Calling the young to ordination
Around 50 young people gathered at the Archbishop of York's official residence, Bishopthorpe Palace, as part of a drive to encourage ordination among the under 30s in the Church of England.
It was the sixth annual 'Step Forward' event, during which those who are considering ordained Christian ministry can learn more of the process and hear from those who have trained in the past.
The Church of England is currently enjoying the highest number of young people training for ministry in the past 20 years, but that does not mean it is resting on its laurels. Instead, it is keen to continue the upward trend.
Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu sponsored the event at his residence just outside the city of York, and gave the keynote address in which he spoke from the Gospel of Mark and declared that "come, follow me" is the greatest invitation ever issued by Jesus.
"He says 'I want you. I desire you'. It is about companionship and friendship. He calls us into fellowship with himself and when God commands, we should be the kind of people who respond," he said.
"We are so sin-soaked that we often focus on how we are not good enough, but God desires you. If you are willing to step forward, he will give you a particular task and mission.
"It may be as an ordained pastor-teacher, it may be a youth worker, or a worship leader, or something outside of the Church. The Holy Spirit is not just to teach us of Christ, but also to assist us in all things."
But he was clear on one point: "When God calls, he equips."
"So are you going to sign up? Because if you don't you won't get any lunch," he joked.
The day continued in the same gentle fashion, with the opportunity for the group of young people to explore ordination and the various roles of a vicar in a pressure-free environment. An atmosphere of excitement pervaded the room, as they discussed the calling they felt on their lives. Some of the young people were already working for churches, others were teachers or students, but all were there to discover what God might have in store for them next.
Three seminars were held to help delegates discern the voice of God as they shared helpful Scriptures with one another and considered their individual giftings. The full process of discernment undertaken by the Church regarding a potential candidate was also given in detail, and there was time for the potential leaders to meet one another and share stories.
"I came here because I want to gain first hand information about the process, but I also want to connect with others in the same position as myself," said Kendalle Tanner, one of the delegates for the day.
"Forty per cent of Church of England vicars are retiring in ten years, which means we need more workers. I refuse to believe the Church of England will die, but rather the Holy Trinity is renewing, reforming and reacting to the cry of the people to restore and spread the Gospel through the world.
"My hope is to see more people come to know the actual Jesus, not just the Jesus from RE, to see local parishes equipped to reach and love others for the Gospel."
Later in the day, four young vicars shared their stories in small groups, giving advice about the highs and lows of life as an ordinand.
"Two of the main challenges have been being single as a vicar, and being married as a vicar," noted one 30-something parish priest.
"It's a journey, and it's about walking alongside people," another shared. "It's a real privilege not to be there doing things, but just being there when things happen, and walking alongside people in their own lives."
Liz Boughton, the Church of England's National Advisor for Youth Vocations, finished the day with an illustration from the story of Jonah.
"Jonah shows that fear is a natural reaction. He was afraid of Ninevah, because the call of God is always disruptive. It's about facing the unknown and trusting God," she said.
"But it's in the crucible moments - when things are really hard - that we are best able to hear his call."
She concluded her address by comparing the modern day, secular culture with that of the Ninevites.
"God loves the people who are far away, and nobody is as well equipped to speak to the lost generation as you are," she declared to the room full of young people.
"Many of my generation heard the call of God and ran from it, stepping back believing they were too young, it was too scary and the cost was too big.
"Don't make the same excuses. When you hear the call of God, respond to it," she urged.
David Goodhew, Director of Ministerial Practice at theological college Cranmer Hall also shared his insights into the training process, noting that it is important that young people don't think they have to wait until they are older and more experienced before entering into ministry.
"Today is about saying to younger Christians that God is a God who calls. He could be calling you to business, teaching or medicine, but it could also be to ordained ministry. Younger people have a special ministry that is a very valuable gift – and today is about saying 'Could that be your area of service?'
"This is for discerning Christ's call in their lives, whatever that may be. We want to encourage people to consider Christian ministry, but there's no such thing as first and second class calling. It's about whole-hearted discipleship. The primary call for us all is to be a follower of Jesus, and the secondary question is the job or label that you have."