The YMCA’s first report expressed as well as anything the problem which led to its formation. “Until recently the young men engaged in pursuits of business were totally neglected. They were treated as though deprived of mind, as though formed only to labor and sleep…without a moment for spiritual or mental culture, without the disposition or even the strength for the performance of those devotional exercises which are necessary to the maintenance of a spiritual life.”
Country boys like George Williams were appalled at the degradation of workingmen in London. Williams, who was strongly influenced by a rather unusual combination of religious forces–the British Quakers and the American evangelist Charles Finney–began a work among his fellow employees. Soon he had won many to Christ. A go-getter in business, too, he rapidly advanced to partnership in his firm (a drapery house) and used his own substantial wealth to support evangelical causes.
On June 6, 1844, twelve men, all but one associates of Williams’ firm, met in his bedroom and created the Young Men’s Christian Association. Its original intent was merely to work with employees of other drapery houses. The era was one of evangelical advance. Associations to deal with the dreadful social and moral consequences of the industrial revolution were springing up everywhere in Protestant countries. The YMCA hired a hall and assumed the task of reclaiming men through lectures, exercise and innocent amusement.
Many prominent men threw their weight behind the work. Lord Shaftesbury was the YMCA’s president for a time. Thomas Binney and other evangelical leaders gave their support.
The organization caught on like wildfire. Long before Williams’ death in 1905, it had achieved a membership of 150,000 in Britain and half a million in America with thousands of branches worldwide.
For his service to the well-being of the nation, Queen Victoria knighted him. Today the YMCA does not have the evangelical impulse it once did. Nonetheless, it continues to promote physical and intellectual well-being in men and women throughout the world. Although now largely forgotten, its early nondenominational Christian ideals gave rise to an organization which bettered the lives of millions.
YMCA Biographical information
George Williams (1821-1905) is recognized as the founder of the Young Men’s Christian Association. He was born near Dulverton, England, where he grew up on a family farm. At the age of 14 he was sent to Bridgewater to learn the drapery trade. While there he joined a church and took an active interest in religion. In 1841 he went to London where he became a junior assistant in the drapery establishment of Hitchcock and Rogers. (Later, in 1853 he became a partner in the business. He also married Hitchcock’s daughter in that year.)
In London Williams experienced the appalling social conditions of Victorian London: long work hours, crowded and inadequate living conditions, and few recreational or educational opportunities. He recognized that such conditions would promote vice among young men, and he came up with a plan to alleviate this situation.
On June 6, 1844 he met with twelve friends to form an organization to promote spiritual life of young men. They called it the Young Men’s Christian Association. Williams was able to get his employer to allow them to use a room for meeting and study. The work spread in London to other places of work. Williams raised money to buy a meeting place, Exeter Hall, and the association’s first employees were hired.
A tribute to influential Australian Christians – John Symons
John Symons was an apprentice at the drapery firm of G. Hitchcock & Co. in London in 1844 when fourteen employees formed the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA); he was elected secretary. He was one of the first resident clergymen on the Victorian goldfields and 1856 he moved to Beechworth where he established a YMCA. He was later a vice-president of the Melbourne YMCA.
YMCA Australia website : http://www.ymca.org.au
World President of the YWCA – Una Porter : https://atributetoaustralianchristians.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/una-porter/
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