In August, around 2,500 students from Great Britain and across the globe tuned into Forum, UCCF’s annual training conference. This year, rather than taking place in a marquee in North Wales, the conference moved online due to concerns around Covid-19. So, while in previous years students would roll out of their tents each day and put on their wellies, this year they rolled onto a sofa with a housemate and watched on a laptop.
While this was a different kind of experience, the vision and impact of Forum remained the same: to equip and inspire students to share the gospel in their mission teams at university. Happening online even offered up new opportunities – including the ability to invite speakers from around the globe, open the conference to students in IFES movements across the world, and also to freshers starting university this year.
Each day, those who came enjoyed talks in Nehemiah from Matt Waldock and a range of interviews from speakers Becky Pippert, Don Carson, John Piper, Ruth Naomi Floyd and Tim Keller. They then spent the afternoons in specific training tracks and seminars.
Despite being unable to camp with the rest of their CU this year, students got creative in how to keep connected! Some set up tents in their gardens, ate meals together ‘virtually’, set up Zoom meetings where they could pray with their CU – whole regions even met together for a virtual quiz. But as well as strengthening relationships with those in their mission team, they were also able to meet students from other CUs in discussions online.
‘Talking to other CUs in the breakout rooms on Zoom was great’
‘I loved singing with people for the first time in forever.'
‘It was a real boost for us all to connect as a mission team’
This experience of community was uplifting for many. Manchester CU members, for example, greatly valued their daily video calls during which they played games and chatted through the talks, while Cambridge CU had over 40 at their morning prayer meetings.
As freshers were invited to Forum this year, it was also a fantastic way for them to meet and get to know their potential CUs and other first-years. They particularly valued the specific afternoon training track aimed at equipping them as they begin university in this unusual context. One new student coming to Bournemouth CU, Sophie, said,
‘It was amazing to see so many other freshers. So good to see how evangelical the focus was with this and it really restored my hope in finding other young people who are also as on fire for God and spreading the good news as a student.’
A highlight of Forum this year were the afternoon training tracks for students, such as sessions on ‘Welcoming New Students’ (aimed at helping CUs connect with first-years) and ‘Digital Excellence’ (equipping CUs to hold online evangelism and events). A key session was on Impact Groups – a new initiative begun in light of social distancing restrictions, where smaller groups of students will meet to connect with their CU, get plugged into a church and impact their university for Jesus. (You can read more about these, here).
‘The Impact Group training session was great – I got so many tips.’
‘I just really enjoyed the freshers track - especially when we got into smaller groups and talked with other Christians at the same stage as ourselves; we were able to have some really great discussions.'
Two Edinburgh CU members met up with their Staff Worker Esther Dickson after one of these tracks and shared how inspired they’d been to make their Impact Group into a community that shares the gospel. They told her how they’d already been preparing to do this, chatting to their unbelieving flatmates over the summer and encouraging other members of the CU to pray.
Encouragingly, many students also found Forum helpful in growing their personal faith and getting inspired to share it with others. They were grown in their boldness and reminded that they are participating in the Lord’s work as He brings students to know Him.
'It was a joy remembering why the CUs put the effort into what we do'
‘I loved being in conversation with people in my discipline on how to glorify God'
‘Hearing Matt Waldock say that it’s okay for leaders to admit weaknesses was powerful’
Matt Waldock’s talks in the book of Nehemiah were particularly encouraging, focusing on the different struggles that students this year may face in light of Covid-19. One Manchester CU member said, ‘I think God is showing us, through Nehemiah, what it looks like to press on, without ignoring our tears, opposition and struggles.’
Thank you for your prayers for Forum! We’re so glad that we were able to run this conference and to see students attend. Our prayer for the CUs this year is that they demonstrate God’s strength and love, as they persevere in reaching their university with the gospel during these uncertain times.
Know a student who is heading to uni? Buy them a welcome pack, here.
Want to partner with CUs? Pray for freshers’ weeks as they happen, here.
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