Monthly Archives: April 2009

SCM

I would not be a practising Christian if I had not found the Student Christian Movement. Full Stop. I came to this realisation a couple of years ago and think it quite accurately sums up my level of attachment to SCM. But let me start at the beginning…

I found Sheffield SCM by accident as it just happened to be based at the church I started to attend. I’d scoped out its website before I got there but to be honest, all I knew is that it wasn’t the Christian Union (which I’d been told by peope I trusted, wouldn’t be for me). So I went along and almost instantly felt at home.

The group was a rag bag of people, many of whom could best be described as having quirks… The first thing that struck me was the active inclusivity. What do I mean by that? Well, during the discussions that took place in the first few weeks it became clear to me that most people there were not only tolerant of the different opinions of others but were actively interested in them. They acted as if they were enriched by them. It wasn’t the ‘spoiling for a fight’ approach, where people look for any differences they can, it was a thoughtful exploration of how other people saw the world differently. And there were many different views of the world in that group – politically, theologically, socially very different views (left wing, right wing, conservative evangelical, catholic, fluffy liberal and many more).

I think what I loved about this group is best illustrated by describing a discussion from  my second year there. We were talking about life after death and how we perceived it. One of the group said that she wasn’t sure she believed in a literal life after death. This fascinated most people there and she was bombarded with questions about it (being a scientifically minded person, she was struck by the thought of where the molecules that made up our bodies end up – and how they recycle into who-knows-what -and not particularly fussed about what happens to a soul). The questioning wasn’t accusatory but curious. And actually I don’t think I was the only one who left that session thinking she didn’t actually see life after death that differently from me.

During my first year in Sheffield, I went to national SCM’s annual conference on ‘Prophets and Profits’. It was a fantastic experience – the mix of worship, stimulating talks and warm fellowship that I still appreciate from SCM events today. The mix of politics and faith appealed to my political nature.

After some personality clashes with people in the Sheffield group, I devoted quite alot of my time to the national Movement – becoming its Convenor of General Council (the chair of trustees). I spent a lot of time working on the ‘business’ side of the organisation but also attending every national event. During the 3 years following my election, I made some fantastic friends, met my partner and gained a large amount of experience that helped me get the job I’ve got now.

Aside from the business skills and friendships I made, SCM has shaped how my faith. It confirmed for me that Christianity can be inclusive and welcoming and that it is not strange to see politics and religion as inseperable. It made me feel like I belonged in a community of Christians for the first time in my life. It gave me space to explore my faith, to challenge myself by exposing myself to different perspectives and ideas.

As you can see… I’m quite a fan! One of the most rewarding things for me during my final year in Sheffield, being part of the committee that ran the group there, was to hear someone new describe how much they valued the SCM group. For exactly the same reasons I had when I first came to Sheffield. And over the past few years I’ve heard that same thing from so many people. I pray SCM will keep providing that space for years to come.

Sheffield

After a Gap year in Ghana, I headed off to university in Sheffield. In Fresher’s week, my flatmates took me to a Christian Union BBQ.  I have only two memories of that event: Firstly there was sausage rationing – only 1 each. Secondly, the speaker said to find a Church you liked (he also said one that preached the Gospel… as if there were churches that didn’t!). I found one and never went to a CU event again!

I found the local Methodist Church and went along on the first Sunday morning of term. It was fairly obvious from when I first arrived that this was not a ‘student church’. There were a couple of students but they stood out like a sore thumb in a sea of grey hair. Well… as much as 20-30 people can be called a sea. I liked this place and so I kept going back. In fact, I went to the same church for all of my time in Sheffield. I served as a Church Steward (member of a Methodist Church’s Leadership Team) and as Church Council Secretary. This Church was very much home for 4 years.

The congregation was a lovely collection of people – mainly those who didn’t fit in in other churches. They were unafraid to be different, in fact many of them were very proud of being different and of thinking differently. The worship on a Sunday morning was fairly traditional but with two notable elements. Firstly, the singing was dreadful. And I mean dreadful. It was often weak bordering on non-existant and lacked any real energy. On the other hand, the preaching was normally pretty good. Many of the local preachers came from the congregation and would provide an interesting, thought-provoking sermon on the readings set for the day. Both of the ministers who were there during my time were also particularly inspiring preachers.

As much as I like good preaching, I don’t think the worship is why I stayed at this church, it was because I felt like I belonged there. I felt encouraged to think and, perhaps for the first time in my Christian journey,  I felt like I was among other Christians who felt like me. They encouraged me to get involved with the running of the church which just cemented the feeling of fitting in.

As with most places when you stay long enough, a Church can drive you mad. People were difficult to work with – defensive about their ways of working, resistant to change, etc. When I left Sheffield, it felt like it was the right time to move on from Broomhill.

The university chaplain and minister to the church observed that this Church was very good at thinking about God but not so good at feeling God. I think that’s why I fitted in so well there but also why I was ready to move on. The other major part this church played in my life is that it is where I first encountered SCM but that’s for another post…

Lent is extended!

Well… Lent has come to an end but I’ve not covered half of the ground I wanted to in my reflection on my faith. I’m quite enjoying this blogging lark so I think I’ll hang around even when I do finishthe current series of posts.

As some of you will know life has been a bit hectic so I’ve not really had  the head-space required for reflective thinking. I hope you’ll bear with me while I extend my Lenten discipline a little longer.

Hymns

I like singing. There’s no escaping that part of the reason I love hymns (and by hymns I include worship songs/praise choruses/whatever else) is because I like to sing. But there’s something more to it than that, a spiritual dimension if you will.

 

I can express myself in hymn form much better than I can in speech. I can sing what it would make me uncomfortable to say (not because I disagreed with it but speaking the praises of God just doesn’t come naturally to me). I suppose it helps that the Charles Wesleys of this world have expressed in beautiful poetry so many glimpses into the nature of God.

 

It’s not just how I express myself though; it’s the effect it has on me. I often get a little shiver up my spine when singing something particularly fantastic. This isn’t the same one I get from performing in an orchestra or singing in a choir. It comes when singing Love Divine, And Can It Be or Thine Be The Glory. I think it comes from singing the Truth beautifully put.

 

Do all hymns do it? Of course not, there are many hymns old and new that drive me crackers because I find the imagery questionable (Onward Christian Soldiers), the message poorly expressed (Trust and Obey) or I just simply don’t agree with the theology (numerous very penal-substitution atonement heavy songs). There is also the bland pap – the so called ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ genre – that is to Christian song what most of the top 10 in the charts is to secular music.