The Irish Catholic (Ireland's largest Catholic newspaper) carried a front page story on vocations in its most recent issue entitled: "Church vocations: from recruitment to discernment."
The story concerns the head of the office for vocations for England and Wales Fr Christopher Jamison OSB and his assertion that vocations strategy has a new byword for him 'from recruitment to discernment'.
Fr Jamison states that "We've shifted from asking 'would you like to become a priest?' to asking 'what kind of person would you like to be and what would you like to do in life?'" and goes on to say that "If you approach a person from 'Generation Y' with the question 'would you like to be a priest?' they see this as an attack on their freedom." He says that this new approach has led to the creation of a number of succesful mixed 'discernment groups' across England which has a powerful impact because the participants see it as a discernment exercise rather than a recruitment exercise.
Fr Christopher also talks about vocations directors saying "A vocations director and promoter are two different roles. A director must have time to concentrate on those who are already discerning their vocation, a promoter must seek to create a culture of vocations."
Clearly Fr Jamison has had a big impact since his appointment as director for the National Office for vocations in England and Wales in October 2010. Vocations are on the rise across England and Wales - attributable to, among other things, 'a formal policy of the church to create a culture of vocations.'
There is no doubt that the discernment groups that he refers to are succesful. Ireland is just catching up at this point with a pilot project Explore Away initiated by Vocations Ireland. I do, however, have some hesitations around such groups. The discerning method employed can not do justice to all types of vocations and something is lost in that. The understanding of religious life can be obscured because it is lived very differently by the many orders and congregations. And I also believe that the mixed discernment groups has the possibility of allowing congregations and orders off the hook in the promotion and discernment of their own unique vocations. I would also advocate that we not drop the asking of the question to the young and not so young that we know 'would you consider being a priest, nun, brother?' I am amazed still at the high proportion of people that I meet whose first contact can be precisely because that question was asked to them directly. It is not to be underestimated!
Fr Jamison makes a very important point about vocations directors. However, because vocations directors in Ireland have little or no training, they often fall into the trap of being recruiters alone - and the process of discernment, which is crucial, can become obscured or lost. I have long been an advocate for full time vocations directors - irrespective of the cost to the religious orders and congregations. Only when this is possible will the distinctions about the role of vocations directors that Fr Jamison rightly asserts become less of a problem.
Article by Gerard Dunne, o.p., first published on IrishDominicanVocations.blogspot.com