Part 11: The Haystack Meeting
This is a reprint of The Haystack Prayer Meeting. It was written by Edward Warren Capen, PH.D. president of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, now Global Ministries, and published as one of the 1906 Envelope Series. Subscribers paid 10 cents per year for the series.
PLEASE NOTE: This piece was written in 1906 and therefore reflects the language of that time.
In that memorable summer of 1806, it was the custom of a few Christian students to go to the bottom of the valley, south of West College, every Wednesday afternoon for prayer. Saturday afternoon, when they had more leisure, they went in the opposite direction, and held their meeting in the meadow near the haystack. It was in this latter direction that the five young men went on that historic afternoon. Let one of these, Byram Green, tell the story:
“Samuel J. Mills, James Richards, Francis L. Robbins, Harvey Loomis, and Byram Green were present. The afternoon was oppressively warm, which probably detained all those from the East College that usually attended, and some from the West. We first went to the grove, expecting to hold our prayer-meeting there, but a dark cloud was rising in the west, and it soon began to thunder and lighten, and we left the grove and went under the haystack to protect us from the approaching storm, which was soon realized.
“The subject of conversation under the stack before and during the shower was the moral darkness of Asia. Mills proposed to send the Gospel to that dark and heathen land; and said that we could do it if we would. We were all agreed and delighted with the idea except Loomis, who contended that it was premature; and that if missionaries should be sent to Asia they would be murdered; that Christian armies must subdue the country before the Gospel could be sent to the Turks and Arabs. In reply to Loomis, it was said that God was always willing to have his Gospel spread throughout the world; that if the Christian public was willing and active, the work would be done; that on this subject the Roman adage would be true, ‘Vox populi, vox Dei.’ ‘Come,’ said Mills, ‘let us make it a subject of prayer, under this haystack, while the dark clouds are going, and the clear sky is coming.’
“We all prayed and made Foreign Missions a subject in our prayers, except Loomis. Mills made the last prayer and was in some degree enthusiastic; he prayed that God would strike down the arm with the red artillery of heaven that should be raised against a herald of the cross. We then sang one stanza. It was as follows:
‘Let all the heathen writers join
To form one perfect book;
Great God, if once compared with thine,
How mean their writings look.’
“The prayer-meetings were continued during the warm season of that year, in the groves somewhere between the village and the Hoosac, and the subject of Foreign Missions was remembered in our prayers.”
When the meetings could no longer be held in the grove on account of the lateness of the season, they were held in the kitchen of a good woman, who soon left the door ajar that she might share in the meetings, and who later invited her neighbors to attend. With the approach of warm weather the outdoor meetings were resumed. They were continued during the summer of 1807.
Thus, as Dr. Rufus Anderson said in 1843, “The first personal consecrations to the work of effecting missions among foreign heathen nations” on the part of American youth were made at Williamstown on some unknown afternoon, one hundred years ago this summer.