A Very Brief History of SPCK’s Charitable Work
Our Fundraising Assistant Catriona Brickel reflects on the values that led to the creation of SPCK, and how those values are still what drive us today.
A few weeks ago, I received a curious email. Much of it was standard enough. The writer confirmed he and his wife would be attending an event, thanked me for the information I had sent and wished me well. But the postscript grabbed my attention:
‘I have been doing some family history,’ he wrote, ‘And discovered that in 1911 my aunt was in service to Charles John Beresford (Clerk in Holy Orders – Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) at 384/392 Commercial Road, Stepney London E.’
There were a few things that struck me as strange about this. Well, not strange, exactly. But certainly not in keeping with what I know about SPCK. When did we ever employ clergy? And when had we been based in Stepney?
So, I did some digging. I discovered that in the late 19th Century, SPCK had set up a Training College for Lay Workers on Commercial Road in Stepney. It was set up to educate working class men as lay readers so they might assist the clergy in holding services and spreading Christian knowledge amongst their own class. On graduating from the college, men would be awarded with a medallion, just like this one which was given to an A.W. Mundy on 23 December 1908.
But SPCK is a lot older than this. In fact, SPCK is older that the United Kingdom itself! So, what I asked myself, did we do before the Training College for Lay Workers? And how did that get us to where we are now?
The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was formed in 1698 at a meeting of five friends, which included Anglican priest, Thomas Bray. They were concerned about the “growth of via and immorality” in the country and sought to combat the “gross ignorance of the Christian religion.” In other words, SPCK was founded as an evangelical mission! There in-lies the true vision of our founder and our core purpose.
In 1698, publishing was only a fraction of what SPCK was set up to do! In fact, its major focus was on education, including:
• Erecting schools and libraries in market towns
• Establishing libraries in the English plantations in the American colonies
• Instructing and converting Quakers, especially in the American colonies
• Providing a thorough instruction in the Christian Faith for young people in “the Indian Nations” to encourage them to convert their people
Publishing books to increase knowledge of the Christian faith is another bullet point, but then so is “supporting widows and orphans of clergy who died while working overseas.”
The founding vision for SPCK was not simply ‘Christian publishing house.’ It was far more expansive! It covered evangelism, supporting the vulnerable and oppressed, mission overseas, education and charity schools. We were always a Christian charity, providing for those who could not access the Christian faith.
And we still are. We look very different to how we did in the 18th and 19th centuries. But remain a Christian charity, a Christian mission. Yes, our publishing has increased. But not at the expense of the other goals of Thomas Bray.
We still work in education. We run an assemblies programme. This is an online bank of over 1600 assembly scripts, and it’s being added to all the time! Every month we publish 8 new primary school assemblies and 8 new secondary school assemblies, as well as a number of ‘rapid response’ assemblies following major news events. All of these are free to access, free to download and free to use. No subscription or sign-up is required. It’s a fantastic resource that is used by around 50,000 teachers, clergymen and youth workers per month!
We still serve people who are vulnerable and marginalised. Our Diffusion prison fiction programme transforms the lives of prisoners throughout the UK by providing free easy-to-read books. Half of all prisoners in the UK lack functional literacy skills, which is huge barrier to gaining employment when they are released. Unemployment is the leading cause of reoffending. Reading really is the first step out of prison, and that is where SPCK can help!
We still operate overseas. Christian mission work has changed over the years, and so it should. The Christian population is growing massively in Africa, and it is only right that we support African Christians in sharing their perspective on Christ. That is why we are establishing the African Theological Network Press in Kenya. This will provide a platform for African theologians to share their insights across Africa, and indeed the world.
Whilst our methods have changed throughout the years, our mission has not. If you would like to support a Christian charity, with a global vision, with over 300 years’ experience in Christian mission, with a commitment to evangelism, then SPCK is the organisation for you!
Click here to give to SPCK.