Before Haystack: London Missionary Society
The work of the London Missionary Society, now the Council for World Mission preceded the event at the Haystack Prayer Meeting.
The origins of the London Missionary Society (LMS) lie in the late 18th century revival of Protestant Evangelism. A meeting of Independent Church leaders, Anglican and Presbyterian clergy and laymen, held in London in November 1794, established the aims of the Missionary Society – ‘to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations’. The Missionary Society was formally established in September 1795 with a plan and constitution. This governed the establishment of a Board of Directors and the conduct of business, outline the powers of the Directors and the conduct of business, established an annual meeting of Members to be held in May, and defined the role of trustees. The Missionary Society was renamed the London Missionary Society in 1818. Although broadly interdenominational in scope, the Society was very much Congregationalist in both outlook and membership.
Mission activity started in the South Seas, with the first overseas mission to Tahiti in 1796. Missionary work expanded into North America and South Africa. Early mission activities also centred in areas of eastern and southern Europe including Russia, Greece and Malta. There was even an LMS ‘mission to Jews’ in London. However, during the 19th century, the main fields of mission activity for the LMS were China, South East Asia, India, the Pacific, Madagascar, Central Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and the Caribbean (including British Guiana, now Guyana). The LMS was not always successful in gaining a hold in the overseas mission field. Western missionaries were refused entry to China until after 1843, and in Madagascar, early missionary success was countered by a period of repression and religious intolerance lasting from 1836 to 1861, and which included the deaths of many local converts.
In terms of organisational structure, the LMS was governed by a Board of Directors. The workings of the Board were reorganised in 1810 when separate committees were appointed to oversee particular aspects of mission work, including the important foreign committees. The administrative structure of the LMS relied upon the work of salaried officials such as the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, together with the workings of the various committees, including the Examinations Committee, which appointed missionaries to the field. Directors themselves were unpaid. The constitution of the LMS was revised in May 1870, as a direct result of financial pressures and the expansion of overseas mission work; the work of the Investigation Committee (1866) in turn led to a new administrative policy and the emphasis on the development of the self-governing and self-financing indigenous church. In 1966 the LMS merged with the Commonwealth Missionary Society, to form the Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM), which in turn was restructured to create the Council for World Mission in 1977.
Further information on the history of the London Missionary Society can be found in the official histories:
Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society 1795-1895 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1899).
Norman Goodall, A history of the London Missionary Society, 1895-1945 (London: Oxford University Press, 1954).
Gales of change: responding to a shifting missionary context: the story of the London Missionary Society, 1945-1977, ed. by Bernard Thorogood (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1994).