Story of SU

In 1867 Josiah Spiers spoke to fourteen children in a drawing room in Islington, London, and began the pioneer work of sharing Christ with children in a way that relates to their real needs. This led to the founding of the Children’s Special Service Mission, or CSSM, which was later to become Scripture Union.

The following year, Spiers went on holiday to Llandudno in North Wales and began to share God’s love with the children he found there. He drew the text ‘God is Love’ in the sand, invited children to decorate it, and then told them a Bible story.

In 1877 Spiers was joined by others, including Tom Bishop, the first Honorary Secretary, and together they began the work of spreading the Good News nationally and internationally. By 1893, 13 million leaflets for children in fifty languages had been distributed around the world.

In 1879 Annie Marston, a Sunday School teacher at Keswick, in the north of England, wanted to encourage the children in her Sunday School class to read the Bible each day. Every Sunday she wrote out lists of passages for them to read. The next Sunday she discussed the passages with them, and answered their questions. As time went by, more and more children asked for the list of passages, so she wrote to Scripture Union (still with the name CSSM = Children’s Special Service Mission) in London suggesting that they should print the list of Bible passages for children to read. The first reaction of the General secretary and the Committee was negative. But Annie kept on writing to London, and eventually they gave way. The first Scripture Union Bible reading card appeared on 1 April 1879 with 6,000 members, all children. It was an immediate success and within months there were members as far away as Belgium, Spain and Russia. By 1887 there were 328,000 members in the UK alone. Booklets of notes were even published for troops in the trenches during the Great War from 1914-18, and this led to the first issue of Daily Notes in 1923.

In 1892 it was two students from Cambridge University, who came up with the idea for a camp. They wrote: “Our plan is as follows: to collect together as many as possible in tents, to provide for them all the sports and amusements dear to the heart of boys, and while in the midst of these enjoyments, to influence them more by example than by words.” It is reported “that on the last night some of the most unlikely ones, who had come to camp as a joke, told how they found Christ that week”. The following year, the Caravan Mission to Village Children (CMVC) was started using a bakers’ car. This later became part of CSSM.

In1960 the first International conference was held. Up to then, Scripture Union, with a few exceptions, was run from England. The conference at Old Jordans changed all that, and forged the way for SU to become autonomous National movements. The conference also agreed to form Regional councils, to which all National movements could belong, and an International council to link together the various Regional councils. It was understood that the International council would provide guidance and leadership, and would be a means of liaison between them. And finally the conference agreed on statements of our aims, belief and working principles as framework for all National movements.

Since then, we have gone on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that are relevant to people today and that give opportunities to respond to God’s love. Scripture Union still publish daily Bible reading guides for children, teenagers and adults. We are also exploring many new ways of bringing Christ more fully into the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.