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More News from Bristol CU: Renewed Visibility

From Geraint Fielder's Lord of the Years:


Prayer and perseverance saw an extraordinary turn around. The picture in the CUs in the mid 1960s was one of unbounded opportunity, against a background of moral flux. 'It is doubtful if CUs have ever been in such real touch with non-Christians.' 

Bristol CU was a good example. Take this account which appeared in the student newspaper.
'A graduate student from another university was making his first visit to the Students Union, but soon after entering the building he was found recumbent on the slab in the union bar... staring fixedly into the middle distance and sipping a small lime juice.' Was he drunk? No, what then was the matter? He was suffering from 'severe shock'. Asking some humourist the way to the bar he had been misdirected to the hall next door to it, where the CU held its regular Saturday Night Bible Readings. Bursting in upon 250 people enthusiastically engaged in this activity had been too much for him. He is reported to have said that he had never seen so many Christians in one place in his whole life. 'Why' asks the journalist, 'is Bristol University so strongly Christian? ...Is it the climate, the geology of the area? The spirit of John Wesley?'
In early 1970s Glenys (Gig) Goulstone (later with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship) arrived to study medicine at Bristol as an unsuspecting, contented agnostic, with very little Christian background.
 'I did not know it then but the first five people I came across were all Christians. One of them, a Chinese fellow medic, because a good friend. Through her witness and the prayers of the hall group I became a Christian about four months later, at a CU houseparty entitled 'Dead or Alive?' It made the issue rather black and white. I experienced the touch of God in a very real way, and have not got over it yet, fourteen years on. I'm glad to say. Reading the New Testament for myself in the first vacation was an important factor. But the faithfulness, patience and love of my Christian friend was vital. Subsequently I led a prayer group, helped with international student events and ran a Christian folk group. These student days were absolutely crucial for me in my Christian growth - and birth.'  


While Phyllis Bennett was a student at Bristol University the CU was galvanised into life by Ken Bergin, a Cambridge student who changed to Bristol to complete his medical studies. It was a turning point for the CU at Bristol, for he brought with him something of the best of the Cambridge CU commitment to 'think big' for God. When Phyl Bennett came up the CU was a small affair of about twenty, rather timid, meeting in a small room undernearth a stage in the Victoria Rooms. In her third year, that changed through the sheer dynamic drive of Ken Bergin, son of Bristol pioneer Dr. Frank Bergin. Ken was destined for days of valour in war and service close to royalty. He was soon co-opted onto the CU committee. His reaction to its low visibility was swift.

'What are you doing hiding under the stage?' he exploded 'you have the greatest message in the world. You should be holding your meetings in the finest lounge of the Victoria Rooms, have the best speakers, the most attractive invitation cards. You should put on superlative meetings and expect up to 200 students at your open meetings.' He insisted we had a prayer meeting at 7am once a week, this being the only time the whole committee could meet. Phyl Bennett dodged. 'I'm not sure I can get there as I live in a suburb.' 'Yes you will' he countered, 'I'll fetch you in my car as I haven't to travel to get to the prayer meeting.' And he did. We then had breakfast with the Rendle Shorts.
Rendle Short (1880-1953, surgeon, Professor of Surgery and Bristol University) was a smallish man with the toughness of a first-class surgeon. A marvellous intellect, an ordered mind, a shining apologetic brilliance went hand in hand with a firm Biblical faith. His great sweep of knowledge stood out in a  period when there were hardly any evangelical professors. His capacity to answer questions off the cuff gained the ear of students, and many vividly recall their first encounter with him. His strong point was to bear witness to the truth of the Bible and he was highly gifted in marshalling evidence that confirmed its reliability. All this was combined with a concern for a person's relationship to God, not with intellectual questions in a vacuum. His Thursday evening Bible studies drew men from the St. Phillip's district of Bristol and many were converted... He was generous in finance and hospitality, and nationally and locally the student work benefited.
We prayed and planned. Howard Guinness came for a mission which was held in the main lounge of the Victoria. We had been deputed by Ken to get 200 spoons. Not all were used but well over 100 came - for us an excellent meeting.

I was the president of the Netball Club and I had persuaded a member to come with me. When Howard Guinness finished he invited people who wanted to hear more to go to Frank Bergin's home nearby. I turned to my friend, Betty Price, and asked, 'would you like to come?' 'Yes'. I was too shy to speak to Betty on the way home, but some time later she was converted and we did Bible studies together. Betty subsequently became President of the CU and eventually principal of a teacher's training college. The CU didn't look back...

Phyl Bennett went on to serve CUs during the war as part of the [UCCF] Staff team.


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