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Foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts....

June 16th, 1701

IN THE LATE SEVENTEENTH century, the Church of England was becoming aware of missionary possibilities and pastoral responsibilities in the British Empire, especially in the Caribbean and the American colonies. Only a handful of clergy were working among the English people in these regions: far from enough, especially when mission to native Americans and slaves was included. Responsibility for all this lay with the Bishop of London, acting through commissaries.

It was the Commissary for the American colony of Maryland, the Reverend Dr Thomas Bray, a practical man of vision, who got this mission and ministry onto a solid footing. He had already laid important foundations by setting up in 1698 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), to support education and learning in the colonies. SPCK established scores of libraries and by 1710 had provided some 33,000 books, which were of immense cultural and religious significance to America. Bray had also recruited large numbers of clergy for Maryland. Visiting America in 1700, however, he recognised that providing clergy and teachers throughout the colonies would need a more organised approach. With the help of the SPCK, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London and others, Bray obtained from William III the charter founding the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) on June 16th, 1701.

The charter authorised SPG to operate in lands under British sovereignty, later revised to include `regions beyond'. Backed by this royal charter and with the participation of the two English archbishops, the bishops of England, Ireland and Wales, committed clerical and lay members and some fifty continental Protestant leaders, the Society was strongly placed to recruit and fund missionaries. SPG first met to plan its work on June 27th, 1701, and thereafter monthly, usually in the early years at the Archbishop's Library at St Martin-in-the-Fields. The first missionaries, George Keith and Patrick Gordon, sailed for America on April 24th, 1702.

During the next three centuries, SPG recruited thousands to work overseas -- clergy, educational and medical missionaries, and increasing numbers of indigenous personnel -- and funded new dioceses. The Society had an immense and diverse involvement in the , missionary endeavours of the Church and, as it developed, of the Anglican Communion. It was close, often too close, to colonialism, though SPG also challenged it, so that in the nineteenth century Bishop Wilberforce described the SPG as `an Angel of Mercy' within `a godless colonisation'. The proliferation of mission agencies, beginning with the founding of the Church Missionary Society in 1799, also made for complications in SPG's task.

The period since 1947 has seen SPG (since 1965 the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) a more modest project, building new relations within the Anglican Communion and making a contribution to, for example, the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa and to Jubilee 2000, the campaign against third-world debt.
Other June Anniversaries

June 1st, 1801    Birth of Bringham Young,
                  Mormon leader of the Latter
                  Day Saints' exodus to Utah.

June 3rd, 1951    Beatification of Pope Pius X
                  (pope 1903-14).

June 12th, 1901   Sir John Tenniel retires as
                  cartoonist of Punch.

June 29th, 1801   Results of Britain's first census
                  made public.
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Author:Wakeling, Catherine
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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