by David Williamson, M.T.S.
University Christian Outreach is new club at Calvin Theological Seminary. So what is UCO? What will it do at CTS? For four years UCO has been an official club at Calvin College, but this year it will take on new dynamics and new goals as a seminary club. To get an idea of what UCO will look like at CTS, we thought we’d start by sharing about what UCO has looks like in other places.
University Christian Outreach has existed for forty years nationally and internationally. Its aim has been to transform college-age students into lifelong, mature Christian disciples. So on college campuses the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, Christian students are sharing the gospel with their peers as they themselves grow into mature disciples. In particular UCO has helped students encounter God in a profound way through vibrant worship, scriptural teaching, and faithful relationships. Of all the things that UCO does, there are a few things that make UCO a unique group. One is that it has a long history of being ecumenical—meaning inter-denominational. Another is that it charismatic, or that it seeks to draw students into a fuller understanding of the Holy Spirit.
There are many meanings to the word ecumenical. There are of course the ecumenical counsels of the early Church, and more recently the term has described theological dialog between leaders of various churches. The word hints at unity and wholeness. UCO is ecumenical in the sense that it is made of people who worship together though they come from and remain in many different Christian denominations. Christianity has sadly become fragmented with an ever-increasing number of different denominations. This doesn’t seem to fit with Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers. Unity is at the center of God’s heart, and yet there are very real differences that divide us. Some movements towards unity, like non denominational churches, often only result in yet still more denominations. UCO has rich experience working with Christians who are strongly attached to their doctrinal convictions, and yet also desire the unity that Christ prayed for. This means UCO is made up of Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Orthodox, Reformed Christians, Roman Catholics, and many other believers. Rather than ignoring our differences, people in UCO have remained committed to their own church but additionally work with, live with, pray with, and generally form intentional community together. There is a richness in regularly praying and sharing life with people who put their full hope in Christ and yet come from different faith traditions. Indeed, there is even much to learn from other Christians as well as much to offer.
The second unique characteristic of UCO is that it is charismatic. Like the word ecumenical, different people understand the word charismatic differently. What it means in UCO is that people are open to the Holy Spirit as described in the book of Acts or in epistles like the first letter to the Corinthians. For many Christians the Holy Spirit is the least understood person of the Trinity. UCO has a history of helping Christians understand what scripture teaches about the work and role of the Spirit and also helping students learn to recognize and even encounter the Holy Spirit in their lives afresh. This includes studying and applying Paul’s teaching about certain spiritual gifts like the gift of tongues or prophecy, teaching or healing. These gifts were intended for the building p of the church, and often the church is weakened by the absence of these and other gifts that God desires his people to use.
These unique dimensions of UCO also lead to a way that this club can serve the CTS community. UCO won’t function as it has traditionally by evangelizing and discipling undergraduates. Instead it will serve these primary purposes. Its first purpose will be provide opportunities for intentional discussion between seminary students with the chance to discuss topics like means for church unity (ecumenism), the work and role of the Holy Spirit (charismatic), or how to make disciples. UCO’s second purpose will be as a place for Seminary students to interact with students from Calvin College in the context of weekly worship times. Undergraduates have expressed that they do not often have any opportunity to interact with seminary students. Since UCO already exists as a club with undergraduates, all of their prayer and worship meetings will also be open to seminary students who are looking either to engage with under graduates and/or to put into practice the fruits of the discussions.
We look forward to seeing how this club will grow and form. We would encourage you to keep an eye out for UCO club events at CTS and come share your own experience with issues that affect the Church.
For more information about UCO, including meeting times for the spring, contact David Williamson: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website a www.ucoweb.org