by Hilary Topp
from Signs of the Times No. 41 - Apr 2011
These are hopeful and exciting times for SCM and the student movement. We've just returned from our biggest Annual Conference since the 1980s, with lots of students attending for the first time, including several from new SCM groups which have started up since last year's conference.
The conference, entitled 'Still Small Voice', and on the theme of prayer, was a chance for students to explore different forms of prayer, how prayer relates to action and what it means to be 'still small voices' in the world today.
We were helped in this exploration by two excellent speakers, Nicola Slee and Ken Leech. Nicola spoke about her own practice of prayer in the Anglican tradition, and about how prayer is a part of all of life, in the high points, as well as in moments of despair. Ken shared some of his own faith journey, and described how he came to be a priest working in the East End of London, and was heavily influenced by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, as well as by other priests with whom he worked.
There was also an amazing array of workshops on offer, many of them run by students and young people, on topics including Orthodox Chant, Mental Health, Risk Shaped Discipleship, Prayer Drumming, Community Organising and Sikh Meditation.
The highlights for me were the times of prayer and worship that we shared. On Saturday evening, a group from Old St Paul's Church in Edinburgh led us in evening prayer, each of us holding a simple white candle, as the wintry evening light faded outside.
This year we again invited Friends of SCM (individuals who support us through prayer, sharing their skills and through regular giving) to join us in a parallel Friends Gathering. Tammy Hervey, who was President of Glasgow SCM in the 1980s, decided to come along to see what SCM was like these days.
This is part of her reflection on the weekend:
Hope. Full of hope. Those are the words I texted to my sister (also a former SCMer) in response to her slightly bemused query as to how I was finding the SCM Annual Conference in Swanwick this year. The parallel Friends Gathering is an experiment trialled last year, and several of us Friends agreed that it is a tremendous privilege to be guests of the event.
What did I find that was new, and what the same, since my own SCM experience in the late 1980s and early 90s? I didn't see the stridency that characterised so many of our debates in those days. What I saw is a group of young women and men filled with a quiet determination that things can, and shall, be better. I saw a tremendous sense of the value of community, and inclusion. The hoodies that say "included" are translated into social practice. A dedicated chaplaincy team are in evidence. Feminism seems to be an irrelevance, but the ability agenda, and sexuality inclusion, are prompting thought and discussion, as well as practical action. I would never have thought that knitting, sewing and craft would be openly practised at SCM conference, as both a creative activity to be celebrated in itself, and as a way of showing commitment to anti-consumerism and sustainability!
And of course, everywhere, there is a sense of engagement with faith, with questioning and challenging, growing and exploring. The church (in all its denominational forms) pours so much resource into spiritual and faith formation of our children. But post-confirmation (or young adult baptism) we seem to assume that it can (and should?) stop. What an extraordinary idea - that your understanding of your faith and of your relationship with God could be completed at 18, or even younger! SCM provides a space for students to discover which parts of their 12 year old faith will work in their late teens and early 20s, and which need to be revisited. It gives permission to stay engaged with the church, even if you can't stomach all of its 'articles' at that moment. Most importantly, it teaches a reflective practice that SCMers carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Tammy Hervey, Friend of SCM, Graduate 1989 (Glasgow) and 1992 (Sheffield), former member of SCM General Council and former President of Glasgow SCM.
Hilary Topp is SCM National Co-ordinator.