United Society

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United Society
Founded 1701
Founder Thomas Bray
Focus Anglican Christian outreach in partnership with church communities worldwide.
Origins Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG)
Key people
Janette O'Neill (General Secretary)
GBP £3.8m (2013)[1]
25 (2013)
Website http://www.weareus.org.uk

The United Society, also known as Us, is a United Kingdom-based Charitable organization (registered no. 234518).[2]

First incorporated under Royal Charter in 1701 as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) as an overseas missionary organization of the Church of England. The group was renamed in 1965 as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) after incorporating the activities of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). In 1968 the Cambridge Mission to Delhi also joined the organization. The most recent name change to United Society or Us was finalized in November 2012.[3]

With over three hundred years of history, the Society has supported more than 15,000 men and women in mission roles within the worldwide Anglican Communion. Working through local partner churches, the charity's current focus is in the support of emergency relief, longer term development and Christian leadership training projects. The charity encourages parishes in United Kingdom and Ireland to participate in Christian mission work through fundraising, prayer and by setting up links with its projects around the world.


Foundation and mission work in North America[edit]

Seal of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" (1701)

In 1700, Henry Compton, Bishop of London (1675–1713), requested the Revd Thomas Bray to report on the state of the Church of England in the American Colonies. Bray, after extended travels in the region, reported that the Anglican church in America had "little spiritual vitality" and was "in a poor organizational condition". Under Bray's initiative, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was authorised by convocation and incorporated by Royal Charter[4] on 16 June 1701. King William III issued a charter establishing the SPG as "an organisation able to send priests and schoolteachers to America to help provide the Church's ministry to the colonists".[5] The new society had two main aims: Christian ministry to British people overseas; and evangelization of the non-Christian races of the world.[6]

The society’s first two missionaries, graduates of the University of Aberdeen, George Keith and Patrick Gordon, sailed from England for North America on April 24 1702.[7] By 1710 the Society's charter had expanded to include work among African slaves in the West Indies and Native Americans in North America.[8] The SPG funded clergy and schoolmasters, dispatched books and supported catechists through annual fundraising sermons in London that publicized the work of the mission society.[9] Queen Anne was a noted early supporter, contributing her own funds and authorizing in 1711 the first of many annual Royal Letters requiring local parishes in England to raise a "liberal contribution" for the Society's work overseas.[10]

In New England the Society encountered a growing Congregational church movement, but with resourceful leadership made significant inroads in more traditional Puritan states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts. The SPG also helped to promote distinctive designs for new churches using local materials, including the addition of steeples. The white church with steeple was copied by other groups and became associated with New England-style churches among the range of Protestant sects.[11] Such designs were also copied in the Southern colonies.

From 1702 until the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the SPG had recruited and employed more than 309 missionaries to the American colonies that came to form the United States.[12] Many of the parishes founded by SPG clergy on the Eastern seaboard of the United States are now listed among the historic parishes of the Episcopal Church. SPG clergy were instructed to live simply, but considerable funds were used on the construction of new church properties. Ordained, university educated men, SPG clergy were described at one time by Thomas Jefferson as "Anglican Jesuits," and were drawn from across the British Isles and further afield; only one third of the missionaries employed by the Society in the 18th Century being English.[13] Included in their number such notable individuals as George Keith, and founder of the Methodism, John Wesley.[14]

West Indies[edit]

Through a charitable bequest received in 1710, aimed at establishing Codrington College, the SPG became a significant slave owner in Barbados in the 18th and early 19th centuries. With the aim of supplying funding for the college, the Society was the beneficiary of the unpaid and forced labour of thousands of slaves on the Codrington Plantations, many of whom died in captivity from dysentery, typhoid and overwork.

