While growing up in Belleville, Ill., I received a powerful witness from Christ UCC.
Each Sunday morning as I entered the sanctuary, I saw two plaques prominently displayed. One was entitled "Cradle Roll" and listed all of the infants baptized in the past two years. The other was entitled "In God's Service" and listed all of the sons and daughters of the congregation ordained into Christian ministry.
This congregation took seriously its responsibility to nurture vocation in its members. It started with nurturing the call of God received through baptism and included watching for the particular gifts of God that might lead toward ordination.
My home congregation gave youth ample opportunity to participate. From confirmation, I was encouraged to step into leadership. I participated in the drama of Maundy Thursday as a reader. I encountered the value of passing on the faith as a church school teacher. I learned about church organization and structure by serving on the Board of Christian Education.
I grew to love the wider church as a delegate to the Illinois South Conference's annual meeting. In all of these roles, my voice was valued, I received caring, respectful mentoring and I heard frequent encouragement to explore a call to ordained ministry.
Now as Ministerial Formation Coordinator for the United Church of Christ, I am encouraged to see signs that our UCC congregations are returning to a place of identifying and nurturing vocation.
At regional seminarian gatherings I encounter bright, faithful, creative and deeply committed women and men preparing for authorized ministry. Many of these students have been nurtured by their congregations.
Trinity UCC in Chicago not only encourages its young people to discern a call to authorized ministry but also contributes a substantial amount to each person's educational cost. Wellesley Village UCC in Massachusetts provides financial support and opportunities for internships.
Other congregations are finding creative ways to support their students. At United Theological Seminary near Minneapolis, the members of one student's home church in Wisconsin take turns loaning him their cars with full tanks of gas for his weekly commute. Others sometimes drive him to school, and spend a night in the Twin Cities.
A student at Andover Newton Theological School near Boston was struggling to balance raising her child, working part-time and attending seminary part-time. After asking what support she would need in order to go full-time and finish her degree, her home congregation raised the necessary money through a variety of fund raisers and volunteered to help with childcare. How does your congregation encourage its members to explore vocation? Do you raise up leaders, lay and authorized?
Our church needs all of us to ask the question about vocation.
The Rev. Lynn Bujnak is Ministerial Formation Coordinator on the UCC's Parish Life and Leadership Ministry.