A brief history of USPG

We bring to our work over 300 years of experience and expertise. We are proud of our history and have learned deep lessons from it.

Our story begins in 1701, when Bach and Handel were still young men and the finishing touches were still being made to the dome on St Paul’s Cathedral.

A visionary priest called Thomas Bray was granted a Royal Charter to set up a society that would send Church of England priests to settlers in America. He called this new organisation the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). This was the start of a story that is also a part of global history.

Expanding its initial remit, SPG quickly started sending school teachers to work with slave and native American communities. SPG missionaries worked within – and challenged – the cultural understanding of their day and did their best to help marginalised communities.

Over the next three centuries, we sent over 15,000 missionaries worldwide. Many of these missionaries were pioneers, tackling slavery, championing women’s rights and opposing racism. They also helped to establish indigenous Anglican Churches in the countries where they worked, helping to build what is today the global Anglican Communion.

Power to inspire

The Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, has commented on how Thomas Bray’s pioneering vision still has the power to inspire.

At a special service in 2008 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Bray’s birth, the bishop said: ‘We give thanks for Thomas Bray, for his confidence in the gospel and its compatibility with reason. We give thanks for his non-exclusive but profound conviction that the Church of England is called to serve and challenge a world misled by atheists and libertines – to be an effective agent of the mystery of God’s will.’

Giving their lives for the gospel

SPG has sent personnel to over 50 countries. We sent our first missionaries to India in 1820, South Africa in 1821, China in 1863 and Japan in 1873. In those days, there was a high risk of catching malaria and other diseases, with no effective treatment available, which meant that many of these brave men and women became missionaries knowing that they might be literally giving their lives for the gospel.

In 1856, SPG broke with convention by accepting its first single woman as a missionary: Sarah Coombes, who was a schoolteacher in Borneo. At the same time, SPG was making a concerted effort to support indigenous missionaries, both men and women. The focus was on building capacity in the local church – an ethos that we continue to this day.

In 1965, SPG became USPG (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) by joining with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), a society founded formed to pursue evangelistic, medical and educational work in East and Central Africa, making major contributions in the fight against slavery and leprosy.

Three years later, USPG was joined by the Cambridge Mission to Delhi (CMD), which had a history of supporting healthcare, as well as campaigning for India’s independence.

USPG history snapshots

go left


In Lesotho, we are supporting a development programme that brings together local churches, communities and health professionals.

Communities are helped to address challenges using local skills and resources.


go right

United Society Partners in the Gospel
USPG,  5 Trinity Street,  London  SE1 1DB
Tel: 020 7921 2200  |  Email: info@uspg.org.uk
Registered charity number 234518  |  © USPG 2019
USPG on Facebook USPG on twitter Youtube - videos Vimeo - videos