Two hundred, not out!

The Church Mission Society

The Church Mission Society is celebrating its 200th birthday this year. Founded in 1799 by a group of philanthropists, including William Wilberforce, the Society was created to take the Gospel message to all the world, and to campaign for the abolition of slavery.

The Society’s General Council was held at a different time this year – at the beginning instead of the end of September; and at a different venue – Leicester University instead of High Leigh. Over one hundred members were present at the General Council which this year was mainly a ‘business’ meeting, although spiritual events included an all night prayer vigil from the Thursday evening through to breakfast (literally!) on the Friday morning. The accounts were approved after some discussion and various decisions were taken about the future of membership. It has become increasingly difficult for members, in rural areas particularly, to travel the longer distances to attend meetings (e.g. in this area people living in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire have problems in travelling to Nottingham or Derby) and the idea of a number of local ‘cells’ is being investigated. The distribution of the magazine ‘YES’ to supporters as well as members was approved. ‘YES’ is now one of the leading magazines issued by missionary societies and a number of subscriptions have been received from universities and libraries – from Dublin to St Petersburg. CMS work in the former communist bloc has expanded, especially in Romania and Russia.

General Council was followed by a Bicentenary Conference at Leicester University where a further 100-150 delegates joined those who had been at General Council. The Conference was given a light-hearted ‘romp’ through CMS history, including early film footage, and two dramatic presentations of the life led by early missionaries. An especially good enactment of life and perils of a missionary’s wife in early Victorian times was given by a young lady whose representation of sea-sickness travelling on a barque brought disturbed memories to several members of the audience. The main thrust of the conference was "A whole New World Together". We received challenges from the past and present from Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward and Bishop Emmanuel Ebonigi (from Nigeria) and were given an interesting talk on the role of "Christian Agencies in a new Century of Development". This latter was given by Paul Spry, a civil servant in the Department for International Development, deputising for Claire Short who was unable to attend. Paul was previously Policy and Campaign Director for Christian Aid (1987-97) and was able to bring a perspective of a missionary society into his talk. We had an excellent talk on "Mutuality in Mission – a Trinitarian Model" by Rt. Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool. There were also workshops and options to visit to a Hindu Temple, a Sikh Gurdwara, an interfaith centre or a homeless project. Alternatively there was the Leicester Indoor Market or the (beautiful) Botanical Gardens.

Throughout the General Council meeting and the Conference the music was led by a group of players, most of whom work in CMS Headquarters, Partnership House, as their ‘day-job’ and give instrumental or vocal support in their spare time. The group included Ally McCausland, who sang so movingly in Derby Cathedral at the East Midlands Bi-centenary event in April, and Patrick Goh, CMS Personnel Director, who spoke to the East Midlands Members Council at St John’s College in March. It was fun to sing with them (or in my case, attempt to!)

All in all both events were inspiring. CMS is entering its third century in fine fettle to promote a World Together, especially by the exchange of mission partners – from UK to overseas, and from overseas to the UK. The UK has become a major mission field in the world for the 21st century! I was privileged to attend both events.

Frank Riley

Church Mission Society Bicentenary Conference, Sept 1999

Extracts from an address to the Conference by Paul Spry, Department For International Development


One in four people on this earth live in absolute poverty - without access to basic healthcare, education and clean water, and with little or no prospect of improving their condition. A quarter of the adult population of the world are illiterate.


Be of good courage. More people have climbed out of poverty in the last 50 years than in the previous 500. Twenty years ago only four people in every ten could drink clean water; now it is six out of ten. We are the first generation of human beings that has ever lived that has the capacity to abolish abject poverty from the human condition. This is a marvellous opportunity - and a massive responsibility.


United Nations Development targets, supported by all our governments include:

  • halving the proportion of people in poverty within 20 years
  • all children in quality primary education
  • basic healthcare for all

Paul Spry finished his address by quoting Claire Short’s speech to General Synod:

Finally, I want to ask whether the international Jubilee Campaign for debt cancellation can be broadened into a global alliance to eliminate poverty? I was extraordinarily heartened by the many thousands of people who came to lobby the G8 summit. But debt relief alone will not produce the result we seek… The biblical concept of jubilee itself goes far beyond debt – slaves were to be freed, land was to be restored, tools given to people. In short nobody was to be left in extreme poverty. That is what we should strive for – and for the first time in human history, it is possible. The question is can we work together to make it happen?

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 29th September 1999