Although many educational institutions of the period such All Souls College, Oxford and Harvard University benefitted from charitable bequests made by slave owners and slave traders,[15] the ownership of the Codrington Plantations was an ongoing source of controversy for the SPG and the Church of England. In 1783, Bishop Beilby Porteus, an early proponent of Abolitionism, used the occasion of the SPG's annual anniversary sermon to highlight the conditions at the Codrington Plantations and called for the SPG to end its connection with slave trade. The SPG only finally relinquished its slave holdings in Barbados many decades later after the introduction of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

At the February 2006 meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, commemorating in part the church's role in helping to pass the Slave Trade Act of 1807, delegates voted unanimously to apologise to the descendants of slaves for the church's involvement in the slave trade. The Rt. Revd Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark confirmed in a speech before the vote, that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts had owned the Codrington Plantations.[16]


The Rev. Thomas Thompson, having first served as an SPG missionary in New Jersey, established the Society's first mission outpost at Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast in 1752. In 1754 he arranged for three local students to travel to England be trained as missionaries at the Society's expense. Two died from ill health, but the surviving student, Philip Quaque, became the first African to receive ordination in the Anglican Communion. He returned to the Gold Coast in 1765 and worked there in a missionary capacity until his death in 1816.[17]

Missionary activities in South Africa began in 1821. The Society's work in the wider region made significant progress under the leadership of Bishop Robert Gray, expanding to Natal in 1850, Zululand in 1859, Swaziland in 1871 and Mozambique in 1894.

During the period 1752-1906 the Society employed a total of 668 European and locally recruited missionaries in Africa. [18]

Global Expansion[edit]

As a major missionary sending agency, the Society established mission outposts in Canada in 1759, Australia in 1793, and India in 1820. It later expanded outside the British Empire to China in 1863, Japan 1873 and Korea in 1890. By the middle of the 19th Century the Society's work was more clearly focused on the promotion and support of indigenous Anglican churches and the training of local church leadership than for the supervision and care of colonial and expatriate church congregations.

From the mid 1800s until the Second World War the pattern of mission work remained similar: pastoral, evangelistic, educational and medical work contributing to the growth of the Anglican Church and aiming to improve the lives of local people. During this period, the SPG also supported increasing numbers of indigenous missionaries of both sexes, as well as medical missionary work.

Women's Missionary Leadership[edit]

The Society was, to a limited degree, socially progressive from the mid 1800s in encouraging women, including single women, from Britain and Ireland to train and work as missionaries in their own right, rather than only as the wives of male missionaries. In 1866, the SPG established the Ladies’ Association for Promoting the Education of Females in India and other Heathen Countries in Connection with the Missions of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.[19] In 1895, this group was updated to the Women’s Mission Association for the Promotion of Female Education in the Missions of the SPG.

The promotion of women's leadership within the Society's overseas mission activities was championed for many years by Women's suffrage activist Louise Creighton. At the peak of SPG missionary activity in India between 1910 and 1930, more than 60 European women missionaries were at any one time were employed in teaching, medical or senior administrative roles in the country.[20] In Japan, Mary Cornwall Legh, working among Hansen's disease sufferers at Kusatsu, Gunma was regarded as one of the most effective Christian missionaries to have served in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai.[21]

Post Second World War Reorganisation[edit]

The SPG alongside the Church Mission Society (CMS), continued to be one of the leading agencies for evangelistic mission and relief work for the Churches of England, Wales and Ireland in the decades following the Second World War. In the context of decolonization and India's Independence in 1947, new models of global mission engagement between the interdependent member provinces of the Anglican Communion were required. With the merger in 1965 of the SPG with the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) and in 1968 the Cambridge Mission to Delhi to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), the Society found a new role in support of clergy training and in the movement of community development specialists, resources and ideas around the world church.

Notable churches and educational institutions[edit]

The list of SPG and USPG founded and sponsored church and educational institutions is geographically diverse. In some cases direct funding was supplied by the Society itself, in others SPG and USPG mission staff played prominent roles as founding ordained clergy, fundraisers, academic and administrative staff.

