IT HAS been described as the world’s largest evangelical organisation, bringing Christianity to members of the armed forces since the 1800s.
The message of what SASRA – or the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Christian Association, to give it its full name – aims to achieve has even reached Shetland.
Representative Ian MacDonald was in the isles for a number of meetings to explain the work of the organisation, as well as the issues it faces.
In recent weeks he has been at Methodist and Baptist churches in Lerwick, the Brae Gospel Hall and the Cunningsburgh United Free Church.
He has also taken a service at the Ebenezer Hall in the town’s Navy Lane, and has met with Emmanuel pastor Jamie Tonge.
“Our organisation began in 1854 and our mission is to evangelise within the army and air force, although not the navy because they have their own organisation.
“We have our own Bible studies, and when people are converted we continue to work with them.”
Describing SASRA as the largest evangelical organisation in the world, he said the charity – run by ex-servicemen – gains access to serving officers in their barracks where ever they are stationed, although not being active serving officers they cannot go into current war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan.
Mr MacDonald said a growing number of people in the forces were increasingly interested in the Christian faith.
“These past two years we’ve been very encouraged, probably because we’ve got more servicemen and women than we’ve had for such a long time. We’ve given out 10,000 Bibles in that time, and people have responded very positively.”
Perhaps the only fly in the ointment for SASRA is the government’s failure so far to renew a charter which gives the organisation the freedom to do the work it does.
The charter, which gets renewed every five years, was due its latest renewal in June, but so far that renewal has still not gone through.
The charity’s work started informally in 1818 among troops in the Woolwich Garrison.
It was put on a more formal footing in 1854 when the then Chaplain General first issued a charter.
In 1887 The Soldiers’ Christian Association was formed, becoming The Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Christian Association when the Royal Air force was formed.
In 1938 the Army Scripture Readers and SACA amalgamated and in 1952 the name, The Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association was adopted.
Today, its chairman is chief of the army’s general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, who Mr MacDonald said had been a “tower of strength” for the charitable organisation.
Gospel music weekend
A weekend of musical entertainment proved popular for crowds from far and wide at the weekend.
Friday night saw singer Michael Harcus perform at the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick, along with local duo Clive and Trevor Jamieson.
Gale force winds may have stopped some from attending the Lerwick Baptist Church on Saturday night, but the night still promised a warm welcome for those who could make it.
During the evening a collection was taken for the charity Sam Chernobyl Relief – an organisation which gives hope to people still suffering from the effects of the nuclear disaster over 20 years ago.
Mr Harcus and his accompanying musicians are planning to head out to Belarus in January, and have been raising funds in the meantime to help those suffering from the disaster.
Another evening of Gospel evening followed on Sunday night, again at Lerwick Baptist Church.
A double celebration took place in Aith on Sunday to mark 150 years since lifeboats first started serving Scottish waters.
Fishermen’s Mission superintendent Paul Govier held a service to mark the work that has been carried out by volunteers to save lives at sea over the years.
However the day had a special added significance as well. The service also marked the 75th anniversary since the lifeboat station opened in the West Side.
Yell churches unite
An initiative has started in Yell which should help churches on the island work more closely together.
A group has been formed working under the banner of “Yell Churches Together”, which boasts representatives from Church of Scotland, Methodist and Scottish Episcopal denominations.
A comprehensive list of Sunday services and other meetings has been drawn up and distributed to each church, which should prove helpful in the planning process and understanding what each church does.
Joint services should also be arranged for special occasions during the year.
Over 130 women met for a special celebration at the Town Hall in Lerwick this month.
The evening event was planned by a group of female ministers, and ministers’ wives, since a previous get together four years ago.
Speaker for the evening was Glasgow primary school teacher Margaret Peat who spoke about living well, laughing often and loving much.
Mrs Peat had been ministering at the Emmanuel Church in Lerwick, alongside her husband and Pentecostal pastor, Kevin.
The couple, who pastored the Elim Church in Glasgow for 15 years, now work in the business of caring and sharing – looking after pastors and taking up speaking engagements.
A stall from the Christian bookshop helped make the evening special, and fair trade wares were also on sale thanks to Jean Marwick.
Music and food were also available, and the group has passed on its thanks and appreciation to Town Hall staff for their welcome and assistance.
The women are already looking forward to their next meeting – hopefully rather sooner than in four years’ time.
Youngsters have been kept entertained during the October holidays, thanks to a holiday club run by Gordon and Laura Birss.
The clubs, which ran at the Cunningsburgh Hall and the Ebenezer Hall in Lerwick, had children listening to stories about Daniel, learning how to stand for God and experience His care.
They also enjoyed singing, competitions and making crafts.