Happy 150th birthday to chappies, camps and clubs

Scripture Union, a mission movement to children, young people and families, will celebrate its 150th anniversary on Saturday October 21 at The King’s School in Parramatta in Sydney’s west.

Its rich history will be on show in a photo timeline display, which should bring back memories for anyone who has ever been involved in sharing the gospel at its holiday camps, beach missions and through chaplaincy in some states.

To mark the historic milestone, Eternity has found people who have benefited from the ministry of Scripture Union. Be encouraged.

Beach Mission – Jan Syme (leader, Sorrento, VIC)

In the early 1980s Jan Syme led the Year 5 and 6 girls on a beach mission at Sorrento, two hours’ drive south of Melbourne

“One day in particular, about four or five of them made commitments to Jesus. It was amazing. It just seemed to be the right time for each of them,” says Jan.

“Beach mission confirmed to me that the most exciting thing in life is seeing people become Christians.” – Jan Syme

“Most of the girls had been coming to beach mission since they were little kids, so some were from Christian families, some of them not. So much had gone into those girls’ lives before the beach mission – I just happened to be there at the right time and right place and witnessing it. I don’t think we did anything out of the ordinary; we just sat and talked about the [Bible] stories and prayed and supported each other, and caught up at other times too.

“The girls were so ready in a sense, they already knew so much … and they made serious decisions [to follow Jesus] but they didn’t make them lightly. They knew what they were doing.”

The experience has stuck with Jan, who went on to study at the Church Army College of Evangelism after that beach mission. She says, “beach mission confirmed to me that the most exciting thing in life is seeing people become Christians and that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And 30-plus years later, it’s still part of my life.”

Sorrento Beach Mission began in 1946 and closed down in 2004.

Quest Club – Greg Clarke

In a friend’s home in the NSW town of Armidale, on a weekday after school, God drew me close. The occasion was the weekly meeting of “Quest Club,” led by the indefatigable Jacinth Myles who, I suspect, also supplied the carbohydrates required by primary school kids around 3.30pm.

Quest Club gathered primary school aged kids to teach them how to read the Bible using Quest Notes, the simple but effective guides to Bible reading produced by Scripture Union.

“God’s word set me free” – Greg Clarke

In about 15 minutes, I learned to read a small section of Scripture, ask some comprehension questions about it, and then try to fit that passage into a broader understanding of the Bible’s framework from Genesis to Revelation. It was life-changing.

Ever since, that has been my basic approach to the Bible: read closely, observe, contextualise, internalise (I didn’t use those words at age ten!) I moved on to Key Notes in high school, and then for some time Daily Bread, before I left behind that style of devotions.

I have to thank my parents for connecting me with Scripture Union. I also recall a couple of great years at Scripture Union-run beach missions, connecting Christianity with holidays, sun and sea, and playfulness. These are great associations that liberate a child from a wrong view of religion. God’s word set me free, and I am delighted to be celebrating 150 years of Scripture Union’s ministry in Australia.


Chaplaincy – Violet and Holly (Queensland)

In January 2016, six-year-old Violet was due to start school in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. Instead, she was in hospital starting cancer treatment. Hopeful of her recovery, her teacher kept her desk free. Meanwhile, Kylie Conomos, the chaplain at the school, encouraged her classmates to write letters of support and friendship to Violet.

Holly was in Violet’s class and had written a letter to Violet to say she wanted to sit with her in class, recalls Violet’s dad, Craig.

A few months later, Holly was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Chappy Kylie (using the name they like to use) supported the family and friends at school while Chappy Sarah Petchell constantly walked alongside the girls as they progressed through their treatments in hospital. It’s clear when talking to Holly what a difference her chappies made, particularly Chappy Sarah at the hospital. “She’s very funny. She talks about a lot of funny things,” says Holly.  Chappy Sarah admits she does try to be funny with the kids.

“I consider it a joy and an honour to work with sick children.” – Sarah Petchell

“Humour is my way of relating to kids and trying to bring a bit of joy and fun to the situation. I try to tell jokes, bring some giggles,” she says.

“One time we drew all over my gown with the colouring stuff that Violet had. We were very naughty, we lay on the floor. When you’re in hospital with leukaemia there’s a million rules. Just breaking those rules, kids love it.”

Sarah says she feels called to do this work. “I consider it a joy and an honour to work with sick children.”

“I think it’s an honour to cry for children, to be with them in their pain because they don’t pretend things don’t hurt. And they vividly illustrate how much things hurt; they really scream their heads off. It’s kind of beautiful and an honour to be with them during that pain.”

*SU QLD has asked Eternity to note that school chaplains work in full compliance with state government guidelines.

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