One of the things we’ve learned already in Vibrant Faith’s new exploration of “calling” funded through The Lilly Endowment’s Lives of Meaning and Purpose Granting Initiative is that calling is never once and for all; calling has seasons.  So now, as the mercury is rising, the flora is in bloom, students are wrapping up school, and the sun is spending more and more time with us we want to give you a glimpse inside our first season of  the project that is captivating our 24 Calling Churches.

  • Vibrant Faith recruited 24 churches from eight denominations, connected each of them with a coach to resource and empower them for the next three years, and met with them for the first time in April.
  • We used Dr. Kathleen Cahalan’s books: Calling All Years Good and The Stories We Live to set the theological stage.
  • Our C3 churches are committing build their congregational life together around the theme of GOD’S CALLINGS for the next three years
  • The Lilly Endowment saw significant engagement around this theme in earlier rounds of granting to Christian college and universities. The goal to further the impact that “calling” has on the life of faith—this time in Christian Churches.

Here are a few stories that tell where our C3 Churches are beginning and the impact this initiative is having already:

In April, we sent our churches out to explore their own callings as a team, and then listen to the lives of others to determine where and how they might be able to engage others through their own callings.  Many of our C3 churches are reporting that they are now seeing and hearing calling –everywhere.  It’s an exciting first step to recognize the difference it makes for us and our people when we see what we are doing as God active in the circumstances and activities of our every day.

Palm Harbor United Methodist in Palm Harbor, FL decided to go big and survey the entire congregation in order to begin their discernment of what “callings” people were pursuing in the community. Yet they wanted the survey experience to be tactile and communal as well, so they installed a large empathy map on a wall in their narthex, where worshipers could use post-its to post their thoughts on the map. This not only provided great feedback and perspective to the C3 leadership team at Palm Harbor, but also served as a congregational conversation starter and a community art installation all at the same time!

Church of the Presentation Catholic Church in Upper Saddle River, NJ developed a presentation of their takeaways from the C3 April Convocation to share with their church staff and lay leadership. To their pleasant surprise, their leadership team was deeply moved by the larger C3 conversation on calling and its future impact on the church. Staff began to open up about their own senses of callings, while senior leadership said how inspired they were to stop and listen to the stories of God’s work in the midst of the life of the congregation. The C3 team then held an initial meeting, where they presented the C3 theology to a dozen potential members, who all responded with a resounding “YES!” These new team members came from various age groups, life stages, and moments of transition, all of which they would bring to the conversation.

Other C3 churches, like St. Anthony on the Lake Catholic in Pewaukee, WI shared similar stories. After spending some time sharing, praying, and considering future team members at the airport on the way home from the first Convocation, the C3 team at St. Anthony’s invited a dozen church members to join in the conversation and to learn about the theology and culture of calling they were hoping to grow. The C3 team invited these new members into a discernment process, where everyone had a chance to share and contribute. The team was amazed how stories just “dripped” out of people continually, and how the time together was quite moving, as the gathering moved through stories of serious illness, suffering, recovery, and blessings in the midst of challenges. They have come away with the conviction that this time of story-telling and discernment of calling is a potently fertile ground, but one that feels like it’s been kept a secret. But now, as the secret is being shared and revealed, it’s spreading like wildfire! The team is seeking this sharing and unveiling through “ear hustling,” meeting in small circles and informal conversations with congregants in order to hear where and how the Spirit is at work in the lives of God’s people at St. Anthony’s. This “listening pursuit” has already bore fruit as staff meet with parishioners, faculty at the church school as they discern their own callings, and in unexpected nooks and crannies within the church community.

There you are.  It’s just the beginning.  We are so looking forward to sharing more as our work together unfolds.

Celebrating the God who is always calling!

Nancy Going; Denise Utter, Melissa Cooper, Wen Reagan.


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