It is the 29th of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1810.
The story of 1810 was Napoleon Bonaparte. The emperor of the French would take Holland as well as the German cities of Hanover, Bremen, Hamberg, Lautenberg, and Lubeck. He confiscated British and American ships. He was in Spain, where he named his brother Joseph, the King of Spain. Napoleon was, however, just four years from being exiled the first time and five years from his final defeat at Waterloo. Fun fact: Napoleon wasn't short. At about 5'6", he was the average height for men in that age. The idea that he was short came from a British cartoonist who drew him small to ridicule him.
1810 was the year that Mexico declared its independence from Spain. It was also the year that Venezuela became the first country in South America to throw off Spanish rule. Colombia would follow later in the year. Furthermore, West Florida seceded from Spanish rule in this year and was quickly snatched up by the United States.
In America, John Jakob Astor was making a name for himself. This is the year he founded the Pacific Fur Company with an outpost on the coast in the American northwest. This town would take Astor's name. Today it is called Astoria, Oregon. It is perhaps this author's favorite small town in America. Fun fact: the town served as the setting for both "The Goonies" and "Kindergarten Cop."
Across the world in Bavaria, the crown prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The wedding would have political ramifications, but the celebration would be the real story. The Bavarian royalty invited all citizens of Bavaria to celebrate the October wedding. The revelry would become a yearly tradition we now know as Oktoberfest.
Ships and trade were making the world more and more interconnected, although these trips to faraway places also made the world seem a lot bigger. And through cultural exchange, the world seemed more diverse, for good or ill. While we can credit the wars and revolutions on the movement of people, the great impetus for Americans to travel in the 19th century came from missionary movements.
And it was on this, the 29th of June in 1810 that the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions began. The first missions board in America came out of the so-called Haystack Prayer Meeting. The name comes from the barn that several college students ducked into during a rainstorm. These students from nearby Williams College prayed that they might have an impact for Christ on a global scale.
Their leader Samuel Mills had studied the writings of famed missionaries from David Brainerd to William Carey. He also saw the London Missionary Society as a model for America. Many congregational ministers, including Timothy Dwight, were early supporters, and within a decade they had sent missionaries out to Indian territories, and as far away as Calcutta in India and Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands.
A Presbyterian and Reformed mission society but was soon subsumed into the ABCFM. However, if the history of American Presbyterians tells us anything, it is that they will quickly find a reason to divide. They did, both the old-school, new-school divisions, and the question of slavery divided the Presbyterians, and they soon left to found separate groups, respectively.
Missionary societies, in particular this missionary society, were critical in opening parts of the world that would have been off-limits. That they were performing humanitarian work softened leaders who would otherwise want to keep foreigners out. By 1902, there were over 102 mission stations for the ABCFM across the world and a staff of over 600. One of the rules for the group was that only married couples could be missionaries. The ABCFM kept a list of "missionary-minded" women who needed husbands. The creepy list ensured the men that the women would be "young, pious, educated, fit, and reasonably good-looking."
The group was rebranded in 1961. The ABCFM became the United Church Board of World Missions. In 2000 it was renamed again as the Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Today the ministry works with 290 international partners in almost 90 countries. The influential missionary society is 220 years old. It came into existence on this, the 29th of June, in 1810.
The reading for today comes from Sir Aubrey De Vere, "Silence in the heavens."
THERE was silence in the heavens
When the Son of Man was led
From the Garden to the judgement,
Sudden silence, strange and dread!
All along the empyreal coasts,
On their knees the immortal hosts
Watched with sad and wondering eyes
That tremendous sacriﬁce.
There was silence in the heavens
When the priest his garment tore;
Silence when that twain accursed
Their false witness faintly bore.
Silence—though a tremor crept
O'er their ranks—the angels kept
While that judge, dismayed though proud,
Washed his hands before the crowd.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of June 2020, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who is young, pious, educated, fit, and reasonably good-looking, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by 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.