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What do local groups do?
This is such an obvious example of what local groups do that it hardly needs further elaboration. Prayer for the institution, its leaders, students and support staff. Prayer for one another.
Sometimes this prayer might be together in one place at a given time, at other times it is private prayer [due to time pressures] but in the certain knowledge at others are similarly praying. But it is coordinated prayer.
Care and support for each other
Life in the academic institution can be so pressured, with pressures not understood within ordinary churches. Although churches would want to be supportive, they often lack the background or experience to know how to provide that support.
Sometimes issues are not as clear-cut and simplistic as the ordinary 'person-in-the-pew' understands them to be. Wrestling with issues and concepts and challenging the current wisdom is often what the academy is supposed to be about - but that can be misunderstood so easily.
Colleagues subject to the same or similar pressures can often provide a dimension of care and support to others within the academy which church fellowships cannot. We are used to academic debate, to having our ideas being subjected to intense and unrelenting scrutiny. We are used to the demands in leading and managing in an environment different from that experienced in most places of work.
There is no substitute for having someone to consult, to share with or to ask for support in prayer who understands the issues we are going through. Local groups can foster relationships that provide exactly that support to one another.
Support of student groups
Experience has shown that where Christian staff groups exist they bring extra confidence and security to students in their faith and witnessing.
From a student's perspective, the academic world can seem a very hostile and challenging place to the Christian gospel. They are often unaware that there are indeed Christian academics and other staff who are committed to God as well as serving their departments.
Having to learn to stand on their own two feet in their faith in a new way, Christian students are strengthened and encouraged when they find others in the academy who are both Christians and respected members of the institution's life and work.
Lifting one's head above the proverbial parapet is often tough for students. Knowing that there are others unashamedly standing tall in their Christian convictions, seasoned in the sometimes difficult task of relating a Christian world view and a secular academic discipline view brings strength to students.
Resource for the Institution
Once established with credibility, local staff Christian groups can be a resource for Institutions by presenting a Christian view of topical interest to the academy for their consideration. Institutions are well used to the criticism of those not involved. Many would find it a refreshing and stimulating change to have some positive, supportive and well thought through views on issues they are having to grapple with. Simply a different perspective can shed new light for them in tackling the issues of the day.
Starting a local group
If you would like some advice on starting a group - what better than a famous slogan - 'Just do it'.
We can offer no universally proven guaranteed methods - they are as diverse as the institutions and the individuals within them. Perseverance and commitment are the two key words. Make a start and keep going. Do not be surprised if the idea does not enthuse others immediately as it does you. Others have their own problems and anxieties. There are already many commitments that others face, and the thought of another one could be just one too many.
Do not be over ambitious, but build steady and sure.
If you can do so without breaking confidences, feel free to share your joys and sorrows, successes and frustrations on the e-mail group. C-A-N is not an organisation, but a network of individuals working together. Others are here to help, support, encourage and pray for you and your efforts.
Physical or Virtual?
Both types of group exist.
With the advent of communication technology available to all it is now easy for groups to communicate electronically. Obviously this is never a substitute for face-to-face meeting, but with ever increasing workloads and time pressures, with geographical spread around campus(es) getting together can be difficult.
Whatever method best works in individual situations C-A-N encourages them to do so.
With such a variety of institutions, with their different histories and chaplaincy arrangements and ministries there can be no universal model of how local groups interact with chaplaincies.
In principle, this is a matter of overlapping circles. Some groups meet in and with the chaplaincy team; in others this is not always practical. Local [changing] conditions inevitably mean there will always be a variety of working relationships at grass roots level.
We would like to prepare a list of local groups in a hope that they will stimulate and encourage ideas. They would not presented as "case studies" nor as "best practice" - but rather examples of what has worked in specific situations.
The list is limited by a lack of information so far provided to the network.
Please send us details of your experience as a member of a local group.