Monday, February 15, 2016

Thomas Bray

(1658 - 15 February 1730) was an English clergyman born in Marton, Shropshire in 1656. He was educated at Oswestry School and Oxford University, where he earned a B.A. degree with All Souls College and a M.A. with Hart Hall.

After leaving the university he was appointed vicar of Over Whitacre, and rector of Sheldon in Warwickshire, where he wrote his famous Catechetical Lectures. Henry Compton, Bishop of London, appointed him in 1696 as his commissary to organize the Church of England in Maryland, and he was in that colony in 1699-1700.

He spent only ten weeks in the colony, but he radically re-organized and renewed the Church there, providing for the instruction of children and the systematic examination of candidates for pastoral positions. He founded thirty-nine lending libraries and numerous schools. Both in Maryland and upon his return to England, he wrote and preached in defense of the rights of enlaved Africans, and of Indians deprived of their land.

He also projected a successful scheme for establishing parish libraries in England and America, out of which grew the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (founded 1699). Bray envisioned a library for each parish in America, funded by booksellers and stocked with books donated by authors. These libraries were meant to encourage the spread of the Anglican church in Britain's colonies, and as such were primarily composed of theological works. It was a major endeavour, as at the time the only other public libraries in the American colonies were at a small number of universities.

Back in England, he worked for the reform of prison conditions, and for the establishment of preaching missions to prisoners. He persuaded General Oglethorpe to found a American colony (Georgia) for the settlement of debtors as an alternative to debtors' prison. He founded a missionary society, the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) and an educational and publishing society, the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge), both of which are still active today.

From 1706 until his death in February 1730 he was rector of St Botolph's, Aldgate, London, being unceasingly engaged in philanthropic and literary pursuits.

Propers for Thomas Bray - Priest and Missionary

The Collect.

O GOD, who dost ever hallow and protect thy Church: Raise up therein through thy Spirit good and faithful stewards of the mysteries of Christ, as thou didst in thy servant Thomas Bray; that by their ministry and example thy people may abide in thy favour and walk in the way of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

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