Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I encountered a group of students meeting to discuss why Christian faith no longer seems to affect our culture as much as it did in the past. The ‘Big Picture Group’, as it was called, excited me by its sweeping worldview and its candid discussion of serious challenges. I think many of us there in Cambridge were particularly disappointed that so few of our friends were won to faith by the Christian union events we tried so hard to promote.
By the time I was starting PhD studies in Leeds, my own faith was working out in an increasingly clear way intellectually – bringing a confidence that I wished I’d had earlier. But I was missing any opportunity for serious discussions with fellow Christian students – about academic subjects, about social issues, about how the Bible relates to culture at large.
Starting a CPG
It turned out that I wasn’t alone in this, for when I found a handful of other PhD students who were Christians, it didn’t take much prompting (Transforming the Mind did the job) for us to set up a Christian postgrads’ discussion group. The chaplaincy kindly let us use a room, and we started inviting any other interested friends to our weekly chats on all kinds of topics.
The group today
That was back in 2006, so the group has been running for nearly ten years. Now it’s coordinated by Will Allchorn, a PhD student in political science. Here’s his account:
I came to Leeds in 2011 to start a master’s course and was looking for a Christian fellowship that suited my life stage. Fortunately, God provided and I was lucky enough to bump into someone who was running the Leeds Postgraduates’ Christian Fellowship (PGCF). Little did I know, however, that I would be called to lead the group four years later! Leeds PGCF is a fortnightly discussion group that meets with the aim of equipping postgraduate Christians to live out their faith in their studies and research. We invite inspiring speakers as well as fellow members to talk about challenges and opportunities they’ve found on their academic journey as Christians. This is with the aim of providing ‘living examples’ of how faith can impact one’s studies and scholarship. As hinted above, the most important aspect of the group is, however, in the name: Fellowship. We try to meet for lunch after the meeting and the act of gathering allows us to share our common experiences about being Christian postgraduates. I would recommend to any follower of Christ the fun and sacrificial act of starting or re-starting a similar ministry. With the focus of Church and University ministries centred on undergraduates, there is a glaring omission of equipping postgraduates and scholars to seek out their faith in the University. Any attempt to redress this imbalance is of serious merit for establishing the Kingdom of Christ in UK academe.