- American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
- The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was the first American Protestant agency to send missionaries to serve in foreign lands. It continued its venerable role well into the 20th century, when it was merged into a larger body as part of the ecumenical activities of its parent Congregational churches.The American Board grew directly out of the legendary "haystack prayer meeting" in which five Williams College students caught the missionary spirit and organized the secret Society of Brethren, dedicated to the missionary cause. The group's leader, Samuel Mills Jr., had come to Williams very much aware of missionary efforts already launched in Europe.Members of the Society of Brethren, including Mills, Luther Rice, and Gordon Hall, recruited additional members while continuing their education at Andover Theological Seminary In 1810, they took their concern to the annual meeting of the General Association of the Congregational Churches of Massachusetts, New England (now a constituent part of the United Church of Christ). It approved the formation of the American Board, which was formally incorporated in 1812, at which time it commissioned its first missionaries. The Indian mission had unexpected consequences as two of the original group, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice, converted to the Baptist faith and went on to found the competing American Baptist missionary endeavor. Still, the American Board mission was successful in India; a few years later, Dr. John Scudder founded the first medical mission there under the board's auspices.In 1819, the American Board initiated what would become its most famous endeavor when it sent Hiram Bingham Sr. and a group of fellow missionaries and their wives to the Sandwich islands (aka Hawaii). The mission was sparked by the appearance of Henry Obookiah (c. 1792-1818) in New England in 1808. Obookiah, who developed a written Hawaiian language, joined the first class at the Foreign Mission School founded by theAmerican Board in 1817, but he died of typhus before the mission to Hawaii set out. The mission had great success winning over Hawaiian leaders, though it was later criticized for destroying much of Hawaii's history and culture in the process; Bingham was later caricatured in James Michener's popular novel Hawaii. Some of the Hawaiian converts were instrumental in the board's mission to other Pacific island groups. Bingham's son Hiram Jr. (1831-1908) began a mission to the Gilbert Islands in the 1850s. Throughout the 19th century, the American Board sponsored one of the largest Protestant missionary endeavors in the world.The American Board attracted the interest of other groups that shared the Congregationalists' Calvinist theological perspective. until they set up their own missionary organizations, the American Presbyterians (1812-70), the Dutch Reformed Church (now the Reformed Church in America) (1826-57), and the German Reformed Church (now a constituent part of the united Church of Christ) (1839-1866), used the services of the American Board. After 1870, the American Board operated as an exclusively Congregational agency and cooperated with the National Council of Congregational Churches.The American Board was considerably altered in 1961, as part of the merger of the Congrega-tionalists into what became the united Church of Christ. The American Board was subsumed as the largest component of the new united Church Board for World Ministries. The new united Church Board participated in the transformation of the missionary endeavor in most Protestant churches. After World War ii, under the impetus of the United Nations and the World Council of Churches, missions were turned over to indigenous leadership and became autonomous bodies; the Western sending agencies became but one of their resources for engaging in ministry, often supplying both financial assistance and personnel.Still further changes occurred in 1995, when the united Board of World Ministries of the united Church of Christ merged with the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to form a common Global Ministries Board. The Global Ministries Board officially began to function on January 1, 1996, out of offices in New York City, Cleveland, and indianapolis.Further reading:■ Global Ministries Board. Available online. URL: http://www.globalministries.org■ Alfred DeWitt Mason, Outlines of Missionary History (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912)■ Clifton Jackson Phillips, Protestant America and the Pagan World: The First Half Century of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1810-1860 (Cambridge, Mass.: East Asian Research Center/Harvard University, 1969)■ LaRue W Piercy, Hawaii's Missionary Saga: Sacrifice and Godliness in Paradise (Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1992)■ William E. Strong, The Story of the American Board (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1910).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.