Our history falls into two parts: the early struggles of the years 1927-1930 culminating in the Rev. Bryan Green's mission in 1931, and the period after the mission.
Let us begin our story with the beginning of the organisation. In the autumn of 1927, a group of ten students (one man and nine women) who desired an opportunity for Christian fellowship and corporate witness, banded themselves together as the Association of Christians, a title replaced almost at once by Evangelical Union.
During the next three years, though numbers did not increase, activity and interest did. Weekly meetings were held for prayer and Bible study, and occasional meetings, open to non-members, were held in the University. While the Union was finding its feet, we received really valuable assistance from several people outside the University. Mr Sutton, Miss Welden and Dr. Lumsden helped us with study and discussion groups, which were our chief source of strength.
This was a time of inspirations. There were difficulties, numbers fluctuated, hardly any interest could be aroused among the men, the President suddenly resigned; but, inspite of these things, it was a time of joyous fellowship and faithful witness.
One of the pioneers has written to us describing the early days. The general attitude was, she writes,
"that we were honest but mad... But over and over again we found that the very madness had aroused the interest of the most unlikely people, and they wanted to ask why and how. The ground was very, very hard - sheer indifference which slowly, slowly gave way to the wholesale general interest and definite seeking of the time of Bryan Green's mission."In the Spring of 1931, at the invitation of the E.U. and S.C.M. the Rev Bryan Green came down to Reading with a team of about twenty undergraduates, to lead a week's mission in the University.
(Note: Green is reported in his obituary as having been one of "the most effective evangelists in the Church of England", he was Rector at HTB during the second world war. In 1931 he was a chaplain in Oxford, aged 30).
The wave that had been gathering momentum burst with a crash that was felt by the whole University. It would be useless to talk of the Mission in terms of statistics. Enough to say that God used it far more wonderfully than anyone had faith to expect, and that we are still feeling its indirect results today.
The second period of our history started with great opportunities, but new difficulties. The Mission had wrought a change in the general attitude of the University, our ranks had been swelled by several keen but inexperienced Christians and there was far more interest, especially among the women.
But at the end of the session following the Mission, the original members had all gone, and we were left with a dearth of experienced leaders. Owing to this and to the attitude of some of the younger members, who, not realising the true significance of the E.U. and desiring more fellowship with the members of S.C.M. had tended to broaden their outlook too much, disunity grew up within the Union. [SCM and the Evangelical Unions had separated at Cambridge in 1919 over the centrality of the cross]
Now after a process of steady growth rather than of sudden changes, we are at one again, for God had strengthened the faith of individual members, and, partly through a weekend adventure of witness last summer, has given us a new realisation of our common privilege and purpose.
Though we are only a small group, and are not recognised by the Reading Students Union, we can say that we have now gained real stability and unity. We look now to the future rather than to the past, but even our brief history has something to teach:
- It is from the faithful and fearless witness of individuals that the Union takes its rise and draws its strength.
- The support and encouragement of older folk outside the Union is invaluable.
- When we have tried to witness together to others that we have most truly been at one with each other and with Christ.
CU Presidents: 1927-89 Miss J.Lea. 1928. W. Brind. 1929-31. R.W. Kettlewell & Miss D.S. Harper 1931-32. D.Draffen & Miss. M. Usher. 1932-33./ Miss M.M. Grinyer & J.H. Francis.
From Christ & the Colleges (Donald Coggan, 1934)