We were heading to North London... in search of a tree! As we arrived in the small urban park, full of playground equipment and all-weather sports pitches, it's fair to say that the presence of the "tree and hedge removal" workman was not an encouraging sign...
Yesterday was our birthday. 111 years since our formation. On March 29th 1906, the Crusaders Union was first established and as the following extract from 'Yesterday and Today' outlines, it was "a momentous occasion"...
To mark the occasion, we made a visit to Crouch End in North London - the place where the Crusaders / Urban Saints story begun.
We started with a trip to Elthorne Park. Our founder, Albert Kestin, had been walking in the park one Sunday on return to the UK on a break from his missionary activities in 1900. He met a group of boys who were clearly not in Sunday School (the norm at the time) and asked them why not. When they told him they found it boring, he offered to show them that being a Christian didn't have to be like that. The very first Urban Saints group was started and Albert Kestin couldn't have imagined that more than a century later an entire movement would have grown out of that seemingly chance encounter.
Scroll forward to 2006 and a damp day in December. A group of Urban Saints team members returned to Elthorne Park to plant a tree to mark the centenary of the movement. The young tree not only represented the very first example of outreach and discipleship in Crusaders and Urban Saints history - but also symbolised the very first fruits of young lives changed through our movement.
After our return visit in 2017, we can confirm that Albert Kestin's tree is still there and thriving - despite the activities of the nearby tree surgeons! It's fantastic to see such a permanent reminder of the legacy of Kestin's stroll in the park. Even better was the chance to observe the signs of new life sprouting from the tree - may that also be true of Urban Saints in 2017! The park itself may look very different than it did in the 1900s but even today it's not hard to imagine a similar encounter with young people taking place right now.
Next we took our own stroll over to the house that hosted the very first group. Back in 1900, Albert Kestin was staying with his friends, The Safferys, at 71 Crouch Hill and this was the location for that very first Urban Saints group. It was also the location for the earliest form of administrative "office" in the early days of The Crusaders Union after 1906. Today, we can also confirm that the very first group venue is still standing - even if it took a little detective work to identify it! It's fair to say that 71 Crouch Hill now doesn't look like a place of historical significance but it is a building that plays a huge part in the Crusaders and Urban Saints story.
Happy Birthday Urban Saints!
If this little insight into our history has whetted your appetite for more, you may be interested in becoming a member of our new Crusaders Reunited Facebook group - a place for anyone with Crusader connections to share experiences, reminisce and reconnect with our and their own past: