Notes from the sermon given by Ruth Wilde on the second Sunday in Lent and Student Sunday
Reading: Matthew 11
My name’s Ruth and I work for the Student Christian Movement. Thanks to Heston and all of you for inviting me to preach here today. The reason I’m here today is because it’s what we call ‘Student Sunday’. This is a world day of prayer for students, started up by the WSCF (World Student Christian Federation), of which SCM is a part.
Student Sunday is important because students are important. We have a little magnet that we give out at Freshers stalls which says on it ‘Don’t let your faith go off’! University is a time when faith is often lost. This is partly because students question everything, which is a really good thing and something that should be encouraged and nurtured. There are not that many opportunities at university for students who want to question their faith in a supportive environment and grow in their faith in a supportive community. The Student Christian Movement (SCM) gives them that opportunity. We encourage diversity, questioning, community and friendship. As part of SCM, students can worship together, campaign and seek justice together, and grow in faith together.
In our reading for today- Matthew ch.11- Jesus says:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
This sounds quite familiar. It sound similar to something that Jesus says in Luke ch.4, when he quotes Isaiah in the temple:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Some people call this passage Jesus’ ‘manifesto’, because it is the moment (at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) when he proclaims what he is about to do- what his life’s work is going to be about. I personally believe that nothing sums up Jesus’ mission (and therefore our mission) better than this passage and the Sermon on the Mount in his later ministry. In this passage, Jesus announces that he has come to bring liberation- to those who are on the margins of society, to those who are at the bottom of the pile, to those who are oppressed by the system.
SCM doesn’t have a ‘statement of faith’ or any doctrine that people must sign up to, but we do have a manifesto of sorts, and we try to shape that manifesto around what we believe Jesus calls us to do. Our manifesto goes by the name of ‘SCM Values’ and it goes like this:
“Deepening Faith – We think through our faith, drawing on scripture, our lived experience, theology and church traditions to learn and grow as Christians.
Seeking Justice – We believe faith and justice are inseparable. We are a movement for change, creating God’s kingdom of peace, justice and hope.
Celebrating Diversity – We seek to create inclusive communities where all are welcome and valued equally regardless of age, disability, denomination, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background or belief.
Christian Unity – We are founded in the spirit of ecumenism, bringing students together from different denominations and traditions to deepen faith, learn from one another and work together for justice.
I’m at All Hallows on this Student Sunday because you are an SCM Link Church- you have decided that SCM’s Values and your values as a church match up, and you have decided that you want us to work together in nurturing the faith of students in Leeds.
I recently organised a day of action and reflection as part of our refugee campaign. Around 8 or 9 students came together in Birmingham to hear asylum seekers tell their stories, to hear about and see what’s being done to help refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham, and to talk about what our faith and our scriptures say to us about how we should view people who have fled their homeland in order to find somewhere safer to be.
I know that you at All Hallows have good relationships with asylum seekers in Leeds and that you’ve been involved with many initiatives to help and support them. Bringing students and refugees together in Birmingham was a very moving experience which I’m confident will impact the students who came in very powerful ways, as well as encouraging the refugees and the charity workers who came to speak to us.
Students are often passionate about justice and have enormous amounts of energy to put into making the world a better place. Alongside their questioning attitude to faith (and everything else), this passion for justice is something I admire most about students.
You are lucky at All Hallows to be right in the middle of the student area. There is so much potential in this church for student ministry. There are many ways in which you can begin to nurture and make a difference to students in this area, and I’m sure you will explore them as a church going forward, but if I could offer you any advice from my own experience working for SCM, it would be these few things. You could call it the SCM All Hallows Manifesto if you liked!
Be authentic: Be honest about faith and don’t try to paper over any difficulties- students know when what you’re saying is rubbish- they have a very strong BS meter (ask a young person if you don’t understand what that means!)
Be Jesus-Centred: Be true to Jesus’ calling and build your church around Jesus’ liberating mission. God will add to and multiply your efforts when you are working for God and for your neighbour.
Build Community: Build a strong sense of community, but make that community accessible and welcoming from the outside, so that everyone who comes in for the first time feels like they’ve known the people at All Hallows since the dawn of time!
Encourage Diversity and Questioning: Create space for exploration and discussion without judgment. Include everyone in the conversation, leave no-one out.
Connect with students: Be pro-active, connecting with and meeting students where they are first, before drawing them into the church family.
You’re not alone: God calls you and sends you out with others in your church; God is alongside you in your work; and God is already at work before you even begin, building community and seeking justice. You only need to join in, and you will see the flourishing of God’s kingdom here at All Hallows and in the whole of the Hyde Park area. Have faith in God’s mission!
Thanks again for inviting me to speak to you today.