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Beacon Street Diary blog

Haystack Prayer Meeting

This year marks the Bicentennial of the 1806 Haystack Prayer Meeting in Williamstown, Massachusetts, an event which has long been celebrated as the birth of American foreign missions. Down through the years, the story of that prayer meeting has often been told, but not always accurately. For example, it has sometimes been said that at that meeting, the five Williams College students all dedicated themselves to be foreign missionaries. My research indicates that that statement is incorrect in two ways.

1. The agreement the students reached at that haystack was to send the gospel overseas to Asia's non-Christians. While Samuel Mills Jr. had already dedicated himself to be a foreign missionary, that doesn’t seem to have been the case with the other four students at that meeting. However, growing out of that 1806 prayer meeting and subsequent ones, Mills and other Williams students formed the Brethren in 1808, all of whose members were required to be committed to taking the gospel overseas themselves personally. That group has sometimes been called the "First Foreign Missionary Society in America." In 1810 the Brethren was transferred to Andover Theological Seminary and subsequently the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed.

2. At the Haystack Prayer Meeting, one of the five students, Harvey Loomis, disagreed with the other four. Loomis thought it was premature to send the gospel overseas to Asia, as he feared those missionaries would be murdered. So, he neither supported the idea nor joined the other four students at the haystack in their prayers for foreign missions.

Do you have questions to ask or thoughts to share about the Haystack Prayer Meeting? This blog can be a good forum for that.

-Rev. Dr. Doug Showalter


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