Scripture Union History

Ripples over the ocean did not take long to reach sunny South Africa, a natural climate for CSSM’s outdoor evangelism.

In 1884 William Shripton, a member of the London committee, visited the Cape Colony, spent several months there and started a number of new SU branches. One of those was called the Acorn Branch, because it was run from Mowbray House, home of Mr and Mrs C F Cleghorn, which had an avenue of majestic oaks lining the drive way. Six years later Mrs Cleghorn reported to London that the branch was still going strongly, with no decrease in numbers.

By 1893 not only was there a large number of English speaking branches in South Africa, but the work had also spilled over into many Africa languages and Dutch.

At Nkanga in the Transkei there was a small branch run by Mr C S Green consisting of most of the little community, the African servants, the interpreter and his wife and the Bible woman. All of them had cards in Xhosa. The Butterworth branch in those early days had forty eight members, but, alas, two were reported to have died since the Union had started – a little touch indicating the intensely personal nature of the work.

Thus before the close of the century Scripture Union as a Bible Reading movement was deeply and broadly established in South Africa. The concept of membership was clearly understood. Membership meant belonging and carried with it the responsibility of “keeping up the reading of the daily portions”. Furthermore, membership gave rise to a sense of ownership and the obligation of propagating the activities of the movement. Wherever these principles have been operative in later history, success had been reported.

By 1900 SU had reached it majority. The first years of the new century produced a number of colourful characters who shone like bright lights in the early history of the movement.

Major Henry Guise
He spent a period helping Roddy Archibald, the CSSM worker in India, on half pay. It could have been that contact that generated a concern for South Africa and motivated him to visit in 1902.
Miss Jessamy Sprigg
Miss Jessamy Sprigg was another of those characters whose contribution to the establishment of SU in South Africa went largely unsung, despite the fact that she gave fifty years of unstinting voluntary service to the cause. The CSSM in 1937 recorded her visit to London for the first time in twenty three years. It acknowledged that “for a long time she had been devoting her time and strength to an untiring witness for the Master in south Africa”. The report went on to admit that she had “done a splendid work in the interest of SU”. Instead of basking the glory of the acclaim, her retort was, “Never again will I take seven months’ holiday!” The reason? Because she desired to return to her labours for the Master amongst young people of South Africa.
Oswin Bull
Oswin Bull completes the trio of these early campaigners. His contact with the movement reached back to an intimate memory of the founders of the movement. Years later he reminisced about “those wonderful old warriors, under God, who built the CSSM fabric so faithfully”.

On arrival in South Africa he discovered that SU readings were in many SCA branches. “For several years I wrote books of daily notes on them, which were translated into Dutch.” Bull continued to foster the Union’s growth in wider circles. Later, however, some of the SCA leaders for the various reasons began to want “another sort of reading, not necessarily consecutive”.One influential reason given was that South Africa should have its own scheme, rather than anything that anyone else was following. “It always seemed o me that less effective plans were followed,” said Bull.

Seaside Services
It is difficult to determine exactly when ripples of the first beach mission services in Llandudno in 1868 reached South African shores. It seems likely that Mr A C Playfair was the first to conduct seaside services for children in this country, thus giving the honours to Natal. He arrived from Scotland in about 1885 and worked in a soft goods business, devoting his spare time to Christian activities amongst children. Later he managed the Star Seaside Holidays for underprivileged children from Johannesburg. He died in 1948, having been a lover of children all his days.

The Cape was not far behind Natal in commencing seaside services. Kalk Bay had been a popular beach resort since the 1850s. Coaches ran daily trips from Diep River, linking up with the Wynberg area. The completion of the railway in 1883 was a high point in Kalk Bay’s popularity.

In 1892 “some seaside services were held during January at Kalk Bay by Dr Dudley Kidd of the South African General Mission and Percy Huskisson of the Cape General Mission. There were morning and afternoon meeting for children and evening services for adults. About one hundred and fifty attended the ‘Goodbye Service’ in the Sand Cathedral.”

Millard Arrives
Two years at Wadham College, Oxford followed. He soon concluded that that experience would not give him the training in spiritual things he desired for his life’s service. He left and went to the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, and there under guidance of Dr D M McIntyre he was prepared for his future ministry. All vacations were spent at CSSM missions and camps.

He responded in April 1922 and was appointed to the CSSM staff.

On 17 November 1924 Frank Millard landed at Cape Town – the first paid CSSM staff worker in South Africa. From every point of view he was the ideal choice for the task. His coming from a Christian home, education in a British public school, training for leadership in the army, a spell at Oxford University, Bible training at the Glasgow Bible Training Institute and children’s work experience all contributed towards a meticulous preparation for his God-chosen career. Physically he was powerfully built, adept at walking on his hands or doing back-flips, fearless at diving from heights and in every way a man’s man – to say nothing about the ladies. Added to all that, his personality was packed with Irish charm. What he couldn’t achieve through a good physical shove, he accomplished with disarming charm.

Scripture Union was born one summer evening in London in 1867. A young British office worker, Josiah Spiers, took a group of children from his Sunday School to a special meeting, conducted by an American named Payson Hammond. There were hundreds of children there and the service was unlike any other Spiers had even seen. The children were lively and enjoying themselves–and they could actually understand the teachings of the Bible! Spiers was greatly impressed with this lively, informal and effective approach to ministry to children. Soon, with the help of others, he began holding regular services for children with attendance in the hundreds. The Children’s Special Service Mission (CSSM) (which later became Scripture Union) was born.

Beach Programs Begin
The next summer Spiers was vacationing at the beach in Llandudno, Wales. As he watched some children making a garden of stones and seaweed in the sand, it occurred to him that the children could just as easily be making a Bible text. He was clearly concerned that the children should hear about Jesus, and how much God loved them. Calling the children around him, he began writing “God is Love” in the sand. Spiers encouraged them to decorate the letters with shells and sea weed. As the children played, he told them stories about Jesus. These beach programs were a vital step forward for Spiers and the CSSM, enabling him to make contact with wealthier families who could help fund this effort and giving him needed publicity. Soon after, he began receiving invitations to hold children’s special services around the country and the CSSM began to grow. Spiers stayed in leadership of this new ministry for forty years until his death.

SU in Over 130 Countries

From those humble beginnings, Scripture Union spread around the world. Today Scripture Union is active in over 130 countries worldwide, still working to introduce children and young people to Jesus and promote regular, serious Bible reading. The aims of SU are achieved in a wide range of ways appropriate to the country, culture and situation in each country. Movements in different countries or continents may run camps, school seminars, Primary and Secondary Bible study groups for students, produce Bible reading materials and other resources for churches, offer family counseling, education about AIDS, training for churches and children’s workers, and minister to urban children and youth or the handicapped.

SU is primarily a volunteer organization with a small number of staff who train, encourage and coordinate the many ministry workers worldwide. Scripture Union in each country is an autonomous organization. Scripture Union/USA, like each of the 130 movements, is governed by its own Council which meets three times annually. All Scripture Union movements and linked together by shared principles and a common calling.