In 1696, Thomas Bray, an English country parson, was invited by the Bishop of London to be responsible for the oversight of Church work in the colony of Maryland. Three years later, as the Bishop’s Commissary, he sailed to America for his first, and only, visitation. Though he spent only two and a half months in Maryland, Bray was deeply concerned about the neglected state of the American churches, and the great need for the education of clergymen, lay people, and children. At a general visitation of the clergy at Annapolis, before his return to England, he emphasized the need for the instruction of children and insisted that no clergyman be given a charge unless he had a good report from the ship in which he came over. His understanding of, and concern for, Native Americans and African Americans were far ahead of his time. He founded thirty-nine lending libraries in America, as well as numerous schools. He raised money for missionary work and influenced young English priests to go to America.
Bray tried hard to have a bishop consecrated for America, but failed. His greatest contributions were the founding of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, both of which are still effectively in operation after two and a half centuries of work all over the world.
From 1706 to 1730, Bray was the rector of St Botolph Without, Aldgate, London, where, until his death at the age of 72, he served with energy and devotion, while continuing his efforts on behalf of slaves in America, and in the founding of parochial libraries.
When the deplorable condition of English prisons was brought to Bray’s attention, he set to work to influence public opinion and to raise funds to alleviate the misery of the inmates. He organized Sunday “Beef and Beer’ dinners in prisons, and advanced proposals for prison reform. It was Thomas Bray who first suggested to General Ogelthorpe the idea of founding a humanitarian colony for the relief of honest debtors, but he died before the Georgia colony became a reality.
I find it so fascinating that when I’m looking for a saint to write about, God seems to lead me to one who speaks to what is going on in our community, our smaller community of New Market, or even the larger community of the country. Thomas Bray was a man who focused on the needs of others and did all he could to better the conditions of the most marginalized people in the society of his time. The reason this resonates is because of the journey we are on with Blue Horizons. We’re exploring how “the church” can better serve the wider community and how we can build a sense of our community needing the church. Thomas Bray showed prisoners and slaves that the church was about love and serving God through serving others. We, at Grace New Market, need to start changing the face of Christianity by showing our neighbors who we, as Christians, really are. I’m not talking about door to door evangelism, I’m talking about sharing our love for our church family with others and about sharing our pride in what we do…. Our community days, our willingness to house Scouts and AA meetings, these are some of the things that make us who we are and that we can build on to become as important to our community as Thomas Bray was to the people whose lives he touched and bettered through his efforts on their behalf.
O God of compassion, you opened the eyes of your servant Thomas Bray to see the needs of the Church in the New World, and led him to found societies to meet those needs: Make the Church in the 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 lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Psalm 102:15-22 Isaiah 52:7-10 Luke 10:1-9