Dr Thomas Bray died, on February 17, 1730 in England.
Born 74 years before in the Welsh border district, Bray had humble beginnings, and was admitted to Oxford as a “poor student”. He became a “country parson” at Sheldon, near Birmingham for 16 years, before moving on to St Botolph’s, Aldgate, London.
Bray had a high regard for religious education as a means of elevating people. He wrote a five-volume tract on the value of teaching people the Christian catechism. “Catechetical Lectures” became a best seller. This brought him to the attention of Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, who asked him to go as his commissary (representative) to Maryland, USA.
Church of England churches in the New World were under the auspices of the Bishop of London and in those early days there were very few Church of England clergymen in America. Bray’s task was to assess the situation and see what needed to be done to attract more ministers to American parishes.
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So in 1700 Thomas Bray sailed to the New World – and “sold his own dearly loved library of books in order to pay for the voyage!” (Pioneers of the Kingdom, Volume 2, page 29).
In preparation for this venture he had also founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, an organisation devoted to opening libraries in colonial plantations. “Thousands of volumes were contributed to parochial collections” (Dictionary of American Religious Biography, page 63).
In America he founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), which played a major role in American missions. Bray drafted a Royal Charter for this work which was signed by the King.
In Maryland Bray organised schools, gave direction to the churches and created lending libraries to provide poor clergy with access to quality reading material.
In his two months in Maryland Bray managed to get settlement status for Church of England churches from the Quakers and Roman Catholics of Maryland. He returned and managed to enlist some 29 English clergy to go to America in the following three years.
Returning to England in 1706, he ministered at St Botolph Without, London, until his death.
However he also remained active in social causes. He persuaded General Oglethorpe to found the new American colony of Georgia, for the settlement of debtors, as an alternative to debtors’ prison.
He wrote on behalf of the enslaved Africans and the Indians who had been displaced from their lands. He argued for prison reform and for preaching missions to prisoners.
The Dictionary of English Church History states that Dr Bray “was a vigorous and humorous writer and a parish priest of exemplary devotion. He deserves an honoured place in the history of the Church of England for his efforts on behalf of education and of missions” (pages 66-7).
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com