Christian Unions are seen by some as legalistic, boring and irrelevant but CU leaders Chaplain Rev Alice Monaghan and English teacher Violet Taylor argue passionately that they need to continue
Tell us about your school and Christian Union
Alice: Westonbirt is a co-educational independent day and boarding school in the Cotswolds for ages 2–18. I run a year 7 to year 11 Christian Union where everyone is welcome plus a separate sixth form CU, which is mainly focused on Bible study.
Violet: Trinity School is a co-educational state-funded Christian comprehensive for 11–18 year olds in Sevenoaks, Kent. It was founded by a Christian governing body as a faith school and 50 per cent of our intake comes from regular churchgoers. Each year group has its own CU. I run the sixth form CU.
Are CUs in UK schools flourishing or declining?
Alice: I think they reflect the overall state of the Church in the UK at the moment, which has struggled since COVID. With school restrictions or no school, children have got out of the routine of attending CU.
Violet: Our school, being Christian, has healthy CUs, but, in general, I think CUs are decreasing. Sixth-formers in particular tend to see CU as restrictive, as their worldview says you can believe whatever you like and act however you like. They think Christianity is all about negatives: “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t drink. Don’t have sex before marriage.”
So is it more difficult to be a Christian at school now?
Alice: In previous generations, people respected Christians, whereas nowadays being a Christian is often seen as shameful.
Violet: It can be very difficult to stand out as a Christian at school, especially if you’re a teenager without support from a good church, youth group or Christian camp. As a Christian teenager you need to be secure in your identity in Jesus to not follow the herd and drink to excess etc. It’s not because you are boring, but because you belong to Jesus. My late teenage years weren’t easy. I had some tough things happen, but I hope sharing testimonies of God’s faithfulness to me during that difficult time can help other teenagers make good decisions.
What are the pros of Christian Unions?
Alice: There are so many pros. I think CU really encourages those who are Christians as it’s a great place to ask questions and listen to different opinions. It’s also very safe as people can feel accepted for who they are.
Violet: CUs act as a Christian presence in the school and offer community and fellowship with older kids acting as role models for the younger ones. My CU group appreciate that it’s a safe space to talk about things they’re going through and that I will pray with them and encourage them as much as I can. It’s great to see them grow in their faith as they discover God’s faithfulness.
My passion is depth, not breadth – numbers are less important than helping teenagers live their faith out at school and home
And the cons?
Alice: CU is quite hard to come to as it isn’t seen as cool. I sometimes wonder if we should update the name to be more user-friendly for non-Christians, but being called Christian Union does make it clear what it is.
Violet: I think there’s a danger of becoming too formulaic, while the way we tend to follow well-worn paths can feel a bit old-fashioned. I think it’s time for a revamp.
Can CUs encourage members to grow in their faith?
Alice: Definitely. Sometimes we watch teaching videos and we’ll often explore big life questions like ‘Why am I here?’ or examine the evidence for important questions about the truth of Christianity such as: ‘Did Jesus actually rise from the dead?’ Prayer is key and it’s completely normal for us to pray for each other or go for a prayer walk on a nice day. I’m quite arty so we’ll make cards or bookmarks or do mindful colouring of scripture print-outs – it’s a good way of memorising verses! I often ask CU members to read in Chapel because they read with understanding – the words are precious and holy to them.
Violet: One of the main roles of the CU is to encourage deeper faith in its members. We chat and explore what faith looks like in everyday life, pray a lot and as leaders try to model what we believe. It’s all about mentorship.
How has your CU evolved?
Alice: I don’t want Christian Union to feel like a lesson (although we do meet in a classroom) and I don’t insist they come – it’s completely voluntary. I do try to make it somewhere they want to be and I’ve experimented with lots of different activities to find what works well. I often give them options to choose from and I love it when they come up with ideas. I want them to own CU, not just participate.
Violet: At first, I was trying to do a bit of everything – social events, evangelising, faith building sessions – but it felt like I was just skimming the surface. I prayed about it a lot and asked: “What is the purpose here? Who is this for?” In the end, I realised there were lots of seeker-friendly Christian spaces, but not much for a young person who has said ‘Yes’ to faith but needs help on how to live as a Christian, so that’s my focus. My passion is depth, not breadth – numbers are less important than helping teenagers live their faith out at school and home.
Why are Christian Unions so important in schools?
Alice: Because they are safe places where students can get encouraged, built up and assured that it’s a really good thing to be a Christian. There’s also a precious sense of community which brings different ages together and even staff and pupils.
Violet: I think they should continue because if they don’t, what space is there for a student who wants to explore their faith? CUs offer young people discipleship and give them valuable tools that help them stand strong as Christians rather than give in to prevailing morality.
The impact CU has had on me
A current and former secondary school student explain what CU has meant to them.
I’m more open about my faith - Attending CU helped me realise the importance of making space for God. Having a regular time to meet with Christians, learn more about God and pray, brings calm amid the busy school day. It’s challenged me to be more open about my faith. I used to be afraid to tell people where I was going, but now I feel more confident and even like it when people ask me questions about my faith. Year 12 pupil, Westonbirt
CU shaped my approach to leadership - The strong community, freedom to explore life’s big questions and leadership training I experienced in CU was a great foundation for university and work and prepared me to lead ministries at a local and regional level. CU taught me how powerful a shared vision was and not to be afraid of doing something distinct and different. This lesson has shaped my leadership ever since. Rachel, health psychologist
FIVE REASONS TO SUPPORT CHRISTIAN UNIONS
1. They help members to connect with God while at school.
2. CUs provide a safe space in which to ask big questions.
3. They encourage students to live out their faith in the everyday.
4. They unite those who love Jesus from different year groups, backgrounds and cultures.
5. CUs are training grounds that help young people learn how to serve and lead.