Book Review: Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation Throughout Life’s Seasons

Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation Throughout Life’s Seasons makes an important contribution by discussing vocation from infancy to old age.  I’m not aware of any other book dedicated to this topic.

The book is edited by Kathleen Cahalan and Bonnie Miller-McLemore. Cahalan is professor of practical theology at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary, Collegeville, Minnesota. Her previous work includes Calling in Today’s World: Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives and The Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All around Us. Miller-McLemore is E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Christian Theology in Practice: Discovering a Discipline. They are joined by four other authors:

  • Matt Bloom is associate professor of management in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, and is the principal investigator for the Well-Being at Work project.
  • Joyce Ann Mercer is professor of practical theology and pastoral care at Yale Divinity School. She is the author of Lives to Offer: Accompanying Youth on Their Vocational Quests and Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood.
  • Jane Patterson is assistant professor of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas and author of Keeping the Feast: Metaphors of Sacrifice in 1 Corinthians and Philippians.
  • Katherine Turpin is associate professor of religious education, Iliff School of Theology and author of Branded: Adolescents Converting from Consumer Faith and co-author of Nurturing Different Dreams: Youth Ministry Across Lines of Difference.

Why, you might ask, is it important to study and learn about vocation for all stages of life?

Do infants have a vocation? Do Alzheimer’s patients? In popular culture, vocation is often reduced to adult work or church ministry. Rarely do we consider childhood or old age as crucial times for commencing or culminating a life of faith in response to God’s calling. This book addresses that gap by showing how vocation emerges and evolves over the course of an entire lifetime.

This book represents and includes data from more than seven years of research and interviews conducted by the staff of the Collegeville Institute Seminar on Vocation Across the Lifespan. The book’s authors cover six of life’s distinct seasons, weaving together personal narrative, developmental theory, case studies, and spiritual practices.

The Seminar made an intentional decision at the outset of its research to attempt to understand how people, especially those in the church, understanding their life’s calling. The seminar is made up of educators, professors, pastors, and social scientists, and is an ecumenical group including diverse streams of Christian tradition that represent different disciplines such as New Testament, psychology, practical theology, and leadership studies:

Many of us are called as theological educators and teachers, and we hope that this book can engage students in ministry studies, at both the outset and the conclusion of theological education as students consider their vocation, as well as in their study of pastoral care, preaching, and religious education, where questions about vocation and the need to address them arise most acutely. We also hope to reach working pastors, chaplains, and spiritual directors in local congregations, church camps, campus ministries, retreat centers, schools, and healthcare facilities, particularly those for older adults. We believe that the vocation of the ministry is to call forth, nurture, acknowledge, guide, and support the many callings in people’s lives at each age and also regardless of their age.

They attempted to answer the following questions:

What operative notions of vocation exist in the Christian community? Is vocation a meaningful way that people interpret their lives, or is it trapped in outmoded notions from the past? What would be most helpful to people if we invited them to reframe their understanding of vocation, drawing insights from the tradition as well as engaging new frameworks? Or is the idea or very term “vocation” beyond repair and too corrupted by historical interpretations to be of much use to us today?

The responses which the Seminar received to these foundational questions shaped their work and process is very profound ways.

This book has received many positive reviews and endorsements:

“Their work will inform and inspire those who minister with a specific age group, such as children, youth, or the elderly. Further, it will encourage intergenerational communities of faith—especially congregations—to cultivate relationships across age-group lines, strengthening the capacity of all to respond to God’s call.” -Dorothy C. Bass, coeditor of Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be

“These chapters widen our vocational vision beyond that crucial time of young adulthood in order to contemplate the many ways God calls each of us at every moment of our lives.” -Edward P. Hahnenberg, author of Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call

Calling All Years Good develops an insightful and theologically rich understanding of vocation, a nuanced and textured interpretation of the stages of the life cycle, and a brilliant fusion of the two….[They] combine the best social-science research on the stages of life with cutting-edge practical theology focusing on vocation.” -Douglas J. Schuurman, author of Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life

Click here for additional resources on the book including companion videos for each chapter.

I am deeply grateful to Cahalan and Miller-McLemore for championing this cause. I am hopeful that many of you will read this book and share it with colleagues through the movement. One way of ensuring this movement’s survival is its passing to the next generation. Studying vocation throughout life is one way to start.

  One thought on “Book Review: Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation Throughout Life’s Seasons

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