Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, shares some of the testimonies of recent Wilberforce Academy delegates.
It’s over two weeks since student newspapers, followed by national papers, covered the apology apparently made by the Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, for hosting our Wilberforce Academy.
Year after year, the Wilberforce Academy brings together students and young professionals who want to make a difference for Christ in their professions and vocations.
Sadly, some other students, often enabled by journalists, want to portray the week-long academy as hateful or distressing. The staff and others who meet us on campus never seem to share this opinion – only those who later discover we are there and seek to shut down our historic, orthodox Christian views.
Fiona Bruce MP shared in a Public Bill Committee that she had spoken at one of our academies:
“I have actually spoken at one of its conferences; the students who attend the conference are serious young people seeking to inform themselves about issues of the day. We need to encourage that, not shut it down.”
She’s right – these are serious young people. Let’s start listening to the people who have actually been to the Wilberforce Academy rather than journalists seeking to stir up trouble.
We asked some of this year’s students to share their testimonies of what Wilberforce Academy was like. I’m sharing them below, keeping names anonymous for these young people’s protection.
“Wilberforce Academy was a wonderfully enriching experience for me. I was able to engage with considerate and articulate Christian believers, deeply motivated to address injustices in society, stand for the marginalized and gracefully share the loving message of eternal hope through Jesus Christ. I’ve never been in a more welcoming environment!” (Consultant)
“My experience at the Wilberforce Academy was informative, helpful, and overwhelmingly positive. It caused me to think and reflect on the world and what the truth is. I’ve never attended a conference where everyone was so filled with love, respect, and friendship for one another right from the start.” (Student)
“The Wilberforce Academy was an insightful conference on engaging positively, and lovingly, with the culture today as Christians.” (Consultant)
“My experience at Wilberforce Academy was wholly positive – everyone I met was so kind, we had a lot of laughs and I know I’ve made friends for life. We were always encouraged to discuss everything we were taught, to ask questions and to think for ourselves. It was a fantastic week which I would recommend to friends and family.” (Student)
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Wilberforce Academy. It was fantastic to meet so many loving and caring Christians who are passionate about sharing the love of Jesus and making a positive contribution to society. Sessions were led by expert speakers who engaged exceptionally well with the audience by taking questions and inviting all to share their thoughts and opinions. As a result, I feel more confident in who I am, more aware of a variety of philosophical views, and better prepared to engage with others sensitively and respectfully. I would definitely recommend the Wilberforce Academy to any young person interested in diving deeper into the Christian faith.” (Teacher)
“The Academy was a great experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from and making connections with Christians in different spheres of life.” (Student)
“The Wilberforce Academy 2021 transformed my thinking about public life and what it means to serve people within my community with sacrifice and love in truth.” (Designer)
“I met and heard many Christians at the Academy who displayed a great compassion for those who are suffering, and a desire to uphold the lawful rights and freedoms of the individual.” (Student)
“The academy gave me a sense of community that I have never felt before. It allowed me to be myself and taught me how to navigate life as a Christian. Overall, it was such a joyful time with people from all sorts of backgrounds!” (Student)
“The Academy was a very positive and insightful experience for me. It provided a welcoming environment among a Christian generation genuinely seeking for society’s wholesome wellbeing.” (Teacher)
“The Wilberforce Academy was a profound experience, giving me an opportunity to discuss and think about topics that are not spoken about widely in today’s society. Everyone I met there was genuine, thoughtful and respectful of others opinions, even when they disagreed.” (Finance Professional)
“It was wonderful experience exploring different ideologies with a gentle and compassionate group of diverse Christians.” (Student)
“I’m so grateful to have had such a positive experience at Academy. It was wonderful to have had the opportunity to hear lots of different people share their personal stories. The academy is about showing the love of Christ in the many different areas of our society.” (Stylist)
“The Wilberforce Academy is a masterclass in speaking the truth in love. It awakened my mind to the riches of God’s Word and its relevance for every area of individual and social life, but the greatest commandment God gave us as Christians – to love Him with everything we are, and love others as we love ourselves – was always at the heart of every discussion we had. As an educator and researcher, I was equal parts challenged and inspired to do the good work God has prepared in advance for me.” (Student)
“I got to meet some of the most open and friendly Christians.” (Student)
“The Wilberforce Academy provided not only incredible teaching but a space where Christians could discuss and share opinions without the fear of being cancelled themselves. It embraced free speech in a loving and gracious environment where every conversation had love and understanding at its heart. I have been truly blessed to have made lifelong friends with Christians from all different denominations, encompassing a whole range of beliefs and values, and to have gained a deeper Christian understanding of issues facing our society today. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and can’t thank the Wilberforce Academy enough for such a wonderful week.” (Charity Supporter)
“The Wilberforce Academy was a life changing week for me. I made friends for life and learnt more about God’s heart for our world and how we can best play our part in bringing that to fruition. I have already recommended it to many of my friends.” (Designer)
“The Academy has helped me more than anything to realise the power of having a voice and freedom of speech particularly as someone working to protect these freedoms.” (Analyst)
“A most helpful week listening to, discussing and talking through a wide range of topics with fantastic group of young and energetic Christians, many of whom I now consider friends for life.” (Student)
“The Academy has been my highlight of the year. It was wonderful to be around and learn from fellow Christians who have found true joy and freedom in living for Jesus Christ.” (Healthcare Professional)
“I enjoyed the thoughtful sessions covering important issues, in particular the personal stories shared by those who have left unwanted LGBT feelings behind. They were deeply moving and opened my eyes to the struggle of so many in our society.” (Non-Profit Worker)
“I found the week eye opening and answer to so many questions about the type of world we live in. The Truth was communicated and quenched my thirst! This also led to an heightened level of tolerance and love to those around me.” (Civil Servant)
“The Wilberforce Academy was an impactful and life changing experience. Christian Concern provides a platform for me as a Christian to freely express my identity, to meet with other Christians, grow, develop, and this ensures my wellbeing. The sessions were truly transformational, gave me a voice, I have been empowered and I am better equipped to contribute to society, for the better.” (Civil Servant)
“Wilberforce Academy has been life changing. Not only did it teach me how to apply my faith in my career and many areas of my life, it also taught me how to be the beacon of hope that the world needs today which is to show, preach and live the Love of Christ.” (Consultant)
“The Academy was an amazing time of learning about the historical and cultural context of the United Kingdom. It provided a safe place to learn about the Christian faith and how we can engage with the world around us. One of the best weeks I’ve had this year and I would definitely recommend it to Christians that want to learn how to engage with society from a Christian worldview.” (Pastor)
“My time at Wilberforce was such a blessing, everyone was so friendly and hospitable and there was a safe space created within our time at the college that truly exemplified what inclusive freedom of speech looks like. It seems that we live in a world where safe spaces to discuss different world views are hard to find and the beauty of Wilberforce Academy was that each and every delegate were given the opportunity to feel empowered to hold on to our primary identity as Christians, holding fast to our Christian world views.” (Strategic Planner)
“The inclusively organised event and attendees have shown a huge heart of love founded in Jesus Christ for their neighbours by willingly going the extra mile to help. The week filled me with hope that the Gospel is still alive and practised and that it is being lived out by so many individuals.” (Engineer)
The Wilberforce Academy exists because many historically Christian institutions – like Worcester College itself – have drifted from their Christian moorings. May God continue to raise up these young people so that, in time, we see journalists, politicians, thought leaders and maybe even Provosts who understand the positive influence of Christianity and want, like us, to see Jesus at the heart of society.
If you’re interested in attending Wilberforce Academy 2022, you can register your interest at wilberforceacademy.org.uk