Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
   The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was one of the earliest Christian publishing ventures. It has played a major role in the spread of Protestant values in Britain, North America, and the missionary field.
   In 1696, the bishop of London appointed Rev. Thomas Bray, a priest of the Church of England and author of a book of catechetical lectures, as an assistant (commissary) to survey the needs of the church in the American colonies. During the next several years, Bray began the process of recruiting ministers to serve in America. The effort broadened his preexisting concern for religious education. He found that the young ministers who were willing to relocate to the colonies lacked the resources needed for such pioneering ministry. Bray was also concerned about another issue - the vice and immorality that many believed was afflicting society, and which he attributed to ignorance of Christianity.
   Bray proposed a comprehensive plan for public education to meet both needs. For those young ministers willing to take up a post in the American or Caribbean colonies, he proposed outfitting them with a set of basic books. To counteract vice, he proposed setting up libraries in every area served by the church, in both England and America. In 1698, he presented his idea to a small group of laymen shortly before traveling to Maryland, and together they founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).
   To meet its evolving goals, SPCK began publishing religious books, pamphlets, and tracts, soon emerging as the largest religious publishing house in England. To underwrite and distribute its publications, SPCK enlisted corresponding members, who would be sent packages of publications to sell or distribute. As their numbers grew, corresponding members formed district committees and established small book depots, some 400 in England alone in the 19th century. SPCK consciously strove to print a wide variety of texts on a range of subjects by many different authors.
   Bray's libraries gave clergy and lay leaders access to the books they needed for parish work. Up until the American Revolution, SPCK shipped books to the American colonies to nurture the substantial network of libraries they had created, but even at the start its concern extended to other parts of the world; in 1709, it sent a printing press and a printer to Tranquebar in east India to support the work of the pioneering Danish-Halle Mission.
   As the British expanded their colonial system, sPCK assumed a support role for the missionaries sent out by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and the Church Missionary Society, by raising funds for church buildings, schools, and theological training colleges. It also recruited the chaplains who settled on the ships carrying personnel to the colonies. To this day, the group supports seminary libraries in Anglican jurisdictions worldwide, and supplies a start-up selection of books for their newly ordained Anglican priests.
   The far-flung activities of SPCK have been transformed by the development of autonomous Anglican churches around the world. Among the new activities is a program in indigenous communication. SPCK has allocated funds to help set up publishing houses around the world, so that writers and theologians can publish locally, thus freeing them from their dependence on theological perspectives imported from Europe and North America, and promoting their participation in developing world perspectives on the faith.
   As the 21st century begins, SPCK publishes under five imprints, and keeps more than 500 titles in print at any one time. Over the three centuries of its existence, it has published in excess of 30,000 titles. Included are translations of the Book of Common Prayer in more than 200 languages and dialects. SPCK Worldwide appraises the needs of the world Anglican Communion and annually makes grants that promote the education of Anglican clergy, the improvement of worship life, and communication of the Gospel.
   SPCK is headquartered in London, England.
   Further reading:
   ■ Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Available online. URL: http://www.spck.
   ■ William O. Allen, Two Hundred Years: The History of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1698-1898 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1971)
   ■ William D. Houlette, "Parish Libraries and the Work of the Reverend Thomas Bray," Library Quarterly 4 (October 1934): 588-609
   ■ Bernard C. Steiner, "The Reverent Thomas Bray and his American Libraries," American Historical Review 2 (1896-97): 59-75
   ■ Henry P. Thompson, Thomas Bray (London: SPCK, 1954).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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