About the Commemoration
Thomas Bray was born at Marton, in Shropshire, England, in 1656. After graduating from Oxford and being ordained as a priest, he became a country parson in Warwickshire. In 1696 he was invited by the Bishop of London to be responsible for the oversight of church work in the colony of Maryland. Three years later, as the Bishop’s Commissary, he sailed to the American colonies for his first, and only, visitation.
Though he spent only two and a half months in Maryland, Bray was deeply concerned about the neglected state of the American churches, and the great need for the education of clergy, lay people, and children. At a general visitation of the clergy at Annapolis, before his return to England, he emphasized the need for the instruction of children, and insisted that no clergyman be given a charge unless he had a good report from the ship in which he crossed the Atlantic, “whether…he gave no matter of scandal, and whether he did constantly read prayers twice a day and catechize and preach on Sundays, which, notwithstanding the common excuses, I know can be done by a minister of any zeal for religion.” His understanding of, and concern for, Native Americans and African Americans were far ahead of his time. He founded thirty-nine lending libraries in America, as well as numerous schools. He raised money for missionary work and influenced young English priests to go to America.
Bray tried hard to have a bishop consecrated for the American colonies, but failed. His greatest contributions were the founding of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, both of which are still effectively in operation after two and a half centuries of work all over the world.
From 1706 to 1730, Bray was the rector of St. Botolph Without Aldgate in London, where, until his death there on February 15th, 1730, at the age of 72, he served with energy and devotion, while continuing his efforts on behalf of black slaves in America, and in the founding of parochial libraries.
When the deplorable condition of English prisons was brought to Bray’s attention, he set to work to influence public opinion and to raise funds to alleviate the misery of the inmates. He organized Sunday “Beef and Beer” dinners in prisons, and advanced proposals for prison reform. It was Thomas Bray who first suggested to General Oglethorpe the idea of founding a humanitarian colony for the relief of honest debtors, but he died before the Georgia colony became a reality.
Excerpts from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018.
See also: Thomas Bray
O God of compassion, who opened the heart of your servant Thomas Bray to answer the needs of the church in the New World: Make your church diligent at all times to propagate the Gospel, and to promote the spread of Christian knowledge; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Readings: Jonah 4:1–11; Psalm 85:7–13; Luke 10:1–12
Preface: Pentecost (BCP)
Also on February 15
The Eastern Church on this date (and also November 22) commemorates Apostle Onesimus (of the Seventy). The calendar in the Lutheran Service Book (2006), following Löhe’s calendar (February 16), lists Philemon and his slave Onesimus on February 15; their story is given in the New Testament book Philemon.