Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974
S.C.M. navel gazing
S.C.M. navel gazing
For eight days over the Christmas-New Year period every year sixty to eighty mainly young people gather at one of New Zealand's pleasant resorts. They have one thing in common; they are interested in the Student Christian Movement and are largely university students. Last Christmas the SCM Summer Conference was held at "The Narrows" Hamilton. The Conference was a failure. Perhaps the organisers of future conferences will learn from the blunders made.
Responsibility for running the conference rested with the Auckland SCM. They ran the conference along the lines which the Camp Commander at Waiouru would have been proud. The Auckland planning committee represented the "feelers" in the movement. They adopted a dictatorial attitude as to what was good for the rest and were toally inflexible in their paternalistic approach. To the surprise of many the main thrust of the conference (and involving about four hours a day) consisted of Group Laboratries. Here one was to learn group dynamics.
Attendance at these groups to which one had been assigned was compulsory. Each group had one or more persons officially called a "Facilitator" but unofficially dubbed manipulators.
These people had, like the planning committee, a daily secret meeting behind closed doors presumably to discuss "progress". The facilitators were by and large not SCM'ers but mainly ring-in ministers of the therapist ilk. The groups were a frustrating waste of time. Their "task" seemed to be to try to find a purpose and not doing so. Not quite at the heart of the revolution? Discontent was expressed throughout, but the planning committee remained undaunted. They planned on as before, but resentment grew.
The last night had been set aside for "the people" to engage in the vital task of evaluation. Strangely the plan was altered. On the last evening everyone was lead outside, not as it turned out for an evaluation but for a "surprise" religious service. All were entreated to sing an Alleluia chant and partake of bread and wine. This attempt to quell the views of many 3nd end as one big happy family was the final blunder.
The dissidents spoke out, the worshippers responded, people collapsed, screamed, took off into the bush... In the battlefield remaining the "facilitiators" were kept busy counselling for many hours.
Many who left the conference the following morning had the feeling that they had experienced Western decadence at its worst: navel gazing, the search for hang-ups, and the wallowing in those found. The conference was without doubt anti-democratic and anti-intellectual.
The experience must never be repeated. A sense of movement and direction must come from future conferences. They must be as they have been in the past, a source of inspiration for the following year for those who attend. They must provide the liberation of taking part in the direction of the conference and not the paternalism of the dictator. SCM must not turn upon itself, with a cloak of oppression for many of its members, and loose sight of the greater needs beyond.
—Peter Cullen 28.2.74