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From chaotic punting to fruitful discipleship

Cambridge is a beautiful city. On a recent visit with my wife Shona, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the colleges, chapels and museums, and watching the organised chaos of the punts on the Backs and the myriad tourists taking pictures of themselves.

Whilst there we sought out Jesus Lane where the fabulous Jesus College is located together with the theological colleges of Wesley House (Methodist) and Westcott House (Church of England). Jesus Lane is also significant for being where the Inter-Collegiate Christian Union movement began – now known as UCCF.

I will be forever grateful for that movement and the work of UCCF. As a student at the University of York in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be part of a vibrant Christian Union (CU) and honoured to be president of that CU in 1983. Years later, our son Matt was blessed to be part of the CU at the University of Birmingham and went on to serve on the leadership team there. A particular blessing was the small groups that we were part of that met on a weekly basis, gathering around an open Bible.

For both me and Matt, the prayer, biblical teaching and fellowship of our respective University CUs were extremely important at a vital time for our formation as followers of Jesus. Getting into a groove and regularly practising these three holy habits is so important for healthy and wholesome discipleship. Writing in How to Pray, Pete Greig says this:

‘Like a dancer becoming the dance, and a pastor becoming the prayer, we are all bring transformed into the likeness of Christ …’ with ever increasing glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, our metamorphosis comes through the constraints of holy habits, the training of neural pathways, the set prayers, and the spiritual practices we maintain in our lives.’ Pete Greig, How to Pray (Hoddder and Stoughton, 2019)

These practices of prayer, biblical study and fellowship are not just vital for personal development, they are also essential for the formation of healthy and wholesome Christian communities. As Rachel Parkinson (chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District) is fond of pointing out, small groups are no guarantors of growth, but in most if not all of the churches that are growing and fruitful you will find a culture of small groups that positively practise these holy habits.

Back in 1977, Oliver Barclay published Whatever Happened to the Jesus Lane Lot (IVP) which tells the story of the formation and the history of the CU movement to that date. I recognise that university CUs were, and are, not everyone’s cup of tea and many other forms of student Christian societies have emerged over the years to support followers of Jesus in higher education settings. But for many, and for me and Matt in particular, CU has been a very important part of our journey, recognising that our thinking, theology and approach to scripture have not stayed static. After all, as Hebrews reminds us ‘the word of God is alive and active’ (Hebrews 4:12).

Whatever happened to us? Well after a brief career in finance with Ford Motor Company, my calling was to ordained ministry and the development of Holy Habits. Meanwhile, Matt entered the world of accountancy and now works as the finance manager at Warwickshire County Cricket Club and is part of a church (City Church Birmingham) that inculcates so many of the practices and values we learnt at our CUs including prayer, biblical study and supportive small groups. That church and the small group that Matt is part of enable him to live faithfully in the joy and complexity of the sporting and business worlds.

If you were part of the Jesus Lane lot, I wonder how your journey has progressed and, looking back, what you especially value from your time as part of a University CU?


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