A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: A TRUE AND HOLY CALLING
In the United States, a typical employee stays at a job for about 4-5 years before moving on to something else, according to different research reports on the subject. Obviously, it does not always work that way: sometimes people move on because they don’t like their supervisor or the organizational culture, or because of conflicting personal responsibilities, and so on.
But in general, that’s the typical term of employment for the average American worker, absent any particular extenuating circumstances. And generally, employees choose to move on because they are focused on furthering their career: getting successive positions with greater responsibility, influence, salary, and impact.
Such factors are perfectly understandable reasons for making such a shift, especially in a culture like ours where your career not only determines your financial resources, but also your social status and even your basic social identity. Unlike most other cultures in the world, “what do you do?” is often one of the first questions we ask when meeting someone new here in the United States.
In the Christian faith, we often talk about vocation, a word that literally means “a calling,” in the sense of God calling us to serve God’s will through our lives and ministry as one baptized in the Christian faith. In the Reformed theological tradition to which Presbyterians belong, we have a strong and broad theology of vocation. Unlike some traditions that reserve a theology of vocation to those who serve in pastoral ministry, Reformed Christians believe everyone has a calling to serve God by virtue of our baptisms as Christians.
For some of us, our Christian calling may strongly overlap with our profession, work, or career; for others, they may be largely unrelated. But in any case, living out our vocation means paying attention first to the gifts God has given to us for ministry, and then our own sense of joy and passion in how we can use those gifts to further God’s will in building up the kingdom of God in the world in whatever way we can.
This Sunday, we are celebrating and giving thanks for the way in which Andie Barbehenn, our retiring Preschool Director, has fulfilled her vocation, her calling from God, so faithfully for the last 35 years at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem Preschool, including the last 30 years as its Director. That means Andie has stayed in her role six times longer than the average U.S. employee!
Having had the privilege of working with Andie the last 3+ years as Senior Pastor here, I can say with great confidence that she has done so because of her strong and consistent calling to her ministry as our Preschool Director. Andie has literally nurtured generations of Preschool children, to the point that one-time children have grown up and brought their own children here as students during her tenure!
Throughout all the changes in our church, community, and world over these last three decades, Andie’s leadership has ensured that Preschool children have always known that they are loved by God and learn how to grow in their understanding of life, relationships, the world around them, and God. That is a true and holy calling that deserves to be well-celebrated.
So: I hope you will make a special effort to be present, either in person or online, in one of the worship services this Sunday, as well as “Lemonade on the Lawn” at 10 a.m. between services. Andie will speak in both services about her time at the Preschool, and we will have an opportunity to recognize and thank her as part of that. I look forward to being with Andie and you on Sunday!
Grace and Peace,