Christian students from across Britain are travelling to Derbyshire today (4 February) for the annual conference of the Student Christian Movement (SCM). Organisers say that the number of bookings indicates the largest turnout for at least twenty years, following the surge in student activism in the last year.
The conference, entitled 'Still Small Voice' takes place from 4-6 February at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
SCM has strongly condemned government plans to treble the cap on university tuition fees. As protests against the fees escalated in the autumn, SCM backed nonviolent direct action against fees, citing the example of Jesus' protest in the Jerusalem Temple.
Together with the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, they suggested that active nonviolence was a better way forward for students than either giving up or resorting to violence.
Kenneth Leech, socialist Anglican priest and social justice activist, will be the keynote speaker at the conference, addressing the theme of 'Prayer and Action'. Other speakers include the feminist theologian Nicola Slee.
There will be a range of workshops, many run by students and young people. They involve themes including Orthodox prayer, community organising, mental health, Bible reading and spiritualities of resistance. There will also be a Campaigns Corner, and a Prayer Walk around the grounds.
The conference falls at the end of Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, which runs from 30 January – 6 February.
Organisers say that the conference comes amidst “an exciting time of renewal and growth for SCM”.
National Co-ordinator, Hilary Topp said that SCM, through its network of groups and individual members, provides students with “an opportunity to explore their faith, and work together for justice and peace in the world”.
She added, “We are delighted to be welcoming Ken Leech to conference this year and are looking forward to hearing his experiences of the links between prayer and action”.
The SCM event comes only a week after students and university chaplains came together in Birmingham for the National Methodist Student Conference (28 – 30 January). The conference, entitled 'Paving the Way', discussed the future of the church and included talks from the Rev Alison Tomlin, President of Methodist Conference.
Workshops included choral singing, guidelines for eco-living and prayer drumming. The conference was the first of its kind for several years and was set up solely by students from the Methodist Society of the University of Birmingham, receiving no funding from the Church itself but instead becoming a grassroots movement.
"The weekend has been very encouraging, especially to see that there are young people in the Methodist Church who want to be involved,” said Cara Taylor, a Methodist student at Cambridge University, “We are not alone, and our church is growing”.
Paul Parker, from Bangor University Methodist Society, added, “You can’t underestimate how uplifting it is, as a student, to meet other people in a similar situation, because it can be quite isolating”.
Students from Durham and Cambridge have now signed up to host the Methodist student conference for the next two years. They say this shows that students are ready to continue to support a church which has long been portrayed as a dying tradition. The Methodist students are now calling on the church to recognise them as a body and to engage in active support of student ministry.
Many of the Methodist students are also involved in SCM which is Britain's oldest national student organisation, having been established in 1889.
SCM are one of a number of groups keen to emphasis the role that Christians are playing in resisting the current government's economic agenda. Last year saw the launch of Common Wealth, a network of Christians opposed to the coalition's cuts.