Anya Brown, a first year lawyer and Christian Union rep for Emmanuel college, writes about some things she wishes she had known before starting at Cambridge as a Christian, with some reflections she has on the different term ahead of us.
First – congratulations on making your offer for Cambridge! With all these new beginnings ahead, it’s important and helpful to remember the one constant – God remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We can rejoice together in this truth amongst the uncertainty of this pandemic, and the myriad of ways the world around you will change over the next couple of months.
Know that current students are already praying for you and preparing for you to arrive in Cambridge! This can be a particularly anxious time for many, and so do take comfort in the prayers of your brothers and sisters whom you probably don’t know yet. We’d love to start getting to know you, especially as we have all become much more accustomed to meeting people online over the past few months! See later on in this letter for more on this.
So, preparing to leave for university – a quick reiteration of some points you may already know (and some you might not!). A great thing to do is to ask your current church community to pray for you as you make this transition into student life, if you’re in a position to do so. If you have the opportunity to talk to older students, do! If you don’t, do not fret! Chat and gather wisdom from people you know who may have attended university or have recently left home – what did they find most surprising? What was hard? Where did they find community? Try and remember everyone’s experience is individual and to take each piece of well-meaning advice with a pinch of salt – including this letter!
Practically – make sure you have filled out all the relevant documentation for your college and have started to think about what items you’d like to bring from home to stay with you during your time at University. Note this varies from college to college, and your Fresher’s week will be run by your college student union/JCR so stick to the correspondence you are receiving. This is particularly important with the term ahead of us – different colleges are likely to have different advice and policies in relation to student arrivals and conduct due to the pandemic, so make sure you are focusing on your own college’s plans and requirements.
Don’t stress about pre-reading – diligence is an excellent practice to get into, so do aim to complete all that is asked, but spread this out over the time you’ve got. Don’t leave it until Freshers’ week – guaranteed you will not find the time! Factor in time for saying goodbye to family and friends from home, especially those who might be going to university before you do.
A little about what it’s like arriving in Cambridge as a Christian.
Heading to university in the middle of a pandemic is undoubtedly a daunting thing. I don’t wish to minimise this at all, but to encourage you – there is a wonderful network of Christians at Cambridge who are looking out for you and would love to support you as you come up to Cambridge. We all have a shared joy through our faith, which unites us and lays the foundations of how we relate to one-another, creating a warm community. .
University is a wonderful time for telling the people around you about the good news of Jesus’ salvation. This is especially true in the current uncertainties of the pandemic. People come to University with all sorts of ideas and worldviews, and students come to Cambridge in particular with curious minds, often interested in asking searching questions about the world and our place in it. I say this to encourage you – sometimes when one has been in a school setting for several years it may be feeling difficult to bring the gospel into conversations or people may just not seem interested. Some of this may ring true still in the context of University life, but I (and my brothers and sisters here in Cambridge) have been encouraged by how open people’s minds are to hearing our view of the world.
These opportunities largely come through the fact that, unlike at home, you will be living alongside your peers closely – perhaps having rooms near them, eating with them, studying with them and relaxing with them. Living distinctly as a Christian is such a great witness to those around you and provides an avenue for you to share why it is you live how you do. It’s an amazing thing that God gives us each other to encourage one-another with this, so here’s some notes as to how we do that in Cambridge.
First and foremost, I would urge you to get stuck into a local church in Cambridge, even though churches might still be meeting in some capacities online. We’re blessed in the city with numerous churches of different sizes and styles who are dedicated to the gospel and supporting students in growing in their faith and sharing it with those around them. Your church is ideally your primary Christian community where you will be taught and engage in fellowship, ideally weekly if not more (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I’ll put some links at the end of this letter to various churches you might want to take a look at online before you get here – I realise you may have online-church-fatigue at this point, though I would recommend attempting to get stuck in with a Cambridge church while you are in Cambridge, and we will hopefully be able to meet in person before too long! I’d suggest looking at a few, and aiming to decide where to settle by mid-way through Michaelmas (first term) – that said, people do sometimes move churches across the terms so don’t pressure yourself into deciding in a hurry.
Another way we encourage one-another is in the University-wide Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union – this is not a replacement for church. It is known as CICCU (pronounced “kick-you”, unfortunate we know!). The primary aim of having a Christian Union is to share the Gospel with our fellow Cambridge students. It is not a Christian club, but a place where anyone is welcome to come and think through the claims the Bible makes. It is a loving and outward-looking community which seeks to show every Cambridge student that the hope we have in Jesus is the best news in the world!
We will meet once a week as CICCU, at a meeting called ‘Unite’. This may happen online, as there tend to be quite a few of us! Here we will often worship, hear a speaker encourage us with a talk from the Bible and pray together. It’s also a chance to catch up with friends you may not see at church or in college.
Cambridge, Durham and Oxford are slightly different to other CU’s due to their college structure. In addition to uni-wide CU (CICCU), we have our “college groups” as well. These are groups run by representatives from CICCU and guided by the CICCU committee, and they aim to share Jesus in every college. College groups are a real blessing as a community centred around Jesus, and they are ideal if you’re looking to meet other Christians in your college. College groups will be particularly useful if we have to meet online next term – they are a smaller community, so easier to get integrated into and very easy to get in contact with – see below!
If you are able, consider getting in contact with your college reps before you arrive in Cambridge – their names and email addresses are here https://ciccu.org.uk/colleges/. A college group will typically meet once or twice a week to catch up, play some games, do a short Bible study, pray, share encouragements and plan events in college. College groups should be running pre-term welcome events – the best way to keep up to date with these would be to email your college reps!
There’s plenty of ways to get involved with the Christian community at Cambridge, and you do have a finite amount of time during term time, so don’t stress about going to everything. A little advice – prioritise getting stuck into a church, and getting to know your peers in college. If you’re able to do both these things and get stuck in with wider CU stuff early on, great! If it takes you a little longer to get round to wider CU stuff, that’s absolutely fine!
This is longer than I intended, so I’ll leave this here for now. Please do get in contact if you have any specific questions, I would love to hear from you and am always up for a chat!
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” – 2 Corinthians 13:14
Some useful links
https://ciccu.org.uk/ – the general CICCU website
https://ciccu.org.uk/freshers/ – all resources for Freshers! Check out your college’s page and consider getting in contact with the reps – their info will be here!
Some churches in Cambridge:
- St Andrew the Great https://stag.org/
- St Barnabas https://www.stbs.org.uk/
- Cambridge Presbyterian Church https://www.cambridgepres.org.uk/
- City Church https://www.citychurchcambridge.org.uk/
- Eden Baptist Church https://eden-cambridge.org/
- Holy Trinity https://www.htcambridge.org.uk/
- Kingsgate https://kingsgate.church/
- Vineyard http://cambridgevineyard.org.uk/