Vocation Directors Autumn Conference with Fr Stephen Langridge

For our Winder Conference, 19 vocations directors from around the country joined by zoom the  Annual National Conference for Diocesan Vocations Directors on Wednesday Oct 20th, 2021.

The conference was facilitated by Fr. Stephen Langridge, Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Diocese of Southwark and for many years was the national vocations coordinator for the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.  He was director of the Vocations Discernment in Kent and produced a DVD ‘The Calling’ on vocations awareness for schools and youth groups.

He also produced a booklet called ‘stories of priestly vocations’ which was a series of vocations stories from priests.  He developed the ‘Quo Vadis’ programme for young adults discerning their vocation in life.

In his talk Fr. Stephen said: ‘The Covid 19 crisis has not as such made fundamental changes in our Church. What has happened is that the Covid 19 crisis has accelerated the changes which were already going on under the surface. What we must be asking ourselves now is- What does the Church today have to offer to people who are looking for meaning and belonging.’

Fr. Stephen pointed out the challenges of which we are all aware – the challenges of seeking a quick-fix solution, of clericalism, of activism and of being, as Pope Francis often points out, self-referential and of maintaining church structures just for those who already attend the sacraments.

To anyone hoping to encourage a candidate for priesthood three essentials must be worked on

  1. the building of a real relationship with Christ.
  2. a real growth in virtue and
  3. to be mission-minded and with a heart which seeks to reach out to others.

The creation of parishes which are mission-minded is essential to any promotion of vocations to the priesthood. In Fr. Stephen’s own experience, he found that in a former parish of his he saw that while there were very large numbers attending, he felt that they were more consumers than disciples. He entered a short reflection of the definition of a consumer versus a disciple. A consumer has wants and is essentially self-centred. A disciple is Christ-centred. A disciple has stories and seeks to be transformed and to make a difference.

Our focus then should be on transformation and not just information. While we spend a lot of time and resources and energy on imparting knowledge and information in schools and colleges (all of which is needed) the transformation of lives may not be happening at all. Again, the emphasis must be on evangelization.

Some commentators have expressed how in years gone by, speaking in general terms, many people believed, they had the faith. They behaved accordingly and expected their parish to be a place where everyone would naturally belong. The dynamic so to speak was believe, behave, belong.

In our times the trend is quite the reverse. The needs now have changed. In today’s culture the need to belong is paramount. If people feel they belong then they may be inspired to seek what faith-filled people possess, namely belief. They will then shape their lives accordingly. So, the dynamic has changed today to belong, believe, and behave.

Therefore, parishes need to offer fellowship. We need to have a welcoming environment where people feel that faith can make a positive difference to life. The new movements in the Church often offer such fellowship. They can be of help in parish life to fill this need.

Fr. Willie Purcell.   National Vocations Coordinator for Diocesan Priesthood.