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.