I’ve been going to church all nineteen years of my nineteen years on this earth - carried there as a crying baby; dragged there as a hyperactive protesting child, and lead in dire acceptance of my impending fate as a moody teenager. My family just 'does' church and so do I, and over these years it has come to mean so much to me. But let's consider this age-old institution - does it really have a place in the life of students across the country, is it a priority?
I remember vividly my first freedom of university, I had unloaded from the car, and ushered my father away with as little ceremony and physical contact as I could muster. Years of waiting, hours of hard work and a lot of thought had brought me to this place. I knew no one in my Halls, and none of them knew me or had any idea what I was like. This, such a rare opportunity, now reared its head, to try and be what I wanted to be in this place. Whether I tried to continue in the Christian life I knew, or to step away, into an alien world I didn’t know.
University offers this possibility to those who go, and it poses the profound question: Who do you want to be, or in more simple (less deep terms!) what are you going to do or partake in to become what you want to be? To you then, who are already there, and to you who are considering going, I offer a challenge...
If we’re being honest (which I hope I can be from this distance) university is a hard place to be a Christian. It’s hardly the most Godly of atmospheres even at the best of times. Our intentions can be so great when we arrive, but we need to be both dreamers and realists as Christians, and the wise part of me (if such a part really exists!!) advises you to get involved in a Church as soon as you can. We need spiritual input in such spiritual wastelands. As Laurence J. Peter said “Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car’’ but we need to be active members of the body, in fellowship with other Christians, receiving spiritual manna (Deut 8:3). This is a habit which at university we can cultivate and it can have an important bearing on our spiritual lives. Specifically at university we have the chance to be involved in both Christian unions and Churches.
Is attending a Christian union as good as being committed to a church? Should we do both? Is it even practical? Helpful? In discussing this, I admit I have little experience - being at best naive and at worst a bumbling fool. However, from the experience of those above me, I’d advise you to get fully committed in a good church if you can find one and in Christian Union activities if you have the spare time. It would be easy to spend all ones time running between the two, raising money here, singing there and attending an eternity of meetings (you’d earn your eternity if you could make it through that!). But being church, means being part of a family, a diverse body... Christian Unions don’t necessarily offer this, whereas Churches do. (And after a while at uni you’ll want a bit of outside, family normality, and bog standard churches with crying babies and all are great for this.)
I challenge you to find the balance: Church, Christian unions and spending time with non- Christians... they need Christ more than they can know, and you may be the only contact they have with a Christian. And finally, pray. I find if in doubt, pray. God has good things planned for us (Eph 2:10), but everyone’s role if different and unique. Ask the Lord where he wants you, what he wants you involved in, where he wants to feed you from and where he wants you to give out and then commit yourself with every ounce of strength to the dream he has planted in you.
Author: Charlie Pemberton, a first year theology student at Durham University.
Reprinted with gratitude to and permission from thewalk magazine.