In the middle of a typically drizzly week at the beginning of September, a group of SCM Members and student leaders met in the beautiful surroundings of Fircroft College for two packed days of leadership training, brilliantly facilitated by SCM staff and visiting speakers.
Though most of us were meeting for the first time, we quickly became interested to hear about each other’s groups, from Durham’s Joint Anglican and Methodist Society and Ecumenical Christian Council to UCL’s VOCE Gospel group, whose focus is bringing together the arts and the Christian story, running regular showcases for their fellow-students. As we began to discuss campaigning and social media engagement, it became clear we had a great deal to learn from one another, as well as from our lovely seminar leaders. By dinner time on our first day, we were full of new fundraising and event ideas, and were thinking through how to communicate the personalities and activities of our groups online; already, we were feeling better equipped to engage our wider student bodies, and to mobilise our groups to do justice and create community more effectively.
Later that evening, we got together in groups to plan worship and Bible study for the next day. Ecumenical worship can be really exciting: drawing on the richness of our different traditions, we sought to find inclusive, creative and accessible ways of meeting with God. There are few better examples of worship that embody all of the above than Taizé, an international ecumenical community in France whose mission it is to be a sign of reconciliation, and a place for young people to encounter God in the other. Worship in the community is built from simple chants translated into many languages, designed so that people from different countries, cultures and traditions can worship together. As our new-found community sang a Taizé service together to draw the day to a close, I prayed that the same commitment shown by those at Taizé – a commitment to embody the Christ who overcomes division and hostility – would be alive in our communities, too.
The next day, after a brilliant Bible study from Acts, the morning’s sessions aimed to help us understand better how we operate as leaders and as part of a team. Reflecting on our different leadership styles and Enneagram numbers, we began to explore ways of understanding our strengths and challenges that brought us to a greater appreciation of the diverse approaches of those with whom we work, and realised how this could help us to build more cohesive and effective teams.
Though our two days were nearly at an end, a real highlight was a session on mental health, delivered by Jo Fitzsimmons from Youthscape/Self Harm UK. Her expertise and experience opened the way for a fascinating and vitally important conversation about the ways in which we may be aware of the mental health of our communities, how we may safely accompany and signpost those who are struggling, and the importance of proper self-care.
As we concluded our training with worship, we committed to continue to pray for each other as we returned to our universities to begin the new academic year, with all its challenges and opportunities. Leaving Fircroft, I’m confident that each of us went away with new friendships, a renewed energy and ideas to build our communities, and a sense of God’s going with us into the unknown. Thank you so much to the SCM staff, visiting speakers and participants for helping create such an inspiring and enriching experience.