Symon Hill

Christian students thank God for activism in cathedral celebration

By Symon Hill
March 29, 2009

Activism was the focus of an ecumenical service celebrating 120 years of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) in Manchester Cathedral yesterday.

The event brought together students, former students and their supporters from across Britain to give thanks for SCM's inclusive ethos and history of linking faith with action.

In prayer, they committed themselves “to act for social justice and to be a radical challenge to society's norms”.

Participants were reminded of SCM's work on issues including peace, gender, trade justice, interfaith dialogue, sexuality and human rights. However, SCM was keen to emphasise that the focus was at least as much on the future as on the past. They prayed that God would “help us to move forward, looking back, not out of nostalgia for the glory days, but so that we can see the way we should go next”.

Active SCM members from various decades of the organisation's history were present in the congregation, which was welcomed to the Cathedral by the Canon Theologian of Manchester, Andrew Shanks. He described SCM as “a Movement on the side of the angels”.

After hearing Jesus' commitment in Luke's Gospel “to set free the oppressed”, the sermon was delivered by the Archdeacon of Bristol, Tim McClure, himself a former general secretary of SCM.

“We are caught up in a project of universal significance” he said. “The project is the Kingdom of God... The project is to change the world, to make a real difference in particular places at particular times. Jesus makes it clear that those who belong to the Kingdom are those who make a real difference, not just those who wear the badge.”

SCM is Britain's oldest national student organisation and has formal links with groups and chaplaincies at over sixty universities. It brings together many more students through its national conferences and Movement magazine.

SCM's achievements include its instrumental role in establishing the National Union of Students (NUS) in the 1920s. A few years later, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), which runs the Christian Unions, was established by former SCM members who chose to leave the Movement.

Yesterday's service came only a few weeks after SCM's latest annual conference, which took the theme Liberating Gender and included talks by feminist Catholic theologian Tina Beattie as well as Sarah Jones, the first transgender person to be ordained in the Church of England.

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