It is the 11th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Sam Leanza Ortiz, filling in for Dan van Voorhis, who is on vacation.
There’s an old joke among Southern Baptists that you were always wondering when Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong were ever going to be paid off. Every year, these ladies would come around asking for money at Christmas and Easter to support missionaries in far-off places. Indeed, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering are significant seasons on the Baptist church calendar, raising millions of dollars annually to support the spread of the gospel.
The namesakes of these offerings are heroes to little Baptist girls. Lottie Moon’s passion to reach the Chinese for Christ eventually brought her to her death.
Annie Armstrong never went on the mission field, but her gifts for leadership and organization made work like Lottie Moon’s possible, and it is today that we recognize Annie Armstrong, who was born on this day in 1850.
Armstrong was born to James and Mary Armstrong, a wealthy tobacco family, in Baltimore, Maryland.
At the time of her birth, the denomination in which she would come to fame was just five years old. The Southern Baptist Convention emerged from a split in 1845 from the broader Triennial Convention that loosely connected various American Baptist societies.
Like other denominations, such as the Methodists, and later on the United States itself, the split was over the issue of slavery which growing numbers of northern Baptists had come to oppose.
Living just below the Mason-Dixon line, Armstrong found herself among the Southern Baptists when she converted at the age of twenty at the Seventh Baptist Church in Maryland.
Shortly after her conversion, she joined the Eutaw Place Baptist Church, where she would teach children's Sunday School classes for the next 30 years.
A natural leader, her early ministry days found her serving among freedmen, the urban poor, and the growing number of immigrant populations in the region.
In 1888, she helped establish the Women's Missionary Union, an auxiliary organization to the Southern Baptist Convention. She served as its first corresponding secretary for nearly twenty years during which time she helped to raise thousands of dollars and wrote as many as 18,000 letters (by hand!) in a given year.
In spite of these immense efforts, Armstrong never took a personal salary. She wanted every available cent to be used to spread the Gospel.
Under Armstrong's leadership, the Women’s Missionary Union or WMU, as it came to be known, became a space for women, many of them single, to reach the lost in both foreign and domestic contexts. Missionary work emerged, especially in the "Great Century of Missions" that spanned the nineteenth century, as a sphere in which women could offer an incredible service to the church worldwide.
Concurrent with the growing push for women’s political rights, Armstrong’s organization grew immensely popular or notorious, depending on your perspective. Some state organizations, such as the Baptist Convention of Virginia, banned female members from joining the WMU, citing fears that it might blur the distinctions of male and female roles in the local church.
These fears eventually led Armstrong to resign from the WMU in 1905, in a rather abrupt fashion as younger members sought to push for more opportunities for women in the ministry. While Armstrong passionately supported female missionaries, she remained remarkably conservative when it came to gender roles within the church.
Her hesitancy to establish a training institute for women that would be adjacent to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary drew ire from her more forward-thinking colleagues. Armstrong, seeing the sea change ahead for the WMU, returned to her roots serving the vulnerable communities of Baltimore.
In 1918, she helped to establish the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the benefit of foreign missions. In 1934, the WMU she helped to create established an offering in her honor to support domestic missionary efforts.
Today, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering collects tens of millions of dollars annually to support missionaries in North America, helping her work to continue on after her death in 1938.
Born on this day in 1850, she was eighty-eight years old.
Today’s reading comes from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 10, verses 14 and 15:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
This show has been produced by Christopher Gillespie.
This show has been written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz.
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.