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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

The Victoria University College Student Christian Movement 1899-1934

page 58

The Victoria University College Student Christian Movement 1899-1934

In the comparatively short space of 35 years since the formation of the Victoria University College Student Christian Movement, which was contemporaneous with the foundation (of the College itself, over 25 students have occupied the position of President of the Movement. It would be strange if the changes in the executive personnel which such figures imply did not mean also changes in the points of emphasis of the Movement at various stages of its history in the College. That the average student generation covers but 4 or 6 years has been at once the strength and the weakness of the Movement. It has meant that the Movement has avoided the restrictions that tend with the passage of years to confine the development of organisations whose membership is sustained over longer periods without effective change. It has meant that the Movement has been in closer touch with the thought of successive generations—but it has also meant that there have been periods of weakness when the spiritual life of its members has vacillated and wavered.

In January, 1899 the missionary zeal that characterised the founders of the World Student Christian Federation found expression in a meeting of intending students at Victoria University College which gathered in Bishopscourt under W. H. Salmon of Yale University, Travelling Secretary for the Australasian Christian Unions. It was there decided to form a Union in the College. Those early years of the first decade of the Movements' existence were characterised by a fine enthusiasm for the Missionary cause overseas and by a strong evangelical emphasis in the work ot the Movement in the College. According to one syllabus of 1909 Frank H. L. Paton, M.A. addressed student audiences on such subjects as "Men and Missions," "The Spiritual Factor in College Life," and "How to get Power." Such addresses were in the true spirit of a Movement which had arisen out of the zeal of men whose watch word has been "The Evangelisation of the World in this Generation." It was in the line too of the inspiring message of Dr. John R. Mott who in 1903 had visited Wellington calling students to a necessity for broadmindness; to a realisation that a true Christian Union is a challenge to all students to devote the whole of their lives to the service of Jesus Christ whether in College or business at home or abroad.

The Great War brought a new development. The men's side of the Movement especially suffered by the draining off into the Expeditionary Forces of its more experienced leaders. The women however, responded to the call to fill the positions of responsibility, and in so doing a new source of strength was discovered that previously had not been exploited. Those years produced women leaders who have since served in the work of the New Zealand Student Christian Movement and some of whom have gone into the wider fields of service of the church overseas.

The stark reality of death in close touch with which we all lived in those War Years left its mark on the thought of the little group that constituted the Student Christian Movement at Victoria University College. There was an immediate need to face realities that were not pleasant in the social and international order and in the light and love of Christ to make some response to them. It was not that the call to missions overseas sounded less Christian or that the need of personal evangelism was forgotten, but rather that the force of circumstances compelled an attention to social and national problems, problems of race and of war upon which previously no great World Upheaval had focussed the eyes of men. Thus it happens that in a 1918 syllabus one may read of public addresses on such topics as "The Message of the Bible to the People of To-day" and "Christianity and Citizenship" or in later years read of Week-end Retreats given to the study of "War."

Nearly two decades have passed since the Great War, years of inflation and depression, and years too of great revolutions in thought. The students in the Student Christian Movement at Victoria University College in recent years have been turning again to the Lord and Master of All Life in search of the Truth, the Way and the Life. page 59 Communism in its atheistic form never gained the support of the members of the Student Christian Movement and is losing its attractiveness even as a solution to the present economic maladjustment. Thought and study turn again to the Builder of Nazareth who worked through the individual and World problems are seen again in the light of the Cross of Him who said "If I be lifted up will draw all men unto me." Thus it is a new generation that comes disillusioned to the feet of the Master, on the whole a youth seeking in humble-ness, guidance in the darkness of chaos—a darkness in which youth has lost faith in the power of economic and social demagogues to shed illumination.

While much change has taken place in the student thought of the last 35 years, the form of organisation of the Movement has varied little. Throughout its history the study circle has been the central core of its fellowship and life. Around the nucleus of these groups of students whose membership of their circles proclaimed their common purpose—the desire to know the Christian life—there has centred that friendship and tolerance of views of others which has become traditional. It has been here that many of us have for the first time learned to rub shoulders with men and women of other denominations than our own, and to appreciate their traditions and forms of worship. In the circles themselves there has always been an honest endeavour to seek the truth. Not always have the circles been the pulsating sources of spiritual power they were intended to be. Not infrequently they have become merely discussion groups not necessarily giving scope for men and women to grow in the Christian life. The renewed emphasis on evangelism of the present generation of students is bringing back some sense of distinction between a study circle and what is merely a group for discussion.

Taking its inspiration from the study circle core the work of the Movement has spread out into social work, week-end retreats and public meetings. In the post-war decade the social work organisation had become so strong that it severed and formed a social club independent of the Movement. Whether or not this was a good thing is open to question. It meant that the Student Christian Movement appeared to students as an organisation of talkers only and not doers, and though this was an unjust criticism it has been a taunt in the armoury of the critics of the Movement. Within the last two or three years the Student Christian Movement itself has assisted three poor families with provision and clothes.

The week-end retreats which in recent years have been held usually at Hutt Park or Island Bay, have been potent factors in deepening the Spiritual fellowship of the Movement. In communion Service, in study, in worship and in mirth and jollity are fused in every retreat the several contributions of our members. Such appreciation as this implies of one another's differing denominational backgrounds has not as a rule, though there may perhaps be some few exceptions, resulted in a denatured religious and Church life; rather has it inspired greater interest in and respect for the great truths emphasised by denominations of the Christian Church.

From time to time special evangelical campaigns have been run in the College. They have not in recent years, at least, drawn together large numbers though they have been of great value to members participating in them. It has been the special privilege of the Student Christian Movement to have the use of a room by the courtesy of Professor Florance. It was a rallying point and centre for the Movement in College that added much to its corporate life. For two years this privilege has been withdrawn by reason of lack of space.

In the last five years a branch of the Evangelical Union has been formed. It has been the wish and earnest endeavour of the Movement that these two religious organisations in a secular University might co-operate and show more effectively the Christian witness in the College. There, however, seems to have been a demand by some students for such worship and study as the Evangelical Union provides; and it may be that the previous stressing of intellectual and social problems in the Student Christian Movement has been the reason for its growth.

To-day, 35 years after its formation, members of the Student Christian Movement are to be found in Christian service in all parts of the World. They have in their college days sought the wisdom that is more than gold and their lives are keeping pure the highest ideals of our Alma Mater.

A. Eaton Hurley.