Crusaders and Urban Saints - 1906 to present
In the spring of 1900 an English missionary called Albert Kestin was walking through a North London park on a Sunday afternoon when he came across a group of boys. “How is it that you boys are not at Sunday School?” he asked. His enquiry would have seemed perfectly reasonable as all boys and girls were expected to attend afternoon Sunday school in those days.
“We don’t like it, Sir,” was the simple but clearly genuine reply. “What a pity”, Albert Kestin replied. “If I were to start a Bible Class specially for you, would you like to come?” They said they would, and the following Sunday (1st April 1900) they attended the first ever Crusader Class in 71 Crouch Hill, London, the home of Mr and Mrs Saffery where Kestin was lodging while on furlough after working as a young missionary in Calcutta.
Concerned that these young people were missing out on the opportunity to discover the good news of Jesus Christ, Kestin’s missionary passion resulted in him offering to run a special meeting for them every week, and he sought to present the Christian message in a challenging and engaging way.
Others took note of what he was doing and a number of such weekly meetings, called ‘classes’, began to spring up across the country. On 29th March 1906, the Leaders of eleven Crusader Classes, with a total membership of some 600 boys, met together in London ‘and suggested that the time was now ripe for the formation of a central organisation together with a fund to meet the expenses’. Leaders would be responsible for their own Classes ‘it being understood that the whole Bible be taught as the Word of God, and a keen evangelical and protestant spirit maintained, the Classes remain unsectarian and working as far as possible in harmony with all denominations and local churches’. The response at the meeting was unanimous, and The Crusaders’ Union was born on 29th March 1906.
Its aim was simply to teach the whole Bible in a creative and relevant way to young people who did not attend church. Albert Kestin suggested a motto for this new organisation, taken from Hebrews 12:2: ‘Looking to Jesus’. Over one hundred years later this motto continues to lie at the heart of the movement.
In the years that followed, the number of ‘classes’ continued to grow, supported by an active programme of events and camps. Two World Wars were unable to shift the unquenchable passion of this missionary movement to reach out to the nations’ lost children and young people.
By the time of its centenary in 2006, Crusaders was reaching out to around 20,000 children and young people every week in local groups, with thousands more engaged through the varied activities programmes. During the centenary year it was decided that a new century required a new name – a name that would better serve sharing the good news of Jesus with young people in the 21st century. To this end, Crusaders became ‘Urban Saints’ on 1st January 2007.
Whilst the name has changed, along with 1,001 other details (not least that we now reach out to girls too!), the dream and passion to teach children and young people the good news of Jesus Christ still remains at the heart of the movement, just as when Albert Kestin founded it over a century ago.
Praise God for His goodness in blessing the efforts of dedicated men and women over the years who have had the same passion as Albert Kestin in wanting to pass on the truth that Jesus loves them and wants to change their lives. Pray that God will continue to use us to carry out His plans and purposes for His glory.
Urban Saints now reach over 45,000 children and young people each week through over 1,200 groups.
Times change but the story of Crusaders / Urban Saints remains a story about passionate people – passionate about telling young people the love of Christ and passing it on to the next generation.
Have you been a part of the Crusaders / Urban Saints story? Why not get in touch and tell us how this movement has impacted your life and faith?