"I am not sure if I would have found this path in life if it wasn't for Urban Saints... and performing at the Royal Albert Hall was really a pivotal point in my life." - Beth Tysall
It's getting very close to now to the fifteenth anniversary of Urban Saints. Fifteen years ago this weekend, we were celebrating the Centenary of Crusaders at the world-famous Royal Albert Hall in Central London - with an extra bonus surprise announcement: the first airing of the new name in public!
As significant memories from our huge Centenary event go, the announcement of the name-change from Crusaders to Urban Saints, would be hard to top. But what about the rest of the day - what did Saturday 20th May 2006 mean to those who were involved and those who were in the crowd?
Travelled far and wide
It had become quite a tradition over the 100-year history of Crusaders to gather people together for a "rally" at the Royal Albert Hall in London. But doing so in 2006 was a much tougher undertaking - one that was two years in the planning. Despite the travel time and expense involved, groups and individuals travelled from all over the UK to join the Crusaders party - and they were not disappointed.
Alan Phillips, who still leads a youth group in Coniston, Cumbria, made the 600+ mile round trip with some members of his group:
"The day was something of an adventure to the Big City for us - we spent the rest of the day terrorising some of the major London tourist spots! As a group we were staying with a friend who lived in Waltham Abbey. As all the beds were taken quite a number of the group slept on the floor! As for the event itself, I still remember the atmosphere inside the Royal Albert Hall and the sense of anticipation for a great time ahead. It was also great to arrive and discover a special commemorative Gospel placed on all the seats."
A momentous beginning
The concert part of the celebrations were opened by 17-year-old, Beth Tysall, singing a stirring rendition of 'How Great Thou Art'.
Beth had been selected to perform after she won a national talent competition run by Crusaders just two years earlier. Unsurprisingly, at such a young age, the experience was pretty intense - but it also became something of a life-changing moment too:
"I recently watched the video from the day and it really brought back to me the wonderful atmosphere and excitement of what we were celebrating. Being only 17 at the time and being given the opportunity to perform at the Royal Albert Hall to represent Urban Saints was basically a career starter for me. I have since gone on to become a vocal coach and run my own acapella choir. I also perform regularly in a band and am very involved in church worship.
I am not actually sure if I would have found this path in life if it wasn't for Urban Saints. I feel that I owe much of what I do now to them, and the Royal Albert Hall concert was a really pivotal point in my life."
It wasn't just young people starting out their careers that featured in the Centenary concert. The three and a half hour show consisted of a range of great bands, comedians and other performers. Delirious topped the bill and were joined by thebandwithnoname, yFriday, blush, Psalm Drummers, Lacey Theatre Company, Tommy Baker (a world-record-breaking juggler who could do wonders with a football or basketball!) Steve Legg and comedians John Archer and Tim Vine (yes, THAT one!). Throughout the gig, there were congratulatory video messages and even a telegram from Her Majesty The Queen - and the whole show was presented and propelled along by Matt Summerfield (former CEO and President of Urban Saints) and God TV presenter Emma Owen.
Chip Kendall, was part of the first band to hit the stage that May afternoon - thebandwithnoname. Despite having performed hundreds of times since, Chip remembers the experience with his trademark passion and enthusiasm:
"YES! It really was such an honour for us to play that gig. Unforgettable! We loved every second! I remember thinking, this is just the launchpad to something greater, and it's only setting a high level of expectation and faith for all these young people..."
We are family
This particular party was not just about great entertainment - or even about looking to the future. It was primarily about bringing all those together who have served and been served by Crusaders - to remember all that God had done over the past 100 years. Our youngest performer, Beth, remembers how the event had such a great feel to it - almost like a family reunion:
"What I really remember about the whole day is the real sense of community. There were people present who had been involved in Urban Saints right from the beginning of Crusaders, from generation to generation. It was fantastic that there was such a warm and instant connection with people you have never met before."
It was something that I'm sure all of us would have echoed then - and it remains the same for those of us in Urban Saints now who were there. It was wonderful to be somewhere that meant so much to Crusaders, reflecting on and celebrating all that the organisation stood for. Then, with this historic moment reached, it would be time to press on to what God had in store next - a launch pad for the next fifteen years of Urban Saints!
Bringing the house down
Matt Summerfield had a pretty unique perspective on the majority of the show - as part ringmaster, part cheerleader, compering the acts and interludes. But it was from another rare vantage point that he was most impacted:
"My lasting memory of that immense day was looking down from the ‘gods’ - the very top of the Royal Albert Hall where the huge spotlights beam down to the stage. It was the moment where Delirious were performing the final set and I watched as 4,000 young people danced with joy before God. Brought a lump to my throat - as did the moment when the atmosphere changed as they sang the profound song ‘Holy’ and the sense of the presence of God was palpable. I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life - and it further stoked my passion to see this generation come in to all that God has for them."
The event finished with a fantastic performance from Delirious - and as the band soared through their final song ("Our God Reigns"), a shower of red, white and black balloons fell on the gathered masses. For the event's project manager, Lou Bailey, it was the lasting image from the whole day (and many days running up to it too!):
"When I think back to the Centenary celebrations, one image is locked in my memory. Delirious were on stage, thousands of young people were worshipping God, hundreds of balloons had just been released from the roof... it was worth every minute of the two years planning and preparation!"
A lasting legacy
Fifteen years on, we've had a decade and half of Urban Saints and so much has grown and developed since this landmark event. It's not just the organisation that has changed since celebrating the Centenary back in May 2006 - the impact on the individual Urban Saints team members involved has been significant, as Lou goes on to reflect:
"15 years later, I'm so grateful to God for how he has worked in my life through that experience. Firstly, it taught me that I could use my 'job' to serve him. Being a project manager wasn't what I'd set out to do, but God showed me through this event how I could use my corporate training for Kingdom work. The Royal Albert Hall concert was the first of many projects and events I've since run for Urban Saints, my local church and other charities... its been a genuine privilege to serve God in this way.
Secondly, working so closely with the US family meant I made many new friends (some as crazy as me!), my faith grew loads and now I work for Urban Saints, doing a job I'm passionate about that uses all my training. Looking back, it's just amazing to see how God has worked in so many ways, through this special celebration!"
As for me?
I remember two things in particular myself. For part of the celebrations I recall hurrying around backstage, helping where I could and trying not to get lost in the circular corridors of the venue. In complete contrast, I remember watching a section of the concert from one of the Royal Albert Hall's boxes, with some members of my family, soaking up the spine-tingling atmosphere from one of the best vantage points in the place. As I look back on the day and what it meant, this contrast summed it all up for me.
On the one hand you had this wonderful celebration of Crusaders - our family - and what God had been and was doing in and through the movement. But there was important work to be done and even more to come in the future too, as we pressed forward into a new chapter as Urban Saints. Much of that work was unseen and unglamorous, but it all helped to ensure the very best experience for everyone involved in the movement. Fifteen years on, that vital work continues and that tension between mission and celebration remains to this day.
Paul Windo - Communications Manager
*First published on 18th May 2016
Were YOU there on 20th May 2006?
We'd love to hear your stories from the day and what you remember from the experience a decade on - get in touch with us to share your memories!