Based on five years of coming to Forum, and heading towards my sixth, here’s my 10 top ways of maximising your Forum experience!
In my experience, Forum can guarantee you many things – vibrant worship, on-the-money workshops that scratch where you’re itching and glorious glimpses of Christ from the Scriptures – but one thing that can’t be guaranteed is the weather (don’t believe anyone who says different!). In my first Forum as a second year student I arrived forgetting that September wasn’t summer, and Shropshire wasn’t Spain and got, shall we say, a touch damp. Last year I arrived with wellies and I would say a very fetching raincoat only to be sunburnt within the first two hours. Lesson? Prepare for anything – expect the unexpected – and you’ll be just fine!
2. Get to know one another
You know what it’s like – term gets busy, deadlines approach quickly and it can feel like you have to rush from one thing to the next. It’s hard to build those deeper relationships with your mates in CU, and so some time away together, after a long summer apart (very long for some of you!), provides you with a tip-top opportunity to hang out and grow your friendships. So, if you’re cooking, cook together. If you’re eating, eat together. If you’re washing…well, it doesn’t work for everything, but make the most of this five-day time away.
3. Actually use the bookshop!
“But I have some already that I haven’t even read yet” said every Christian student in the UK – and that’s okay! Me, too. But you’ll never get books as cheap as when you’re a student, and IVP do a fantastic job of resourcing us with everything from Bibles and commentaries to Uncover resources and books on a whole load of juicy theological topics and everyday issues of the Christian life. Plus, my top tip: If you arrive at Forum early, make a beeline for the stall. They often make a limited selection of damaged books available at brilliant prices – so if you don’t mind a bent page or two, and love a good bargain, then you’re in for a treat.
4. Enjoy all of life
Coming together corporately to hear God’s word and sing his praise is special indeed. But God’s not only interested in preaching and praising but in pubs and pictures and playing (and even things that don’t begin with P!). God made the earth and everything in it, made us creative and physical not dull and floaty – so see Forum as a chance to enjoy your humanity with your mates from CU! How? Well make sure you plan the year, but also play in the football tournament. Design your mission strategy but also express yourself in the arts project. Plan your Uncover launch but bask in the Forum Fringe fun. Read by the lake. Sing by the fire. Enjoy!
5. Plagiarise your socks off
There aren’t many times in student life when plagiarism should be actively encouraged (although my degree mark could have benefited from some copying, that’s for sure) but Forum is absolutely one of them. Not sure how to reach arty people on your campus? Ask the Arts College CU members! Can’t think of how to deal with the restrictions of your SU? Ask the people in the tent next to you! Struggling to motivate Freshers / partner with churches / love international students / maximise Uncover? Well wouldn’t it just be a brilliant idea to get a field, and pack it with 1,000 other CU leaders brimming with experience and ideas for you to rub shoulders with for five days? Someone should definitely organise that! Oh… wait a minute…
6. Influence the way things are done
My experience as a student in a smaller CU and a Relay Worker and now as a Staff Worker is that UCCF is a family – of students, staff , relays and supporters. One of the ways in which this is expressed is that the views and thoughts and dreams and opinions of members of the family are valued and welcomed.
At Forum , YOU can play your part in shaping what’s going on! So, invite your region’s Student Council Rep over for dinner (you’ll meet them on night one) and give honest feedback about what’s going well and what you’d like to see different. Grab your regional Team Leader or even one of the Directors and discuss that genuine concern about the challenges of your patch. As Jack Johnson would say: “We’re better together” – so do engage with these opportunities. The family will be better off for it.
7. Get to know your Staff Worker and Relay Worker
When I was a student, I ended up sharing an illogically small tent with Ben my Staff Worker which was interesting at times but it meant we got to know each other very well indeed! As well as him bringing food for me from the staff catering option (don’t tell anyone), I got to learn from him, realise he was a normal guy, ask questions, hear him snore, and have a laugh. These relationships work to their full when we all realise we’re brothers and sisters, so why not live that out over Forum? Invite your Relay Worker for dinner or to attend a workshop with you. Even if you don’t know them. Especially if you don’t know them! Go to a Forum Fringe After Hours gig with your Staff Worker. Maybe even play a prank on them… though when I arrived back at my tent in the pitch black to find that my sleeping bag had been swapped for an open carton of milk, that was probably a bit much.
8. Pace yourself
With so much on offer in the programme, it can feel at times like you want to get to everything that is happening. But remember, you have five days. Pace yourself, enjoy the free time and rest well. A way you can do this is by splitting up your crew to go to different things, then feedback the highlights over dinner!
9. Be real with the Lord
If you’re like me, summers are tricky things. Loads of fun, but no routine. It’s great because you might go back to your family for a period of time. But it’s hard, because you might go back to your family for a period of time. I often feel even now in the summer months that with routine gone, CU meetings absent, church programmes a bit quieter, I can grow really quite cold-hearted. Unlike His love for me, my love for Jesus yo-yos, and I’ve often landed at Forum with a glossy outside and a nice Christian smile but often feeling low, frustrated and beaten by sin in my life. Each year, I’ve been encouraged from the front to engage with the Lord as I really am, for that is the Rich Pitt He wants – the real me, the messy me. Don’t pretend at Forum. Why would we, when grace upon grace is available for those who come to Him they are? What a Saviour.
10. Remember it’s all about Him
Lastly, with all the meetings to run and speakers to book – let alone thousands of unbelievers to convert – leading a CU can feel like a huge weight on our shoulders. Well, come to Forum, and be reminded that it’s not about you, it’s about Him. Realise there’s 1,000 others walking it with you. Supporters giving and praying to enable you. Staff and Relays praying and preparing and doing what they can to support you. But even more than that – there’s a God in Heaven who runs out to the dirty, the filthy, the broken, the lost and embraces them and brings them home.
In the words of Graham Daniels from Forum in 2012: “It is sooooooo, noooooot, yoooooooour, woooooooork. JEEEEEESSSSUUUUUUUSSSS is the Looooooord of the haaaaarvest” or for those of us who don’t speak Welsh – “It is so not your work. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest”. What a truth – what a week to remember that. Glory to him! See you there.