The now Reverend Doctor Theo McCall was in secondary school at St Peter’s College when the first inkling of what his future held dawned on him.
“A schoolfriend of mine turned around and said to me on the soccer field, ‘you’re going to become a priest, aren’t you?’,” Theo says.
He hadn’t yet given proper thought to the idea, but that seemingly mundane moment turned out to be “the first sense I had that it may indeed be what I was called to do”.
Two separate experiences during Theo’s university years would confirm this path. They were momentary yet immensely significant.
“I had this very strong sense of being drawn forward into the future to do something in ordained ministry – in my case it was definitely that sense of being called to be a priest,” he recalls.
“And then these two experiences of God’s presence with me as he was calling me to do that but also reassuring me that he would be with me, because I was very aware that it wasn’t a light decision and not necessarily an easy vocation.”
Now answering to “Father Theo” as the chaplain at his former school, he has drawn on these experiences to contribute a chapter to a recently-published book about what compels people to enter certain professions, or choose particular life paths.
Being Called: Scientific, Secular and Sacred Perspectives was a joint venture inspired by a conversation between Theo, positive psychology researcher Professsor Martin Seligman and the Reverend Doctor Hugh Kempster from St Peter’s Eastern Hill Church in Melbourne.
“There was this general discussion about how religion approaches positive and negative thoughts about life and God,” Theo says.
“And we had this idea that a bunch of scholars in the field should get together and have a proper conversation about these issues – how spirituality and a sense of vocation especially might connect with some of the science of Psychology.”
A schoolfriend of mine turned around and said to me on the soccer field, ‘you’re going to become a priest, aren’t you?
Months later they assembled a collection of theologians, scientists and the former Chief Rabbi of the UK Jonathan Sacks in Canterbury, England to do just that.
“We were sharing what it meant to us to be called, from different perspectives,” Theo says.
“Even for the more secular or scientifically-minded, there was that sense that they were being drawn into the future – and from the future – into their work.
The book is made up of chapters from those present at the conference, each bringing a different viewpoint and expertise in areas from eschatology to neuroscience.
“Those of us who write chapters from a spiritual or religious viewpoint are writing with the idea that we’re all special in God’s eyes and he has particular things he’s calling us to do,” Theo says.
“Sometimes it’s particular work but not limited to that – someone else might be called to care for an ageing parent at a particular stage in their life, or to a voluntary vocation.”
Theo stresses the importance of being attentive to God’s presence during seemingly ordinary moments as he believes we are most likely to “hear” our callings during times of quiet.
“I had those couple of light-bulb moments to be sure but in the meantime, in the daily grind of ordained ministry in my case, it’s about recognising God’s presence in the ordinary.
“It’s about responding to God’s often very gentle, subtle call in those mundane moments so that they then become moments of grace and transcendence.”