Vocation or employment? The hybrid priest

One of the catch phrases I keep hearing in vocation discussions in seminary circles is “hybrid” or “bivocational” priests. I heard it from the priest who supervises my internship, from a visiting bishop, and from a recent visitor to Yale: Dr. David Gortner, author of Transforming Evangelism. In each of these cases, the speakers were saying that people in formation for priesthood need to think about being bivocational because of job market trends: there aren’t that many priest jobs, especially entry-level ones, available.

I’m especially interested in this topic because I believe I am called to a bivocational life: as both a parish priest and a theologian. I didn’t arrive at this thought out of a fear of job security (though I certainly have that fear); I already have a vocation as a community college English instructor, and I  could continue to do it part time to supplement my income if I can find only part-time work as a priest. In fact, pursuing a dual vocation that includes theological scholarship complicates my life considerably because I would need to attend school for quite a few more years. This would delay my working fulltime as a priest for a while, and I have been looking forward to working in a priestly vocation for many years now.

At a conference I attended today to celebrate and discuss David Kelsey’s latest work, Eccentric Existence, I described my sense of a hybrid vocation to a visiting scholar, and she said that she has been recommending dual vocations to theology Ph.D. students for the same reasons that bishops and priests have mentioned it: there aren’t many tenure-track positions in theology these days.

On the one hand, this notion of hybridity, a popular term in a variety of academic disciplines these days, seems to be part of a cultural trend. “Hybrid” and “interdisciplinary” degrees and disciplines and vocations sound so 21st century. One vocation feeds the other; both vocations are transformed by the influence of the other.

On the other hand, I resist this conflation (a favorite word of Kelsey’s) of the term “vocation” with “employment.” At some time in our lives, most of us do some job just because we have to do it to pay the bills. Whether or not we like that job, it’s employment, not vocation. But to faithful people, “vocation” means “God’s purpose for each person”–what God means for me to do, for you to do, and so on. I believe fervently that we all have vocations, and that it is a great gift to discover that vocation and to exercise it.

I also believe that if one has a vocation (a clear sense of God’s purpose for one’s life), then one will find a place to use it. I believe if one is called to be a fulltime priest, one will find a place. If one is called to be a fulltime chaplain or teacher, one will find a place. It may take time. We may need to do something else to pay the bills for a while. And we may need to go where we never expected to go. (I bet Jeremiah never wanted to work in a cistern.)

But we church people, at least, should have faith that the God who calls us has done so for some purpose, some work that feeds others and us as well. If we don’t have a clear sense of vocation, we can find people to help us. And if we do have a clear sense of vocation but no immediate opportunities, then we can get in line behind a long line of saints and prophets who were waylaid, delayed, and underpaid in their zeal to serve God.

5 Thoughts

  1. I wish seminaries would engage more deeply in helping people to explore the many ways to “use the training” and to live out our love of Jesus creatively in whatever context we find ourselves in.

    I think too many of us “Professional Christians” feel like up there in the Great Beyond is a job placement office where the angels have identified the job that’s “just for me.” And so much of our sense of “call” is about techniques to uncover what the angels have decided.

    It’s a kind of misunderstanding of the doctrine of Providence–assuming that Heaven provides a job “worthy” of our Christianity, if we but remain faithful enough to search it out.

  2. Max,
    Thanks for pointing out this misunderstanding about what Providence means, especially in the area of vocation. You’re right. In fact, all Christians have vocations, and it’s not like we get to wait until the perfect circumstances are in place before we live them out….
    …but I still want a job. 😀

  3. I always felt called but never to full-time ministry. When i watched the first deacons in our diocese being installed i had a real “Aha” moment. Thanks for the affirmation in this article.

  4. Hello Janine, I am reading this in 2017. Where are you now? What is your denomination? Let’s chat.

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