Thursday, February 15, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember one of the more remarkable and overlooked of the “Post-Reformation Saints” in England.

It is the 15th of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


1600+ shows in and I am still astonished at the number of saints who have, sometimes even despite themselves, contributed to the growth of the church and its role as salt and light in the world. And yes, we tell the stories of the greats for whom churches and businesses and buildings and denominations are named- but also those who have “slipped through the cracks.” Consider this excerpt from Arthur Middleton’s Eminent English Churchmen:

“‘If true and unselfish devotion to the Church of Christ, indefatigable and most successful labour in its behalf, and a long and blameless life spent, with scant recognition, in the interests of religion, constitute a title to be ranked amongst our post- reformation saints, no one deserves that title better than Thomas Bray; for no man did more for the Church at home and abroad, and no man received less from her in the way of earthly recompense…  it is astonishing how little he is now known. He is, perhaps, hardly more, than a name even to many really well-informed Churchmen."

So, who was this man, Thomas Bray, and why has he also been referred to as ‘a man with one fiddle, with three strings, which he played on two stages’?

Bray was born in 1656 in Shropshire, England, into poverty. He worked the family farm and read whatever books he could get his hands on. His curiosity and keen mind led him to a grammar school and then to Oxford, where he worked menial jobs to support himself.  He earned 4 degrees at Oxford, the final two in divinity, and he would be ordained in the church of England.

He served in modest roles in the English countryside as a private chaplain, vicar, and then rector. During this time, he wrote a series of Catechetical lectures- he believed the poor state of many rural parishes and their populations was due to a lack of education and suitable reading materials. This collection of lectures would make him a name in the Anglican Church and put him on the radar of the Bishop of London.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the colony of Maryland, a one-time haven for Catholics, had been overthrown by Protestants. The Anglican Church in the colony had tried to keep order and requested assistance from the Crown. They called for an “experienced and unexceptionable priest” to help settle the situation. Bray was called but not initially sent. Meanwhile, he corresponded with the colonial church and sought out missionaries to send- but he found that those who would go tended to be poorer (after all, if you had a good gig in England, why would you leave?). And just as in the English countryside, he saw the poor affected on account of a lack of books. And so he submitted to the Bishop an extra stipend for the missionaries. He also developed the idea of a public lending library with sites at the docks where missionaries could borrow texts on their way to the New World.

When he finally made his way to Maryland he was surprised at the squalor in which many lived and the poor literacy rates amongst the people. He was also exposed to the brutality of the slave trade in the colonies and the subjugation of the natives. This would add one more concern for Bray, and back in England, he devised his programs, which led to a few of the most significant mission societies in modern history. The first would become the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. Even today, the SPCK remains the largest Christian publisher in the UK, having merged with Intervarsity Press. In the coming century, it will be a major engine behind the worldwide mission boom. Of course, foreign missions to America, the East Indies, India, and China do not happen as they did without the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts- the SPGFP, today the United Society Partners in the Gospel remains a major source of missionaries and institutions across the globe.

And it was the mission to Africans and indigenous Americans he saw as perhaps the most worthy and least popular. Fearing missions to them would end with his death, he called together a number of friends to continue the work he began. The “Associates of Dr. Bray” would be his third organization or the third string on the one fiddle he played on two stages: the UK and America. Despite dying before it began, he suggested to James Oglethorpe the idea that the colony of Georgia be dedicated to the relief of the poor, among other things, in America. Lending libraries, a mission society, a publishing house, free education for the poor, and the colony of Georgia all owe a debt of gratitude to the man Thomas Bray, who died on February 15th, 1730. Born in 1656, he was 74 years old.  


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary, a good word from 1 John 3:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who wished I had told the story of Bray and his “Beef and Beer” Sunday dinners for prisoners- I ran out of time. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose sister has just pointed out that yesterday's reference to the “united secession church” sounds like an oxymoron- good catch, Lisa. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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