On Saturday, Carol and I were driving around the area and found ourselves at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. We decided to search for the Haystack Prayer Meeting Memorial, which was the site of the birth of American Foreign Missions.
The Haystack Prayer Meeting, held in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in August 1806, is viewed by many scholars as the seminal event for the development of American Protestant missions in the subsequent decades and century.
Williams College students Samuel Mills, James Richards, Francis LeBaron Robbins, Harvey Loomis, and Byram Green, met in the summer of 1806 in a grove of trees near the Hoosic River, in what was then known as Sloan’s Meadow, and debated the theology of missionary service. Their meeting was interrupted by a thunderstorm and the students took shelter under a haystack until the sky cleared. “The brevity of the shower, the strangeness of the place of refuge, and the peculiarity of their topic of prayer and conference all took hold of their imaginations and their memories.”
In 1808 the Haystack Prayer group and other Williams students began a group called “The Brethren.” This group was organized to “effect, in the persons of its members, a mission to” those who were not Christians. In 1812, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (created in 1810) sent its first missionaries to the non-Christian world, to India.
Samuel Mills was most influential among the Haystack group to direct the modern mission movement. He played a role in the founding of the American Bible Society and the United Foreign Missionary Society.
Through the work of Byram Green, in 1867 a monument was erected in Mission Park in Williamstown, Massachusetts to honor the five men involved in the Haystack prayer meeting. In 1906 a centennial gathering took place in Mission Park at Williams College in celebration of the earlier prayer meeting. In the summer of 2006, contemporary missioners celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Haystack prayer meeting.
The 1806 meeting was the first documented by Americans to begin foreign missionary work. In addition, this meeting has been seen to have led to the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). The ABCFM gave students an opportunity to go abroad and spread the teachings of Christianity.