Confession: This post isn't new news but old news... a faith building testimony from 80 years ago... do read on.
Those present at the first meeting were privileged to hear a message from Dan Crawford (1870-1926), in which he vividly described the earnest endeavours of the heathen of Central Africa to approach and appease an angry ‘unknown’ god. “They ignorantly worship – but we so often not at all,” he pointed out, and then continued to preach Jesus.
These services were organised by Mr Rendle Short and Dr Frank Bergin; and, with the exception of the years of the War, were continued until 1921. During that year, five or six medical students felt the need in the University of a united witness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. They met to consider the possibility of a Union in which its members could be of one mind in regard to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Faith.
A circular was compiled on November 30th 1921, and sent to thirty or forty students who might be interested in such a movement, inviting them to a meeting to discuss the possibility of organising a Christian Union on fundamental lines.
On [Tuesday] December 6th, fourteen met to consider the situation; and the ten who were of one mind decided then and there to inaugurated the University Evangelical Union. Mr F.S. Dymond, who later laid down his life for the Lord in China, was appointed the first President of the Union.
[A little online research suggests that this was Francis Spencer Dymond of the Dymond family of Methodist missionaries, and that was born in China, studied at Bristol before returning to China, where he died in 1929, born 1896]
The aims were briefly enumerated, namely, to unite once a week for prayer and Bible study, and to organise further Evangelistic meetings in the University. Though very much in its infancy, the Union soon found its legs, and a full programme was drawn up. The times spent over the Epistle to the Romans were abundantly profitable in deepening the spiritual lives of the members.
The Sunday Evening Services proved to be an attraction to the other students, the attendance at each meeting being between sixty and seventy. Speakers such as Prof Carless whose subject ‘Christian Hygiene’ aroused much interest and Rendle Short who undertook to expound ‘The Cure of Souls; prescriptions Old and New’ were given undivided attention, as they explained the simple truths concerning God’s remedy for sin in His Son.
The next step forward was that of official recognition by the University Guild in the Spring Term, 1925. This conferred the right of using University rooms for meetings and of advertising on the screens.
The session, 1924-5, saw advances in several departments of the E.U., revealing the life, which up to this time had been somewhat supressed. A desire to reach out further afield resulted in Open-Air Meetings; also the formation of what was called a Speakers’ Circle, which was run in connection with several Mission Halls in the neighbourhood. Medicals still continued to take the lead on the Committee, and the fact that these were also to the forefront in the University games, gave the Union a more favourable standing among the other students, and quite a number of the first teams were brought under the sound of the Gospel.
The membership of the Union had remained at about twenty, but the Lord called for further advance. The first thing was to double the number of prayer Meetings, and to advance on our knees before God. Not many of us will forget the times we had alone with the Lord, when surroundings had to be ignored – one day in a changing and ‘making up’ room beneath the stage in the Club, another day in Room 35, a bleak lecture room in the highest storey of the New Buildings!
The spring term of this year saw a contingent of eight members sent to the first (residential) [UCCF]. Conference at High Leigh. Many members were unable to get as far as High Leigh, and for these and any other students who would come, a weekend camp in June was arranged by kind invitation of Dr Frank Bergin, to be held at his bungalow ('Bergy's Bung'), overlooking the Bristol Channel. Our visiting speakers included Rendle Short and Rev. H. Earnshaw Smith and Douglas Porter; all of the twenty-five who were able to go could testify to the time of real spiritual strengthening and growth, as day by day we were brought face to face with the Lord.
Hampered by lack of convenient accommodation for meetings, the Committee sought from the Lord a room which could be used solely for the E.U. Within a few weeks we were able to thank God, not only for the most suitable room, but also for the funds for furniture and a year’s rent. The room was found to be particularly useful for Daily Prayer Meetings, as its central position enabled members of all faculties to meet before morning lectures.
Besides holding two or three Missionary meetings a term, when the needs of different fields were brought to our notice, the members of the E.U. undertook to raise funds to support a native evangelist in N. Nigeria, and to back the work up by prayer. Letters were received about every three months giving news for praise and prayer, and, in this more intimate way, the Union was able to take a more intelligent interest in Mission Work.
A departure from the routine was taken in 1931, when the Evangelistic work took the form of Faculty meetings. Speakers were chosen from the respective professions, and personal invitations sent out to the undergraduates concerned. These meetings were found to be most successful in reaching those students who would be unwilling to attend a public meeting in the University Club Rooms.
This history would not be complete without a reference to the way in which the Lord has led members of the Union to pray definitely for another University. Three or four years ago, several of the members felt their responsibility to pray that an Evangelical Union should be started in Exeter University College. Enquiries made in the College at that time appeared to be fruitless; but since then prayer, though sometimes very faithless, has been continuous, and it was with great joy that, in October, 1933, the Bristol Union sent four members down to Exeter to help with their first Fresher’s Squash. May the Lord lead the Universities more to bear one another’s burdens by prayer.
Report from the Bristol CU in Christ and the Colleges edited by Donald Coggan, 1934. Coggan had been a student at Cambridge (1928-1931) where he was the CU vice-President and Treasurer, after which he was an assistant lecturer at Manchester (1931-1934) before becoming a curate in London (1934-1937). In 1974 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
Coggan's records list the following former CU members who had "sailed for the mission field" by 1934, whether as a full-time missionary or in employment. China: J.O. Fraser (1928), Miss C.E.M. Gale (1927). India: Rev C.M.Johnston (1934), Miss M.E. Page (1933), Dr. Dorothy Tripp (1930), Dr P. Christine Vine (1930). Africa: Dr. Leigh Ashton (1934), Dr. H. Brassington (1930), Dr A. Fisher (1930), Dr G. Gurney (1934), Miss M. Hill (1934), Dr. A Keevil (1920), Dr. E. Wide (1929). Europe: Mr E.Tenchard (1924), Miss F. Paget (1932).