THE BISHOP of Durham gave a keynote address in front of the Queen at the celebration of the 150th anniversary of a unique Christian charity.

The Scripture Union has grown from its first meeting in a London house into a global movement.

In a north London church close to where the pioneers of the Scripture Union first met, the Queen joined a congregation of friends and supporters of the organisation to mark its work encouraging children and young people to explore their faith.

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The event, filmed for a future broadcast of the BBC’s Songs of Praise programme, featured readings by Baroness Floella Benjamin and among the invited guests was classical singer Katherine Jenkins.

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverent Paul Butler, gave the address and told those gathered at St Mary’s Church in Islington about the genesis of the Scripture Union.

He said: “In the summer of 1867 Josiah Spiers met with 15 children, aged seven to 11, in the home of Thomas Hughes, as we heard earlier, just around the corner from here.

“At that point un-named, the Children’s Special Service Mission, later Scripture Union, was born.

“On the 26th August 1868, unplanned, Josiah, whilst on holiday in Llandudno, spelt out the text God is love (in the sand).

“He was helped on that beach by around 50 children to whom he then told stories of Jesus. The work of sharing God’s good news with children was expanding.”

The bishop : “Helping children, young people and adults encounter the God who is love in Jesus, has always meant helping people read or listen to, meditate on and respond to, the scriptures.

“It is never meant about knowing the bible better, it is always about knowing the God of the bible better, through reading and studying it.”

The congregation were entertained by a performance dramatising the organisation’s history and heard a new hymn, God of Unchanging Grace, by the prolific hymn writer Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith.

The Queen, who has a strong faith which she often reflects upon in her annual Christmas address to the nation and Commonwealth, sat at the head of the congregation.

The Rev Tim Hastie-Smith, national director of the Scripture Union, said: “It was absolutely brilliant the Queen was able to join us, the fact that she found the time to be with us this afternoon, with a whole load of children and people celebrating God’s love, is an incredible thrill.”