Andy Peck believes there are two major things that will help your child grow their faith at university
We all remember our first day at uni right? The nervous journey travelling with the car laden with stuff, the awkward moment when you said ‘good-bye’ to your parents. Closing the door on your room and thinking ‘crumbs, this is really happening!’
In my case I not only experienced this for myself, but had the chance to observe it many times when I became a staff worker with UCCF and observed the poor guys going through it for the first time, which will be 414,000 of them this Autumn.
Dom Mould, a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham, put it like this:“I was quite scared about moving to a new city, especially because I’m from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. And so to move to a big city was quite daunting. I had loads of questions: “will I find people that I like?”; “will I get on with everyone?”; “will people like me?”; “what will my flat be like?” I think the unknowns of going to university are quite daunting. There’s a lot of excitement as well, like knowing that I felt it was so right to go there.”
The emotional cauldron is of course shared by parents: Hannah Miller is the founder of The Purpose Pursuit, and a mum to three boys. She shared what the first day felt like when her son, Noah started university a couple of years ago: “It was wonderful because he was going where he wanted to. But it was also genuinely heartbreaking as I was really sad to let him go. Very excited for him. I felt all the emotions all day for several days.”
Asked what advice she would give to parents she said: “I would say as much as you might think you are potentially getting on your young person’s nerves, I would say it’s a really great time to be reminding them: ‘you are not your grades, you are not what you do!’. Those things matter and they matter to you. They’re important, but they don’t define your security. They don’t define your contribution.
“I think talking to your young person and reminding them of what makes them uniquely who they are, what you put into them. They don’t just forget it, they’ll remember what you’ve put into them and what your values and priorities are.”
Join a Christian Union!
As someone whose job it was to seek to nurture the Christian lives of young people in a CU setting, my first advice to Christian parents is to seek to connect your child with the CU.
The rationale is that the best people to reach students with the news of God’s love in Jesus is other students. In the three years or so that are spent at uni, Christian students have a prime opportunity to get to know other students and can take the natural opportunities that come along. In my case it was fellow students in agricultural economics, and members of the football teams and golf societies. The lovely bi-product is that they also have opportunities for exercising leadership in a tolerant setting.
We were delighted to see the CU grow during the three years I was attending. Decades later, I am still in touch with many who came to faith or strengthened their faith in those days.
There were people in my day and since who were known to be Christians and didn’t join the CU and with a few exceptions, most left uni with their faith weakened, if indeed they still professed faith at all.
Join a church
But that said, of course some will focus more on a local church connection and some local churches provide some excellent support of their students. Alongside attending the CU I would take the train each Sunday to an Evangelical church in Ashford, Kent and (bless their hearts) in three years, there was only one Sunday where I wasn’t invited out to lunch!
So CU attendance should not be an alternative to church and so encouraging your child to connect there too, and even doing some ground work for them to find what the options are is wise.
Helen Roberts is a student worker at church@hydeparkcorer Leeds and gives this advice to new students looking for a church:
“I would say look for a church that sees you when you walk in. One of the big things about being a student is you don’t have a community, you have left your community behind, and you’re building a new one. You’re building the foundations that you need to live. Some people love to find big churches, other people love to find small churches. There isn’t like a good standard necessarily of church. It’s a place that you feel comfortable. You may think that going to the church that every other student goes to is the right thing to do. But sometimes it’s about being bold in Going to the church that is right for you.”
Now, or course, if your child ends up finding neither a CU, nor a church, please don’t panic. They may need to experience the freedom of choosing another path for a while. God still loves them and your prayers for them are precious and all that you have invested is still within them.
But if you do all you can to support their faith, you have done a good thing. Plan together, pray for them and look forward to seeing what God does.
Organisations that may be involved in student work on the campus where your child is studying:
UCCF: The Christian Unions https://www.uccf.org.uk/christian-unions
The Fusion Movement https://www.fusionmovement.org/find-a-church
Just Love https://justloveuk.com/students
Quotes for this article are taken from the transcript of Max Avard’s piece on student life which first featured on Inspirational Breakfast.