Depending on when you ask me, there is either a major shift or a “soft transition” going on in my blended vocational life. There are a few specific updates to share, but the real joy for me has been in the synchronicity and the journey to get to this place where I am right now. So, I decided that writing this blog post was my preferred way to tell the story to those who know me and support me on this journey, rather than just changing my profile on Facebook and LinkedIn. When your vocation resides in the blend of things that give your life meaning and purpose, there aren’t really “beginnings” and “endings.” Instead, all the pieces of our lives get rearranged and re-shaped in ways that help us do the work we’re called to do. I’m grateful to find myself in the midst of that soulful reshaping these days.
First, some concrete information:
“Letting Go” I will be wrapping up my time as Associate Dean in just a few days, and rejoining my faculty colleagues in the School of Social Work at VCU for the start of Fall semester 2022. I’ll be working on my scholarship and teaching in our doctoral program: the first year Research Methods course with our incoming students, and the Teaching Practicum with our students moving between coursework and dissertation. It will be a joy to work more closely with our doctoral students again.
“Taking On” I have accepted a call to serve as the interim Vocational Development Minister with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia on a part-time basis along with my faculty role this year. This doesn’t replace my role with St. Phoebe School for Deacons; rather, it deepens my work with Vocation and Call in our diocese, working with all those who are preparing to serve the world and the church through ordained ministry as priests and deacons. I hope to explore pathways for lay and bivocational/blended vocational ministry as well (an area around which I am clearly quite passionate!). Our diocese is in a Bishop transition, and my colleague who has filled this role for 12 years is in transition to his own new vocation and graduate study. So, it feels right, good and holy for me to be invited in, give what I can, and learn deeply in the process. I’m grateful for the invitation and opportunity to serve.
These new commitments are August – May; I am filled with excitement, curiosity, challenge and conviction to bring what I can to these roles where I’m called. There are still places for the projects around which I’m passionate: the social work and spiritual care development, the ministry with those on the margins, the visiting of parishes with preaching and teaching, the opportunities to serve in priestly ministry with congregations and colleagues who are dear to me, all of which fills my cup and gives me joy. All these weave into this present time of being. The rest will emerge.
Now, for a bit of reflection on all this. I direct your attention to two images.
The heavy tile paperweight of a line-drawn sheep was given to me in 1993 by my MSW field supervisor at the end of my final year of practicum. She noted two things (I paraphrase, it was a while ago): “Sarah, you are an outstanding social worker in the field. And, no grass grows under your feet!”
I’ve been thinking about both of those things in these days of navigating transition and call. “My field” of social work has never been just a job; it was and is my first vocational call. The time spent this spring and summer with seminarians at CDSP was so joyful and meaningful for me, bringing to my classes and conversations the best pieces of my 25+ year old, well-developed tool kit of social work to help them serve in ministry. It took me back to my roots, and made me recognize with gratitude the ways in which I am a social worker to my core. With that realization came the immediate recognition of the interconnectedness of social work values and ethics with the commitments I made in my spiritual life: the Baptismal Covenant of the Book of Common Prayer that I also encountered for the first time while a social work student. My vocations have been blending for as long as I can remember. And on this day, I give thanks for the continued blessings of that blending.
“No grass grows under your feet.” Yep…that is true. I like the ever-changing landscape of doing new things, learning new things, taking up an opportunity to try something new and challenging presented to me. I like to graze on the grass around me and see where that leads. I’m not someone who has aspirations to go the moon or become president (heaven forbid). I appreciate that which surrounds me, and when I’m invited into something new, I willingly step on that new patch of grass and see what it has to offer. I’m excited to have been invited to journey deeper into ministry with the Diocese of Virginia, to support those who are splashing around in the waters of new vocation and strengthen those who are preparing for ministry in their own vocational lives. I hope, with God’s help, that I have resources to offer to you who are opening your hearts to new ministry, and to those who support and shape you on that journey. My prayer is that this process will allow you to see new iterations of yourself and your gifts for ministry continuing to emerge.
I’m going to be noticing what is growing and taking root in my own spirit during this time, too. I know I will have to be adaptive and creative in this blended vocational adventure. I’m grateful to the leaders in both institutions where I work who have the trust and grace to step into this with me, knowing that my yes-saying is to both of these calls right now; I would not be true to myself and my call were I only to be in one without the other. I could easily end up trying to be 110% in both spheres of my life but that will be futile and disappointing to everyone, including myself. What I will strive to be is transparent, organized, thoughtful and most of all: present. Learning to blend one’s time is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual exercise (as we social workers say) in trust, grace, and presence. It isn’t about splitting up all the hours thinner and thinner like they are a scarce resource (though I acknowledge it may feel that way at times); it is about knowing that with God’s help, it will be enough. I am enough. You are enough. And we can be fully present to that enough-ness in ourselves, and in others.
Prayer is my foundation in this new endeavor.
I composed this set of Anglican prayer beads for myself this weekend, as I was preparing to take up this new blended vocational path in the coming months.
I chose some very specific reminders in making this set, and prayed some deep and important prayers for those whom I will work with and for my own journey, too. This set anchors with a Tree of Life, because the growing of vocation is the particular call I have been invited to take up. Each time I pray, it will be a reminder of that yes-saying. Two crosses follow, inviting me to pray into the plurality of call. I chose purple beads, taking on the diocesan color (for those who share office life nerdiness: my Google Calendar similarly demarcates my meetings by color that way, too!); there are 28 smooth amethyst beads, for clarity of mind and calmness of spirit. The cruciform beads demarcating the weeks are composite, an abstract mosaic of pieces smoothed together (like the fragments of my life, formed and shaped by God). Each one found its way on with a prayer.
For those who are reading all of this, thank you. I invite your continued prayers, and I am deeply grateful for all the love and support which surrounds me on this journey of life and vocation. I’ll close with a poem and blessing that has been important at other junctures of my journey, too. It is speaking to my soul again.
For a New Beginning
by John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.