In Islington, London, in 1867 Josiah Spiers and Thomas “Pious” Hughes began an evangelical Christian movement which became known as the Children’s Special Service Mission. It was less formal than Sunday Schools of the day and attracted children who in turn brought their friends. It grew into an international movement and by 1893 had distributed 13 million leaflets in 50 languages all around the world. Today it is called the Scripture Union and it operates in more than 130 countries.
In 1868, Spiers went on holiday to Llandudno and spontaneously held a children’s meeting on the beach. He drew the text ‘God is Love’ in the sand, invited children to decorate it, and then told them a Bible story. The Beach Mission was born.
Parents saw the Beach Mission as a safe place for children which would also give the parents some free time. The children had fun, and this and the ongoing programme encouraged them to return through the weeks of the mission and in successive years. A typical week day would start at 8.00am with ‘Gold Diggers’ where a volunteer and a small class of children would meet and discuss a short section of the Bible. From this section everyone would then pick a ‘password’ – which was a sentence or part thereof of the section. Throughout the day the children and volunteers would challenge each other to remember both the password and from where in the Bible it came. Later on in the morning there would be a service on the beach. The pulpit would be made of sand and a text would be added made up of brightly painted metal bottle tops. Instead of hymns, short choruses would be sung by all those attending. A story would be told by the volunteer chosen to host the service of the day. It was so much more fun than Sunday School and children learned about Jesus and the Christian faith through happiness and example.
This wonderfully evocative photograph shows a large group of children at a Beach Mission held by the Children’s Special Service Mission at Rhyl. It is thought to date from the 1880’s and shows Water Street in the background.
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