Bray, Thomas

Bray, Thomas
(1656-17 30)
   early founder of missionary organizations
   Thomas Bray, cofounder of two of the oldest Protestant missionary organizations, was born on February 15, 1656, in Shropshire, England. He attended Oxford and was ordained a priest in the Church of England. He served a parish in Warwickshire, where he wrote a popular book of catechetical lectures that brought him to the attention of the bishop of London, who was responsible for the slowly emerging work in the American colonies.
   In 1695, the governor of Maryland asked the bishop to appoint a commissary (assistant) to guide the development of the Church of England there. Bray was appointed to the post in 1696. It would be almost three years before he left for the New World. He used the time to try to recruit other missionaries but discovered only young and hence relatively poor ministers were willing to join the adventure.
   On March 8, 1698, Bray met with four influential laymen who were convinced of the need to help Bray "counteract the growth of vice and immorality" by combating the widespread public ignorance of Christian teachings. Bray suggested education and the publishing of Christian literature as the solution. The five men founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Among other programs, the society aimed to provide deanery libraries throughout the church. Bray eventually founded 39 libraries in America and some 80 in England.
   Bray spent only 10 weeks in Maryland, in 1699. Back in England, he worked to create an agency to support foreign missions. In 1701, he obtained a charter from the king and moved swiftly to incorporate the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), understood at the time as the American and Caribbean colonies. The SPG took on the search for ministers for the American colonies, while the SPCK undertook to supply them with a basic library.
   in 1806, Bray became the priest in charge of St. Botolph without Aldgate. He used his pulpit to advocate for a wide variety of causes including the care of prisoners and the plight of African slaves in the Americas. He helped convince James Oglethorpe to found the Georgia colony, designed to provide those in debtors' prison with a second chance.
   Further reading:
   ■ William D. Houlette, "Parish Libraries and the Work of the Reverend Thomas Bray," Library Quarterly 4 (October 1934): 588-609
   ■ Charles E Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the SPG: An Historical Account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900 (London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1901)
   ■ Bernard C. Steiner, "The Reverent Thomas Bray and His American Libraries," American Historical Review 2 (1896-1897): 59-75
   ■ Henry P Thompson, Into All Lands: The History of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1950 (London: SPCK, 1951)
   ■ ------, Thomas Bray (London: SPCK, 1954).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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