To help us through our impasse we formed classes in Christian Vocation. In these classes we were taking a deeper and longer look at the whole matter of call as having to do with the transcendent-the being grasped by that which is greater than we. We began with the basic assumption of the New Testament that there was no way to be the church except by the call of Christ, and that there were a number of dimensions to this call:
First, to a relationship with the Father as intimate as the one which Christ knew.
Second, to be persons in community with others responding to the same call, surrendering something of our authority that we might have a shared life and bring into existence a new community where the nature of the relationships would be such that each person would be called fully into being.
Third, to an inward developments call to change. We were to overcome those obstacles in ourselves which held us back and kept us from growing into the full stature of Christ. The call of Christ was a call to die to the old self in order to become the new creation.
Fourth, and not last, the call was to move out-to discover where we were to lay down our lives-to take up the stance of the suffering servant, and make witness to the power of Jesus Christ's work in us.
The class dealt primarily with the fourth dimension. If the church is a sent people, where was Christ sending each of us? To what segment of the world's need were we to make response? We began each session by sitting for an hour in silence, feeling that if any word was being addressed to us we had more opportunity of hearing it in the stillness of our own souls. Part of the work of the hour was to center deeply enough in ourselves to be in touch with our most central wish. Somehow we had then, and have now, the conviction that our wishes lie very close to "who we are" and what we are to be doing, and that to be in communion with them is to have a sense of being dealt with by the One -,who is Other.
We discovered in this class that too many of us had taken up our work without any sense of being called to it. "Vocation," Gordon said, "has the element of faithfulness to your own inner being. You are enhanced by what you do. Your own awareness converges with some need out yonder and intersects with it in such a way that you have the sense that you were born to this." Jesus said, "I must be about my Father's business."* He knew. His knowing was an inner one.
When the time of silence was over we timidly put forward any intimations of direction that had come to us. We were so uncertain and so consumed by misgiving that the question was inevitable: "Is not one's call often shot through with self-doubt?"
We decided that doubt is a dimension that oftentimes is there, and that there is a time to move on in spite of it. In fact, we agreed that if anyone were too dogmatic about call, he or she needed to question it because there is always the possibility of acting out of some compulsive need rather than genuine call. Frequently along with the Call comes the feeling that one is not up to it. There is a sense of unworthiness in relationship to what one sees. "Who am I to be called to bring into existence anything so significant? Surely there are other people more qualified to do it." This is what Moses felt. He was forever protesting that Yahweh could choose someone better equipped for the job, someone who talked more convincingly than he did. Jeremiah said flatly that he was too young, even going to the extreme in that declaration, "'I am only a child.' But the Lord said, 'Do not call yourself a child; for you shall go to whatever people I send you and say whatever I tell you to say."'* All of us resist in some way the new thing into which we are drawn that demands a whole new dimension of creativity on our part. We do not want to be responsible in this way. "It may be," says Gordon, "that if a person responds too eagerly, he is not seeing the whole picture and is not aware of the problems of implementation, so that he goes into it with large areas of unconsciousness."
Despite our expectancy and all the assurance and encouragement we gave to each other, no one was addressed by a Voice, which is the real meaning of having a vocation. Perhaps it was because we were too disbelieving, or too unpracticed in the process in which we were engaged, or perhaps we were too literal in our understanding of call-expecting somehow that God was going to descend out of heaven and summon us as we sat with heads bowed. Actually call was to come to most of us through the ordinary events of life, which were to be extraordinary events because we brought to them a new quality of asking and listening.
In the spring of that long year Gordon and Mary made what might have been a routine trip to a church in New England where Gordon gave the Lenten address. They found the atmosphere in the church cold and the congregation unbending, and they left with a feeling of wanting to put that whole, dark church far behind them. They drove for a long distance, before they stopped at a country inn and were given the last available room, which happened to be above the tavern. The noises from that tavern drifted up to them and disturbed their sleeping, but somewhere in the night Gordon thought, "Christ would be more at home in that tavern than back in the church we just left."
The next morning he and Mary had breakfast in a small restaurant across the street from the inn, and there again the friendliness and warmth made him think, "Christ would be more at home in this restaurant than in the church." They went home to tell the class in Christian Vocation that a way should be found to take the church to the restaurants of the city. Out of the discussion that followed emerged the idea of a coffee house and, in the naming of it, call was heard. Gordon and Mary and several others knew that they were called. Some felt that it was not for them, but encouraged the sounding of the call in the larger congregation. Twelve people responded, and the mission was under way.
When The Potter's House finally opened a year later we had been joined by others, and with everyone working two and sometimes three times a week we were able to keep open on six nights. The disciplines for members and intern members were decided upon and within a few months there were eight or ten people to staff each of the nights and thus each night had its own mission group. Here we were to develop and expand the concept of gift-evoking that has become so central to our life. People who had not been able to understand what a coffee house had to do with the church caught the idea the moment they went through the doors. The Potter's House, on that ghetto street, remains a sign of hope; "its own excuse for being."
In the meantime others began to hear call and to issue call, and new missions were born. Three were committed to keeping strong the home base and equipping us for ministry. The first of these was the Retreat Mission group , which had among its responsibilities deepening the community's life of prayer and the nurturing of the the mission groups in the whole concept of retreat. Then there was the group that had as its concern the children of the church. Another group took on the responsibility of the School of Christian Living, incorporating into that structure the whole concept of mission as it was being developed. Our sermons, classes, and conferences were all concerned with helping others to hear call and discern gifts. We found ourselves so often asking, "What is it that you want to do now that you are six?" "What would you like to do now that you are fifty and the children are away and you have the new gift of time" "What do you want to do now that you are eighty, and have the resources of a whole lifetime to bring to every work?"
"What would you like to do?" is a question we still ask indiscriminately-of the very young and the very old, of poor and rich, oppressed and oppressors, and then we listen very carefully and take with utmost seriousness what a person says.
As more people began to hear call, more missions came into being. These calls were first explored in the small community of one's close friends, and later in the larger community. We began to know that it can be painful to have one's vision tested by people who are not friendly to it, or who ask what seem to be unimportant questions. We soon discovered, however, that the corporate input forced us to refine and sharpen our thinking and enlarge the dream. In the end we worked out a procedure requiring every mission to be confirmed by the Church Council. This never meant to us that everyone had to be enthusiastic about every call.
Oftentimes we have had to be willing to let another move even when we have large reservations. Our learning to do this with a certain degree of ease, probably more than any other factor, accounts for the proliferation of mission groups in the community of The Church of The Saviour. This does not mean that we easily deal with anxiety, angry feelings and ego needs. Some have learned slowly to reason with unreasonable fears, and for them the pain has been very great. Others have discovered that there is nothing lonelier in all the world than to live in the midst of those who know community and to feel in one's own heart estranged, or to be at the center of a gift-evoking group where there is no one to receive what one has to give, and from time to time some of us find ourselves in those desolate stretches of land. Always, too, we have found it incredibly hard to hold to the concept of the inward and outward journeys. We early discovered that not many persons want them both. Weighted heavily on one side or the other, most of us struggle intensely to keep these two dimensions in any kind of creative tension in our individual and our corporate lives.
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