An Ecumenical Community of Students:
Archival Documentation of Worldwide Student Christian Movements

An exhibit at the Yale Divinity Library: June - October 2014

This exhibit traces the history of ecumenical student Christian movements, featuring archival documentation from the Library's extensive holdings in this area.  Over the past 150 years these movements have provided community for Christian students and opportunities to engage with social issues of the time.

The Yale Divinity Library has extensive archival holdings related to ecumenical student Christian movements, as well as support agencies and leaders of these movements.

Finding aids are available online for the following collections:

National and international
student movements:

YMCA Student Division RG58

Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions RG42 RG42A

World Student Christian Federation RG46 RG46C ; WSCF Africa Region RG46D, Europe Region RG46E, North America Region RG46A;

United Student Christian Council RG239

National Student Christian Federation RG247

United Campus Christian Fellowship RG254

University Christian Movement RG235

Council for Ecumenical Student Christian Ministry RG107 RG107A

Regional and special
interest movements:

Chinese Students Christian Association in North America RG13

Student Christian Movement in New England RG57

University Christian Movement in New England RG88 RG88A

Support agencies for
student religious work

Council of Church Boards of Education RG236

National Association of College and University Chaplains RG167

National Campus Ministry Association RG64

New England Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education RG54

United Ministries in Higher Education RG104, RG104A

World Student Christian Federation, North American Board of Trustees RG46B


Timeline of Student Christian Movements in the USA

Italicized captions are taken from the book By Faith : Christian Students Among the Cloud of Witnesses by John B. Lindner, Alva I. Cox, Jr., and Linda-Marie Delloff.


The first national organization of Christian college student groups was formed in 1877 in Louisville, Kentucky. During a meeting of the National Board of the YMCA, Luther Wishard, then a student at Princeton University, invited students from other associations to meet separately from the adults. Twenty-five students representing twenty-one colleges – three of them black—met and formed the Intercollegiate YMCA.

Flyer for YMCA event

Luther Wishard


The first intercollegiate student Christian conference was a month-long event held at Mount Hermon School, Northfield, Massachusetts in 1886. Under the leadership of the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody, 251 students spent the month in classes and informal activities. The meeting was organized by Luther Wishard in his capacity as student secretary of the YMCA.

Dwight L. Moody

Robert Wilder

Another Princeton student, Robert Wilder, brought to Mt. Hermon vivid tales of missionary opportunities in India, where he had been born into a missionary family. He made sure that the missionary cause was presented each day, and he recruited fellow students to commit themselves to missionary work. He managed to secure commitments from one hundred of the students and organized some of them into deputation teams to travel to other campuses to recruit more students. One of the hundred students was John R. Mott, a senior at Cornell.

List of the "Mt. Hermon 100"

John R. Mott


A direct result of the recruiting activity of the deputation teams was the formation of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM) in 1888. The SVM remained a potent force in both student Christian movements and the mission life of the churches until the late 1960s. John R. Mott, who had become a YMCA student secretary following his graduation from Cornell, was named chairman of the SVM Executive Committee, a position he held until 1920.


The first of what would be nineteen quadrennial SVM conferences occurred in Cleveland, Ohio in 1891. More than 550 students affirmed as their goal: “the Evangelization of the World in this Generation,” which remained the slogan of the SVM into the 1920s. The missionary emphasis of the student Christian movement had been clearly established.


Student Volunteer Movement pledge card

SVM Application forms: 1895 1920

Founders of the World Student Christian Federation, 1895


John R. Mott arose as the central figure in student Christian movement history. He demonstrated incredible organizing ability on campuses, always displaying a conviction that student initiative was paramount. His worldwide view and his basic biblical framework of reference undergirded his work as chief architect of student Christian movements in this country and around the world. ….

Mott's service in both the student YMCA associations and the Student Volunteer Movement led him also to become a founder of the World's Student Christian Federation [later called World Student Christian Federation] in Vadstena, Sweden, in 1895. The WSCF brought together five Christian student movements: the Intercollegiate YMCA of the U.S.A. and Canada, the British College Christian Union, the German University Christian Alliance, the Scandinavian University Christian Movement, and the Student Christian Movement in Mission Lands…

The World Student Christian Federation has played a significant role in student Christian movements in the United States. Its study themes, conferences, and organizational structure have influenced the programs, activities, and organizational life of Christian students in this country.

The Intercollegiate YM and YWCAs and the SVM remained the most active and vital student Christian movements in the United States until after World War II. Regional and national intercollegiate gatherings contributed to the advance of the YM-YWCA programs….. Conferences included Bible study, prayer, and discussions of missions and social issues. Good-spirited rivalry was evident when college banners were displayed and students competed against each other on talent nights. Attendance of international students studying in this country was a major feature of the regional conferences.

