I have spent the past several days at the annual meeting of the Academy of Parish Clergy, the organization for which I edit the journal Sharing the Practice. The organization has been around since the late 1960s, born at a time when the church was flush with members and aspiring clergy (mostly male). The Academy like the church has struggled of late. But there are signs of hope for the church and for the Academy, but that's really a discussion for another day.
The topic at hand concerns the role of the church in nurturing the call to ministry among youth and young adults. There was a time when young people heard the call in high school, if not before (see Fred Craddock's wonderful autobiography of his youthful call). Today it's quite common for people to move into ministry as a second or even third career. The question is -- where are the young people? Is God not calling them?
I just started reading a new book called Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World, (Alban), edited by Dori Grinenko Baker. I'm reading the book with a great deal of interest in part because I'm working with a young intern who grew up in our congregation. This young woman is full of energy, vision, and has heard the call. The question is -- is the church encouraging the call and in what ways?
In her opening chapter Baker describes the image of the Greenhouse -- using as an example a set of greenhouses used for growing roses that were abandoned and now have been reclaimed and revitalized for a community garden. One of the greenhouses has yet to be reclaimed, but there are roses growing in there, untended and unsupported. Baker writes that this image is an "apt metaphor for God's calling in the lives of young people." She goes on:
Baker's question is a good one, one that I'd like to lift up for our discussion.God will call young lives, with or without the help of congregations. God will bring them bursting through glass ceilings as they grow toward who they are called to be. But how much better, and how much richer might the journey be if young people were not left to eke out their calling solo, but rather were given the best of their community's resources of attention, love and nourishment toward their vocational calling? (p. 11)