Reflections from my time at College
Hi Toby, thanks for agreeing to take a break from the beaches and surf of Sydney to talk to us! What are you up to down under?
It's absolutely my pleasure. I'm currently involved in 6 months of a gap year ministry programme called Year 13. It's kind of like being at Bible College, but far less intense; as you say, the beaches and the surf make for a relaxing environment.
I understand before Australia you spent two years at a Sixth Form in the south of England. Give us a highlight and a low light of your time at college?
A big highlight was building friendships with people out of choice. In school friends were often decided by who was in your class, but in Sixth Form there is much more freedom to choose whom you want to be friends with, and choose who you yourself want to be. A big negative (as cliché an answer as it may be) was the work. Fortunately, I enjoyed all my subjects, but that didn't mean the workload wasn't larger and more taxing than I'd experienced before.
College can be a challenging place to live out a Christian faith, what challenges did you come across in your time at college?
Sixth Form, for me, represented a halfway house between school and university: there was certainly more freedom but one wasn't entirely independent. This meant that a lot of people (including me) began to question the beliefs they had held up to that point, and began to explore alternatives. As an environment it wasn't exactly hostile, but was more suspicious of Christianity, which made it harder to talk to people and get support in faith from friends at school. People would come up to me and instead of asking why I was a Christian they would point out common objections to Christianity such as evolution or suffering, and wouldn't necessarily give me a chance to talk about the gospel, which is far more important.
Tell us a bit about the CU you were involved in?
Our CU was relatively small (when I was in year 12 we were lucky to get 5 or 6 people). I got involved as soon as I could and helped to run it. It was hard because our membership kept changing, but the final year I was there was definitely the most encouraging. We ran some evangelistic talks, as well as a bible study series, but the major event (in which Festive played a small part in helping to organise) was an evening of fellowship called Rooted, with several other local CUs. We had about 50-60 people and we sang songs, heard talks and seminars and forged links with other colleges. It was a really encouraging evening, especially for a small CU, to see lots of other teenagers willing to live out their faith at college.
Sounds like CU kept you very busy, how did you balance it with all your work and other commitments?
With difficulty. That was a major issue of mine. Rooted was held just before exam season in my final year, and finding the balance between revising and organising was hard. But I have to say, making CU a priority, even in times of exams, was very helpful for me personally. It helped me to put my exams in an eternal perspective and to realise that there are things which are equally, if not more, important than revision and grades.
What advice would you give to Christian students starting College this coming September?
Firstly, I would point to 1 Peter 3:15-16: "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…." Make sure that you are a good witness for Christ, both in being able to give a good reason for your faith and in living a life where Christ is obvious.
Secondly, as I said before, keep the correct perspective on work and exams. I'm not saying don't work and spend your time exclusively planning CU events, but make sure you devote some time to Christian activities and Christian witness, whether that be in a CU or individually. The relationships you form and the lives you affect are more important than the letters you get on your A level certificates.
(Interview conducted by Pete Carrington)
Having finished his A-levels and run a successful CU in college, Toby now blogs from the sunshine of Sydney where he is enjoying his gap year.