to say that the event would not have happened without them, so we are all incredibly grateful.
Written by Adam Spiers, SCM member and current postgraduate student in Christian Theology (Anglican studies) at the University of Durham. Follow Adam on Twitter, @adamjspiers.