United States

New Zealand

South Africa


  • St. John's College, Yangon (1863)




  • St. Faith's School, Beijing (1890)


Current activities[edit]

The modern charity's work is no longer centered on the dispatch of mission workers overseas, but in increasing local churches' capacity to be agents of positive change in the communities that they serve. The United Society in its stated mission objectives "seeks to advance Christian religion," but also to leverage and support local Anglican church partners in their mission activities in a local community context. Project work includes community based health care provision for expectant mothers and for those suffering from HIV and AIDS, as well as education and work skills training programs. The charity is also involved in the training and development of Anglican lay and ordained church leaders and localized social advocacy on a diverse range of issues from gender based violence to climate change.

The modern charity retains its strong funding and governance links with the Church of England, the President of the charity being the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Projects in Africa still attract the largest percentage of the United Society's funding due to historic links and established endowments. In the financial year 2013, the charity supported church based initiatives in poverty relief, health, education and church leadership training in 20 different countries.[22]


  1. ^ "Registered Charities in England and Wales". UK Charity Commission. UK Government. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  2. ^ "Registered Charities in England and Wales". UK Charity Commission. UK Government. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "Anglican mission agency USPG announces plan to change its name". Anglican Communion News Service. 26 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Cross, F. L., ed. (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press; p. 1280
  5. ^ Howard, Michael (2011). Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction. London: McFarland & Co Inc Pub. p. 211. ISBN 978-0786464548. 
  6. ^ Cross (1957); p. 1280
  7. ^ Parry, Thomas (1847). Codrington College. London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. p. 11. 
  8. ^ Howard, Michael (2011). Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction. London: McFarland & Co Inc Pub. p. 211. ISBN 978-0786464548. 
  9. ^ Gregory, Jeremy (2013). Foster, Stephen, ed. Britain and North America in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-19-920612-4. 
  10. ^ O'Conner, Daniel (2000). Three Centuries of Mission. London: Continuum. p. 10. ISBN 0-8264-4989-1. 
  11. ^ The Refinement of America
  12. ^ Glasson, Travis (2012). Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-19-977396-1. 
  13. ^ Glasson, Travis (2012). Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-19-977396-1. 
  14. ^ Holmes, David (1993). A Brief History of the Episcopal Church. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. p. 46. ISBN 1-56338-060-9. 
  15. ^ Wilder, Craig (2013). Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities. New York: Bloomsbury Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-59691-681-4. 
  16. ^ Bates, Stephen (7 February 2006). "Church apologizes for benefitting from slave trade". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  17. ^ The Churchman's Missionary Atlas. USPG. 1908. p. 31. 
  18. ^ The Churchman's Missionary Atlas. USPG. 1908. p. 32. 
  19. ^ Seton, Rosemary (2013). Western Daughters in Eastern Lands: British Missionary Women in Asia. Santa Barbara: Praeger. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-84645-017-4. 
  20. ^ Cox, Jeffrey (2002). Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818-1940. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 156. ISBN 0-8047-4318-5. 
  21. ^ Ion, A. Hamish (1993). The Cross and the Rising Sun (Volume 2 ed.). Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-55458-216-7. 
  22. ^ "Trustees' Report and Financial Statements 2013" (PDF). www.weareus.org.uk. United Society. Retrieved 19 June 2015. 

See also[edit]


  • Bennett, J. Harry, Jr. (1958) Bondsmen and Bishops: slavery and apprenticeship on the Codrington plantations of Barbados, 1710-1838. Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Haynes, Stephen R. (2002) Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Hochschild, Adam (2005) Bury the Chains, the British Struggle to Abolish Slavery. Macmillan
  • Meltzer, Milton (1993) Slavery: a world history. Da Capo Press
  • Pierre, C. E. (1916) “The Work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts among the Negroes in the Colonies.” Journal of Negro History; 1 (October 1916): 349-60.
  • A collection of SPG-related missionary narratives
  • Dewey, Margaret (1975). The Messengers: a Concise History of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. London: Mowbrays. vi, 158 p. ISBN 0-264-66089-7 (paperback)
  • Pascoe, Charles Frederick (1901) Two Hundred Years of the S.P.G.: an historical account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900 (based on a digest of the society's records). 2 vols. London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
  • Thompson, Henry Paget (1951) Into All Lands: a history of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1950. London: S.P.C.K.

External links[edit]