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Ministry to university students: chaplaincy, referrals, and the SCM’s network

20 September 2013


From the Revd Dr Stephen Laird

Sir, - Mathew Guest and his "Christianity and the University Experience" research team must be congratulated forgathering data thatis set to challenge many of the established myths surrounding the Christian scene at Britain's higher-education establishments (News and Feature, 13 September).

Directly and indirectly, churches and dioceses are supporting ministries in these places, and it is important that they havethe clearest possiblepicture of the environment in which chaplains and other emissaries are working, an environment with endless andextraordinary potential.

The team reported a dramatic fall-off in church attendance by Christian students (across almost all of the denominational spectrum) once they had arrived at university. Part of the task of university chaplains and other established Christian groups on campuses is to work against this tide, and help students attach themselves to a worshipping community, whether it is a local church or a campus-based congregation.

Students need considerable encouragement in this regard, and the places that make concessions to their needs are most likely to attract them: proper Sunday hospitality (including food)is important. Students prefer to worship where there are other students. It is also worth remembering that they do not generally rise early at weekends: every year, I am asked whether our noon eucharist on campus could start a little later.

This is, however, an area where the wider Church can domore tohelp.

I have served as a university chaplain in the same place for 15 years, and have received letters of referral or recommendationof arriving students from parish clergy or school chaplains on only three occasions (one every five years). This is a shame, as the nurture of Christian students by the Church should be a continuous andco-operative endeavour. No wonder we lose some along the way.

Last month, I was discussing the issue with our local Mormon student minister. For Mormons, he explained, this is not a problem. When any member moves house or leaves home to study, "records are sent ahead" to the receiving community as a matter of policy androutine.

Mormons are able to offer continuity of care and nurture, and immediately deploy the particulargifts of individuals who are new to a congregation.

Dean of Chaplains and Honorary
University of Kent
Rutherford College
Canterbury CT2 7NX


From Hilary Topp

Sir, - The recently published report Christianity and the University Experience highlights the failure of Churches as a whole to meet the spiritual needs of the majority of Christian students.

If 53 per cent of Christian students are not part of a church during term time, and Christian Unions represent only a small minority (ten per cent) of the Christian student body, this means that we are failing Christian students during one of the most important periods of their lives. Moreover, we are severely compromising the Church nationwide by neglecting to nurture its future leaders.

It is clear that this situation has resulted from the absence of an effective, joined-up Christian student support network within universities. Chaplains play a vital part on campus, but the demands of being chaplain to an institution mean that many do not have the time, nor is it their ministry, to run Christian student societies, especially in an increasingly multi-faith context.

What is needed is a co-ordinated, ecumenical response that equips student ministry at a national level. The scale of the situation requires churches to work together to seek ways to support all Christian students - of any denomination or none - to grow in and live out their faith. In doing so, churches must widen their vision, looking beyond the confines of their own denomination and region, to address the stark national reality.

There is already an infrastructural foundation for this work, and there are many good examples of chaplaincies, church student workers, and charities working to meet the needs of Christian students.

The Student Christian Movement (SCM) has been nurturing generations of Christians during their formative years, and has been responding to increasing numbers of students seeking to be part of an ecumenical network of like-minded individuals. Over the past few years particularly, we have seen an increase in the number of student groups at universities, and have enjoyed seeing the positive impact that this has had on the students involved.

SCM is a national body with the expertise, energy, and ecumenical vision to implement the co-ordinated work that is needed, but we need the support of the churches to continue to resource this.

This report is a call to take action on a problem that cannot be allowed to continue, and it is an opportunity for us to transform the university experience of Christian students. It is time to invest in all Christian students by empowering those who are able to support them effectively. The future of the Church depends on it.

National Co-ordinator
Student Christian Movement
504F The Big Peg
120 Vyse Street
Birmingham B18 6NE

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