The theological emphasis known as the Social Gospel, which emerged in the latter nineteenth century, gained a substantial foothold in the associations and produced a lasting interest in issues of social justice, sometimes prior to the parent bodies' and denominations' involvement.


Early in the twentieth century, the denominations began to develop active ministries to their own students. These efforts included experiments with college chaplaincies, student centers, and religious professionals in campus ministries. Such work paralleled that of the Ys, with the two only gradually becoming competitive.

Both the YM and the YWCAs had National Student Councils, which provided national leadership and direction for their respective movements. These councils remained separate until 1935, when they united to form the National Intercollegiate Christian Council (NICC)…

During the 1920s and 1930s denominational campus ministries grew stronger, and many leaders realized that competition and duplication of efforts would follow. …
A noticeable decline in the number of students participating in YM and YW campus associations was seen in the 1930s. Further, some denominational leaders perceived the Y associations to be too liberal both in theology and on social issues.


The burgeoning denominational campus ministries had no direct access to the World Student Christian Federation. The WSCF policy was to relate to one ecumenical agency in each member country, and the National Intercollegiate Christian Council, composed of the YMCA, the YWCA, and the SVM, was the U.S. member. That fact, coupled with a growing denominational interest in a united campus Christian ministry, resulted in establishing the United Student Christian Council in 1944 as a federation of student movements.

Taking its cue from its British counterpart as well as the WSCF, the USCC established a Study Department, which produced a steady stream of books, pamphlets, and articles to local campus groups.


Even though the popular impression of 1950s students was that they were a “silent generation,” not all were so silent. Each unit within the USCC held interracial meetings, even where such sessions were against the law. Resolutions call for the federal government to pass anti-lynching legislation were commonplace. International work camps brought students from many countries to help rebuild war-torn nations of Europe. Other students participated in work camps in this country.

Many students wanted more than a loose federation of national denominational student groups. In 1956, the United Student Fellowship had invited all denominational student Christian movements to respond to the call “to be one in mission” by forming one movement in the United States. By 1960 student movements from four denominations, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., the Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical United Brethren, had joined to create the United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF). The UCCF was an open, flexible fellowship that invited other denominations to join. The original dream was to create one ecumenical national student movement that would replace the loose federation of movements represented by the USCC.


To achieve greater organizational unity among the sCms, a formal merger between the United Student Christian Council and the Student Volunteer Movement took place in 1959. The new organization was named the National Student Christian Federation (NSCF), with the major result being increased visibility of the mission dimension of the gospel in the student movement. [The SVM became the Commission on World Mission of the merger-produced National Student Christian Federation of North America.]

The year 1959 not only marked the beginning of the NSCF, it was a pivotal year for another reason: the 18 th SVM Quadrennial Conference held in Athens, Ohio, December 27, 1959 – January 2, 1960. It marked the entry of the student Christian movement into the most tumultuous student decade in American history. Christian students would join secular students to demand civil rights legislation, oppose the Vietnam war, and demand changes in America's institutions – educational, religious, economic, and political.

Program material from the archives of the Student Christian Movement in New England

NSCF publication, 1963

Memo on "Student Christian Action in the Present Racial Crisis"


The 1960s also saw stirrings within the NSCF, which was burdened by bureaucratic requirements that limited its ability to act spontaneously in the political arena. In a desperate response to the major social and political events of civil rights and campus activism, Leonard Clough, the NSCF executive secretary, proposed a new ecumenical strategy at the 1965 General Assembly…. The proposal called for transforming the NSCF from a federation of national student Christian movements into a national federation of groups of Christian students.

Established in 1966, the University Christian Movement intended to be inclusive and flexible to provide freedom in responding to the needs of the world. Almost all of the existing denominational student movements dissolved themselves into the UCM and ceased to exist as independent movements…. The new body was to serve as a rallying point for Christians and others who shared UCM's concern for bringing about social change in the university and society…. In an organic relationship previously unknown in sCms, the movement went beyond the prevailing economic consensus to include individual Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. It also provided for relationship with other student organizations such as SDS and SNCC.

The UCM attempted a bold year-long experiment with new forms and methods of education, which culminated in a major student conference held in Cleveland, Ohio, over the 1967 Christmas holidays. Named “Process '67,” the experiment aspired to formulate and test a model of what university education should be.

Process67 brochure

Letter from Process67 participant describing the event's impact on his college campus

[UCM] leaders struggled to establish an ideological base on which all could agree. In the two-year encounter with ideology, local and regional UCM groups organized and were functioning around a variety of agenda items. Student interest groups focused on specific social issues, resulting in the formation of caucuses such as the Black Caucus, the Women's Caucus, the Radical Caucus, and the International Caucus. Each of these groups had a particular agenda and formed alliances with secular groups sharing mutual interests.

