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Called to flourish?


“After water, food, shelter and love…what do you think is needed to flourish as a human being?” asks Bishop Cam Venables

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In February each year the bishops gather for a few days with Anglican school principals in what has become known as “The Heads Retreat”. It is a wonderful time of shared prayer and conversation in which each participant can be encouraged and challenged in life, faith, and leadership. Four sessions of small-group discussion unpack a book that has been read before we arrive, and I found this year’s book filled with insight for both schools and parishes.

The book is titled, Flourishing Together: A Christian vision for students, educators and schools. It was jointly written by Andy Wolfe, who is the Executive Director for Education in the Church of England, and Dr Lynn E. Swaner, who is the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for the Association of Christian Schools International.

Early in the book the writers suggest that schools and individuals can be “called”, “connected” and “committed” and each of these terms were unpacked with a constant reference to human “flourishing”. I found the affirmation that we are each called by God to flourish to be provocative because “calling” evokes Jesus calling fishermen on a beach to follow him and make disciples. Jesus did not say, “Follow me…and flourish!” That invitation to follow is described in each of the Gospels (Mark 1.16-20; Matthew 4.18-22; Luke 5.1-11; and, John 1.35-42) and I think God continues to call all of humanity to follow Jesus. But why do we “follow”?

The writer of Acts remembers Paul talking to a group of curious Athenians and affirming that “in God we live and move and have our being…”(Acts 17.28). This is a present tense affirmation and expresses an understanding and experience of life with God now, not just a future life with God after death. Do you and I have that same sense that in God we live and move and have our being?

In contrast, John’s Gospel remembers Jesus saying that he had come for people to “have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10), and I think abundant life suggests human flourishing. After water, food, shelter and love…what do you think is needed to flourish as a human being?

My initial thoughts focus on “identity” and “purpose” and some of these can shift through time, while others remain constant. The things that shift can sometimes be easy to acknowledge, while others are harder.

An easy thing to acknowledge would be that I grew up in the UK and used to support the Welsh Rugby Union team in international competitions, but I left the UK 38 years ago and am now an Australian who barracks for the Wallabies! A harder thing to acknowledge is the reality of my children now being adults and living away from home. As a father I used to be their advocate, encourager, protector, taxi driver, and more – but, now they rarely need any of these things from me.

Many retired friends have suggested that life can be a challenge in retirement because human identity and purpose can be deeply grounded in work. I think this is sufficiently true to reinterpret Descartes’ assertion, “I think, therefore I am!” (Cogito ergo sum!) to, “I work, therefore I am!” (Laboro ergo sum!). When this is true, and we are no longer able to work, then who are we?

However, two constants that have helped in much of my life’s journey are the ongoing sense that I am profoundly known and loved by God; and that I am called by God to use my little abilities, collaboratively with others, to make a difference for good…and I hope that these resonate with you.

On the last evening of The Heads Retreat I journalled with the discipline of alliteration to explore some elements of Christian faith that I think enable human flourishing. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what I have omitted as I suggest we are each called: to be kind (Galatians 5.22); to be compassionate (Luke 10.29-37); to be curious (Matthew 22.37); to be creative (Genesis 1.26-27); to be collaborative (1 Corinthians 12.12-26); and, to be courageous and committed (Luke 9.23-24).

What do you think?

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