Faculty Spotlight: Kathleen Cahalan

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January 24, 2018

By Kathleen Cahalan

A significant part of my calling in the past ten years has been working out a theology and practice of vocation. I’ve been able to work with scholars in biblical studies, practical theology, philosophy, ethics, psychology as well as practitioners in parish ministry, chaplaincy, and campus ministry. The question of vocation is one of those knotty, dynamic, expansive questions that is related to just about every theological belief and practice, which is why it takes more than one mind to figure out. I was able to lead several seminars at the Collegeville Institute that raised up dimensions of calling that we don’t often consider, such as vocation across the lifespan, including children and the elderly, and inter-religious perspectives on vocation.

My work shifted this year when the Lilly Endowment invited me to lead a project on how we could encourage a sense of calling in congregations and parishes. The Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose Initiative invited organizations to establish “innovation hubs,” which would assist congregations and parishes in “designing and launching new and/or enhancing existing ministries to help Christians discover and claim how God is calling them to lead lives of meaning and purpose.” As a “hub” we will regrant money to local churches and aid them in designing these ministries, using contemporary innovation design theory such as IDEO or The Stanford d.school. (I’ll have to report back on this since it is all new to me.) We called our hub “Communities of Calling,” because we are convinced that Christian vocation begins in community, a calling to discipleship that is first shared among all Christians; in addition we each have particular callings that are unique to each of us, and yet ultimately meant for our life community together.

I have worked with Laura Kelly Fanucci (M.Div. 2009) on vocation for the past eight years and she is directing the Communities of Calling project. I am leading the coordination of the 13 hubs that were funded by Lilly Endowment in 2018, which essentially means that I get to create a learning environment for all these organizations (e.g., colleges, seminaries, nonprofits) who are working with local churches on vocation. We were smart enough to hire Jessie Bazan (M.Div. 2017) as our program associate, and Jena Mountin-Thurow (M.Div. 2019), who will be our student worker this year.

This is a five-year project, which is a good long time to think about how God’s calling is the door through which a life of meaning and purpose can truly be discovered. Stay tuned.