It’s hard not to be aware of the Christian Union. Even if you’ve never been to any of their (frequent) events in the Portland Building, you will undoubtedly have noticed the ‘text-a-toastie’ all-nighter they pull at least once a term. The idea is simple: people text their address and a question about Christianity and the friendly reps bring along an answer and a free toastie. The CU gets to talk about Jesus and everyone else gets free food – a win/win situation, right? Having an interest in both religion and deliciousness, I decided to spend the night with them (not in that way). Here’s what happened.
Before we began distributing theology-themed toasties, we all met in a church in Lenton for the religious equivalent of a pep talk. My childhood memories of religious music tend to be dreary hymns, but the songs these guys played were upbeat and actually quite enjoyable. It was the behaviour of much of the group that was the most entertaining, however. People had their hands outstretched in the air, their heads tilted upwards, looks of reverential devotion fixed on their faces. Two girls almost seemed to be in direct competition to outdo each other with their displays of veneration (the blonde girl won).
After a few more minutes of praising Jesus, we were ready to get down to work. As the event was aimed at the whole of Lenton, they spread us out around ten houses. The texts were sent to a HQ and then forwarded on to the nearest house. My catchment area being around Rothesay Avenue.
After meeting my group of six, I confirmed my first observation of the evening. Members of the Christian Union are nice. Like, really nice. I half suspected that behind closed doors they all turned into massive raging twats, but apparently not. My group made me feel welcome even though I was a) an Atheist (bad) and b) from Impact (worse), and I felt like I’d known them for years.
We quickly set up a toastie making production line in the kitchen that would have made Henry Ford and Stakhanov blush. We even used proper branded bread. The disciples of Christ don’t sink to Tesco Value, evidently. After a few minutes the questions started to arrive. Some of them were very interesting, like “If God exists, why does evil exist?” Others were unbelievably crap. “What river was Jesus baptised in?” Srsly? Your single-minded pursuit of toasties is obvious and you shall feel bad, 70 Rothesay Avenue.
As said, there were some genuinely fascinating questions and we got to spend 45 minutes discussing abortion and euthanasia with a conflicted medical student. Unfortunately, the answers the CU reps gave never really seemed to deviate much from the line of “We love and trust Jesus” and there wasn’t much hardnosed theology on display. I’m sure there may be some in the Christian Union who are into the more intricate side of religion, but everyone I had contact with didn’t really seem that bothered. The big questions of science and morality seemed to be of secondary significance to praising God repeatedly.
And here the controversy lies. In its day-today operations, the Christian Union directs most of its energy into converting as many as students as possible. Events like text-a-toastie exist purely to tempt the uninitiated into picking up a Bible. I normally would find this aggravating, but their constant good-nature and openness makes it difficult to get angry about anything. I suppose there is an arrogance to the belief that their deity should be the one we all believe in, but I also think there is room to accommodate this within a University. And given that ‘lad culture’ is so prevalent on campus, frankly, it’s nice to have a counterweight. I began my text-a-toastie experience expecting to be irritated out of my mind, but their incessant friendliness actually made it an enjoyable evening.
The numerous nutella toasties didn’t hurt either.