On 14 March 2013, at the Guard’s Chapel in Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London, the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association (SASRA) celebrated their dodransbicentennial (175th) anniversary with a thanksgiving service.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Patron of the Association, had intended to join the gathering, along with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, but, due to ill health, Her Majesty had to withdraw at the last moment. The Association was grateful to Prince Philip for representing Her Majesty on the day.
The service was attended by supporters, serving military Christians, staff and retired staff. The Chaplain General, Reverend Jonathan Woodhouse QHC, and Chaplain-in-Chief RAF, Venerable Ray Pentland CBE QHC, took part in the celebrations. The Chaplain General led the prayers and the Chaplain-in-Chief read the Scriptures.
The Reverend Kevin Bell, Senior Chaplain London District, led the service. General Lord Dannatt of Keswick in Norfolk GCB CBE MC, President of the Association, in his welcome speech, made clear the centrality of the gospel in the work of SASRA.
Brigadier Ian Dobbie, Chairman of the SASRA Council and grandson of Lieutenant General Sir William Dobbie, former Governor of Malta, while bringing the congregation up to date with the activities of the Association since the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary, emphasised the unchanging gospel of an unchanging Saviour in an ever changing military environment.
Army Scripture Reader (ASR) William Wade, based in Germany, gave testimony to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and explained how he and his fellow worker, ASR Lee McDade, joined forces to illustrate God’s justice and mercy through the use of boxing.
Lieutenant Colonel Reverend Charles Dobbie, another grandson of General Sir William Dobbie, gave the address, taking Matthew 7:21 — ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven’ — as his text.
Once again the gospel message rang through the chapel as a clear sounding bell: salvation is not a matter of showing lip service to Christ, but a matter of doing the will of God our Father and committing our whole life to his only begotten Son.
The celebrations were planned with three objectives in mind: to praise our loving God for his great salvation; to thank our gracious God for provision, protection and preservation over the past 175 years; and to dedicate our lives to our faithful God for the future. We are grateful to God for enabling us on that day to achieve our goals.
SASRA’s history began with Sergeant Rudd, in 1818 or thereabouts, looking around the barracks at Woolwich and seeing many Royal Artillery soldiers living ungodly lives, oblivious to the eternal punishment that awaited them, should their life on this earth end.
He knew the way of salvation and had taken it, through true repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He knew his sins were forgiven, and that he had eternal life and a place in heaven was being prepared for him by his Saviour.
He knew that if his soldiers read the Bible carefully, all this would be revealed to them and they would be confronted with the choice he had — to accept Christ and be saved, or reject Christ and remain condemned.
But there was a major problem. Many of his soldiers could not read! He decided to advertise a Bible study, at which he would read and explain biblical truth to any who attended.
Though the path proved rough and strewn with opposition (from a superior officer, in particular), he tenaciously continued to proclaim the gospel, inspiring other true believers to join him.
By 1838, a band of ‘Scripture Readers’ formed into a formal Association, having legal Articles of Association. As educational standards improved, less men (and ladies, as time went on) joined the army without the ability to read.
Today, there are very few without that skill or with severely limited reading ability. Scripture Readers today rarely encounter a soldier that cannot read the Bible, but most often meet soldiers who will not read the Bible.
Modern day Scripture Readers continue to read and explain the Scriptures to service personnel, being convinced of what the writer of Hebrews says about it: ‘For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:11-13).
Now SASRA looks forward to the return of Jesus Christ in triumph to gather his saints and pledges itself to continue the work of his gospel, with the words of Matthew 24:44 ringing in our ears: ‘Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’.
Squadron Leader Colin R. Woodland