As a result of these various pressures and resulting fragmentation, the UCM General Committee confronted a realization of UCM's impotency to resolve the serious issues of the day. At a meeting of the General Committee in Washington, D.C., February 27 – March 1, 1969, the Ideology Task Force presented a paper calling for a definite break from previous UCM approaches to social change…. The committee could not reach a consensus. Further tension arose from reports of task forces and caucus groups. The Black Caucus requested substantial funds, which the General Committee could not supply. Indeed, the committee's sense of inadequacy was such that it actually voted to terminate the University Christian Movement.

In the years following the demise of the UCM, there was clear, intentional, and wide-ranging community building by local and regional student Christian groups. They sought to integrate into their lifestyle choices the values learned and affirmed by students in the 1960s. Some of the local and regional groups continued to use the UCM name…

"Radicals" challenging the UCM leadership at Process67


Since 1969, periodic attempts have been made to revive a nationwide ecumenical student movement. These efforts were prompted in part by the WSCF, which had developed a regional structure as a step toward decentralization. In 1972, the first such effort was made. A U.S. committee of students, campus ministers, and church bureaucrats met with representatives of the Student Christian Movement of Canada to discuss development of the North America Regional Committee of the World Student Christian Federation in North America (WSCF-NA). This committee was composed of a handful of persons who supported the regional secretary, and it involved no student groups. It functioned from 1972 to 1981 and was the only semblance of a national ecumenical student organization in the United States during that period.


A new attempt to establish an ecumenical student movement in the United States grew out of the 1981 WSCF General Assembly in San Francisco. The National Ecumenical Student Christian Council (NESCC) was organized to formulate plans for a continuing United States student movement. It self-destructed because of its inability to generate broad-based student support. As a result it ceased to exist after 1986.


During the latter half of the 1980s, national and regional denominational student meetings were revived… [An] impetus to renew ecumenical student activity grew out of these conferences. Denominational staff leaders, student work executives from mission boards, and the student work secretary for the YWCA organized the Council for Ecumenical Student Christian Ministry to create an infrastructure on which an emerging ecumenical student movement might stand. The intention was to do it in such a way that the sCm in the United States would find its life in the midst of sCms around the world through the WSCF. Provision for a national ecumenical experience became a reality in Louisville, Kentucky, December 28, 1990 through January 1, 1999.

The CESCM dissolved in 2009.

Flyer for CESCM gathering


The World Student Christian Federation North American Region is currently engaged in efforts to reinvigorate the student Christian movement in the U.S.

Throughout its own ups and downs, the World Student Christian Federation has provided infrastructure and coordination for student Christian movements worldwide since 1895. The following passages from The World Student Christian Federation 1895-1925: Motives, Methods, and Influential Women by Johanna M. Selles, provide a glimpse of the WSCF's significance as a unique ecumenical, international organization:

"The founding goal of the WSCF was to evangelize and reach out to students around the world through a global federation. That mission, however, was transformed in the process of reaching around the world. Different strategies were employed that promised the highest rate of success in winning students' confidence in the organization. Aggressive evangelism in the early years in China contrasted to the cautious incursions into Russian student politics in the early twentieth century. Students were targeted as being future world leaders. Experiments in conversation between denominations led to the recognition that dialogue with non-Christians and other faiths was also essential.…" p. 11:

"It is difficult now to imagine a time before national and international organizations were commonplace. The WSCF was a leader in creating a fairly simple structure that provided a world federation. Supported by the incessant travel of a handful of leaders, the Federation created a global presence through publications, speakers, telegraphy, and letters. Conferences in strategic locations created and supported student movements in countries where such an idea had never before been tried. The eager and increasing numbers of women students helped create a women's department with a dedicated woman leader. Ruth Rouse had a remarkable ability to keep in touch with women leaders, inspire and model leadership, and maintain a demanding schedule, as well as care for family members. Rouse was trained on the job as she pioneered and investigated the conditions of women students in countries such as Russia or worked with existing student movements in North America." p. 261

Ruth Rouse


More information about the history of student Christian movements in the USA is available in a video, based on the book "By faith: Christian students among the cloud of witnesses" by John B. Lindner, Alva I. Cox, Jr., Linda-Marie Delloff (Friendship Press, New York, 1991)



Additional documents

Flyer for Day of Prayer for College, 1886

Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions - Application form from 1895

Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions Application blank from 1920

Memo on "Student Christian Action in the Present Racial Crisis" (1963)

Letter from Linfield College student who had attended the Process67 program of the University Christian Movement, describing the impact on his campus

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Last modified: 12 June 2014
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