I’ve been sharing people’s stories from their experiences within university Christian Unions. You can read the previous stories HERE. Today is Stephanie’s story:
I did have great kindness from some within the CU from other churches and I did find some of the speakers inspiring and helpful. Noteably Roger Carswell talking about his battle with mental health, a talk I cried through and which helped me come to terms with my own problems.
I became a Christian towards the end of my first year of university, so I had no previous experience with church or Christian culture therefore I assumed that this was how Christians should behave, going to loads of meetings and being very busy and frenetic. It was disastrous for my ME, but I guess to some extent I was trying to please God and although there was a cognitive dissonance between my feminist, more liberal values and the Christian world in which I found myself I felt it was part of being a Christian and “how things were”.
From a gender perspective, in my CU:
- Clothing was policed at times, I remember a friend being very upset to be told that her top was too low. But the men saw nothing wrong with going topless in summer, women not being visual creatures etc.
- Women didn’t even lead the small midweek groups in college CU meetings from memory.
- It was very complementarian. There were lots of capable, gifted women who would talk about how wonderful it would be to be a vicar’s wife, but sadly none of my female university contemporaries have yet been ordained, although loads of my male university contemporaries have.
- I was told swearing was worse in a woman than a man.
- All this said there weren’t many male and female separate CU events, and I think women could be part of the worship team.
The university CU was very hardline while I was there (even 24/7 prayer rooms were considered suspect). What I’ve seen in the time since I left is that they have softened a bit. One problem was that a particular extremely conservative evangelical local church was dominating everything.
I sometimes feel like my faith journey since I left university has been unpicking some of the hardline conservative doctrine I was taught at university. In my third year when my health was in a terrible state in general (and my mental health was in a right state) I found Adrian Plass’ books and they were like a window into a different Christian world and helped me so much.
Students are very, very young and for some reason my CU seemed only to be undergraduates, some input from postgrads would have helped I think. It is hard when there are a lot of young people and insufficient older Christians in the student churches to disciple them.