Dr Sylvia Collinson was only eight-years-old when her long association with Scripture Union began.

“It began with reading Scripture Union notes at the age of eight...” the 62-year-old recalls. “We had a little mission sort of thing at Sunday school and you had to put up your hand if you were going to be a Christian and I did. I came home and my mother said 'Well now, if you are a Christian, you'll have to start reading the Bible for yourself. Here are some Scripture Union notes to get you started’. It was kind of a pattern in the family and we just realised we were old enough and that just become a pattern in our lives."

Sylvia Collinson.

 

“It began with reading Scripture Union notes at the age of eight...” the 62-year-old recalls. “We had a little mission sort of thing at Sunday school and you had to put up your hand if you were going to be a Christian and I did. I came home and my mother said 'Well now, if you are a Christian, you'll have to start reading the Bible for yourself. Here are some Scripture Union notes to get you started’."

The relationship has continued ever since - Dr Collinson went on to complete as many as 10 beach missions with the organisation and in more recent times has served on the boards of both South Australia (as vice chairperson) and Western Australia (as chairperson). Earlier this year, Dr Collinson, a former primary school teacher who these days lives in Baulkham Hills in Sydney, was appointed chairperson of Scripture Union Australia.

Scripture Union traces its origins back to 1857 when Josiah Spiers gathered 14 children together in Islington, London, and began sharing Christ with them. His efforts, which were followed by an informal ‘beach mission’ in North Wales the following year, led to the creation of the Children’s Special Service Mission which eventually became Scripture Union. The organisation now operates in more than 130 countries.

Dr Collinson, who who works as a lecturer at Morling College in Sydney, says the organisation has two broad arms two arms - one promoting “thoughtful and regular” Bible reading and a second which focuses on evangelism, particularly with children, young people and families.

The organisation’s work revolves around a small paid staff and thousands of volunteers across Australia, many of whom might work with Scripture Union for only a few days every year.

The emphasis of the work varies from one state to the next. In Queensland, for example, SU employs more than 600 chaplains using Federal Government funding while in New South Wales, the organisation ran some 56 beach missions last summer drawing on the aid of more than 2,000 volunteers (beach missions are also big in Victoria). 

In Western Australia, there is a drama group that works in both primary and high schools and SU in that state, as well as Victoria, runs a camps program for students. Some states also run camps for the families of prisoners.

As well as having been involved with beach missions and, particularly in the past few decades, the administration of the organisation, Dr Collinson is also one of a group of people around the world who contributes to Scripture Union’s Bible notes known as Encounter with God. It has a readership of some 60,000 people spread across the English-speaking world.

“I am often humbled when I find out that principals of theological colleges around the place are reading Encounter with God...” notes Dr Collinson, who has been contributing since 1997. “As you’re writing it, it’s a good way of keeping you working pretty hard at getting something that’s both true to the text, true to the exegesis yet is challenging to people at that sort of level.”

Dr Collinson says that as well as writing something that challenges people on a daily basis in their faith walk, when writing the pieces “you also need to be aware that you’re writing for English-speaking people in South Africa, in America, throughout Asia, who are in very different political situations than we are in Australia or England”.

For Dr Collinson, Scripture Union's greatest challenge lies in it’s ability to maintain its relevance, given the pace at which the world is changing.

“Things like, say, beach mission. In the past, Australians have gone away on holidays and mum and dad have been very glad the kids were child-minded but in some places there’s more hesitation now by some parents to let their children go to a tent with some people that they don’t know. So, as an organisation (it’s about) finding ways of continually adapting to new situations and still being relevant.”

“There’s no them and us," says Dr Collinson of the relationship between Scripture Union and the church.

Dr Collinson says the close relationship the organisation has with local churches remains absolutely key to the success of Scripture Union, described by some as the “handmaiden of the church”.

“There’s no them and us,” she notes, adding that Scripture Union is always keen to get young people involved and connected with their local church.

In fact, Dr Collinson notes, churches who encourage young people to be involved in Scripture Union’s activities will find the young people come back to the church with greater skills, gifts and enthusiasm for the things of God.

She adds that one of the strengths of Scripture Union is that it involves people from across a wide spectrum of denominations.

“I think that’s the value - you come together on a team from a whole lot of different churches and you don’t even ask what denominations people are. Scripture Union has actually worked hard at not adopting particular responses to say baptism or church government or issues like that that would separate people. The unifying factor is that we’ve got this Gospel, it’s in the Scriptures, and we want to convey that to other people we don’t know.”

Asked what’s kept her involved with the organisation over so many years, Dr Collinson cites the impact Scripture Union has had on her own life. 

“To be quite honest, Scripture Union has had a bigger impact on my life than a local church, even though I’m totally committed to a local church and have always been a part of it,” she says. “I think Scripture Union has always had a more exciting Christianity for me...it sort of pushes the boundaries out. When people are involved with mission, it strengthens their own spiritual walk with God and their own skills. 

“I guess I’ve benefited enormously from Scripture Union in my own life and it excites me to allow that to happen to others...I am excited to see the work continuing.”

www.scriptureunion.org.au