A brief history of USPG
“USPG’s vocation today involves wrestling with our history and journeying towards redemption where that is possible.”
The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (known as SPG) was founded by the Revd Dr Thomas Bray in 1701. SPG sent priests and schoolteachers to America to minister to the colonists and take the message of the gospel to enslaved Africans and native Americans. During the 18th century SPG’s activities expanded into the West Indies, Canada, Australia and West Africa.
Over its three-hundred year history USPG has sent over 15,000 missionaries worldwide. Many of these missionaries were pioneers, some were involved in 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.
USPG history snapshots
1710 SPG accepted the bequest of a Barbadian slave plantation beginning a deeply shameful episode in the Society’s history. The enslaved were not emancipated until 1834.
A fuller historical account can be found here (issuu.com/codringtoncollege/docs/codrington_college_a_brief_history_)
1736-37 John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, served as an SPG missionary in America.
1766 Philip Quaque, the first African to be ordained in the Church of England, arrived on the Gold Coast, serving as an SPG missionary priest and teacher until 1816.
1796 SPG sent missionaries to work on Norfolk Island, a penal settlement 800 miles east of Australia.
1820-1900 Pastoral ministry and educational work among indigenous people began to take priority over care of colonists and SPG sent missionaries to more than 50 countries including India, South Africa, Malaysia, Myanmar, China, Swaziland, Japan, Korea and Zimbabwe.
1828-1884 Irishman George Nobbs ministered to the SPG-supported Pitcairn islanders, first as their teacher and doctor and then from 1852 until his death as an SPG missionary.
1856 Sarah Coombes, the first single SPG woman missionary, arrives in North Borneo.
1857 David Livingstone issued a challenge in his lectures in Oxford and Cambridge that led to the formation of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). At the heart of its work was opposition to the East African slave trade and it went on to make a major contribution to the fight against leprosy. By the early 20th century, the UMCA had established the church in Central Africa across modern day Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
1870 From 1863 when her husband, the Revd Robert Winter, became head of the SPG Mission in Delhi, Priscilla Winter noticed the women of the city needed medical care and having dispensed simple remedies herself she began to organise the Delhi Female Medical Mission which opened in 1870. Following her death in 1881, St Stephen’s Hospital for Women and Children was built as a memorial to her. (Please see below).
1877 The Cambridge Mission to Delhi (CMD), inspired by Cambridge theologian B.F. Westcott, led to the development of two Anglican communities there: the Brotherhood of the Ascension and St Stephen’s Community for women. St Stephen’s Hospital and St Stephen’s College became important Indian institutions.
1880s SPG sent the Revd Edwin Dodgson, brother of the author Lewis Carroll as a missionary, first to the volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha known as ‘the lonely island’ in the South Atlantic and then to the Cape Verde islands.
1895-1905 A number of radically-minded SPG missionaries, dubbed “atheists of the Empire” began work: Roland Allen in China (1895), Arthur Cripps in Mashonaland (Zimbabwe) from 1900 and C.F. Andrews in India (1904). All were highly critical of British imperialism, empowered local people and nurtured indigenous leadership and nationalist sentiment. They inspired radicals within the next generation of church leaders, including Bishop Trevor Huddleston.
1930 SPG nurse Edith Shelley contracted leprosy in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and chose to live at the Lulindi Leprosy Settlement while she was being treated. This inspired her to set up outpatient clinics in villages where she trained African medical staff.
1954-1962 Father Roger Tennant was a USPG missionary in Korea where he was known for is humility and compassion. He established a leprosy colony in Namyangju which became the model for subsequent government-funded projects.
1965 The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts united with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa to form The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). The Cambridge Mission to Delhi joined USPG in 1968.
1970s and 1980s USPG took a leading role in support of the church and people of South Africa during the apartheid era.
“USPG were close allies with us during the apartheid years, providing a link between parishes in South Africa and Britain so that together we could share information and pray about our common concerns. USPG helped our fellow Christians to keep faith with us through those difficult years. They helped us know that we were not alone.” The Most Revd Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Capetown.
1985 USPG missionary Canon Robin Lamburn’s humanitarian work was recognised when he was awarded the Albert Schweitzer International Prize. Although officially retired, he dedicated 25 years to Kindwitwi Leprosy Village in Tanzania where he encouraged residents to be self-reliant, increasing their self-esteem and helping them to regain their dignity, despite their suffering.
2000 USPG played a key role in the international campaign Jubilee 2000 aimed at cancelling debt amongst the poorest countries of the world. Jubilee 2000’s co-founder Bill Peters was USPG’s Chair and a driving force.
2016 Following four years in which it was known as ‘Us’ (the United Society), USPG returns as – United Society Partners in the Gospel.
USPG is supporting the holistic mission, including rights for girls, care for the environment, and justice for Dalits.