Thomas Bray February 15, 1730 Priest and Missionary, Founder of the SPCK and the SPG
Born 1656 at Marton in Shropshire, Thomas Bray went from Oswestry Grammar School to All Souls College, Oxford, probably as a clerk or chorister – a recognized route for those from poor homes to gain a degree. He was ordained in 1681, quickly coming to the notice of influential patrons, and in 1690 was presented to the living of Sheldon, in Warwickshire.
By now a widower with two small children, he busied himself with a detailed teaching syllabus for the children and youth of his parish and in 1696 wrote and published a four-volume work on the Catechism. This filled a real need in the Church and brought Bray to the attention of Henry Compton, Bishop of London, who commissioned him to report on the condition of the Church in the colony of Maryland.
It was in investigating the needs of the colonial Church that Bray became aware of the chronic difficulty in accessing books which was restricting Christian teaching and making clergy reluctant to offer to serve in the colony. Consequently he hit upon the idea of providing both books and whole libraries for the benefit of the colonial clergy. This led to the foundation of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1698, though SPCK quickly developed a dual focus both overseas and in Britain, as it sought ‘to dispense, both at home and abroad, Bibles and tracts of religion; and in general to advance the honor of God and the good of mankind by promoting Christian knowledge’. The SPCK began commissioning tracts and pamphlets, something it has continued ever since, making it the third oldest publishing house still operating in England today. The Society’s work in providing Welsh-language literature was a major contributory factor in kick-starting the evangelical revival of the eighteenth century.
In order to further the work overseas Bray and his associates also founded, in 1701, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG). This was the Church of England’s first overseas missionary society and had the twin objects of providing for the spiritual needs of Britons overseas and evangelizing those non-Christian races in territories subject to the Crown.
In 1708 Bray became Vicar of St Botolph, Aldgate, in the City of London, and until his death in 1730 continued to promote his vision of advancing Christianity through the power of the printed word.
O God of compassion, who didst open the eyes of thy servant Thomas Bray to see the needs of the Church in the New World, and didst lead him to found societies to meet those needs: Make the Church in this land diligent at all times to propagate the Gospel among those who have not received it, and to promote the spread of Christian knowledge; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Unless otherwise stated, the source of my narrative is from, “Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church. Saints on Earth: A Biographical Companion to "Common Worship" (Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England)”