The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) held its first meeting on September 5, 1810.
Initially an organization of Massachusetts and Connecticut Congregationalists, the ABCFM shunned the term Congregationalist in its title and recruited Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed members (until they established their own foreign mission boards.)
The ABCFM was the first foreign mission board founded in the US, as well as being the largest in the nineteenth century. It served as an interdenominational foreign mission society for Congregationalists, Presbyterians and for some Reformed churches. (Dogan)
In 1812, a ship sailing from Salem to Calcutta, India would take the ABCFM’s first missionaries (five missionaries, three with wives.) As the first American missionaries sailed from America to British India, the US declared war on England (War of 1812.)
That year, the ABCFM was transformed from a Congregational agency subject to two state Associations, into an independent and interdenominational body with members distributed from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania.
As the first “national” benevolent society, the ABCFM supported the development of a network of cooperative national benevolent societies, including American Bible Society (1816) and American Education Society (1816) to provide financial aid for “pious young men” preparing for the ministry – including missionary service. (Maxfield)
Here’s a link to a prior post on the ABCFM.
The Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in giving instructions to the Pioneer Company headed to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiʻi) in 1819 said:
“Your mission is a mission of mercy, and your work is to be wholly a labor of love. … Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale, but you are to open your hearts wide, and set your marks high.”
“You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.” (The Friend)
Here’s a link to a prior post on the Instructions from the ABCFM.
The points of especial and essential importance to all missionaries, and all persons engaged in the missionary work are four:
• Devotedness to Christ;
• Subordination to rightful direction;
• Unity one with another; and
• Benevolence towards the objects of their mission
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity in this first company.
Here’s a link to a prior post on the Pioneer Company.
When the Pioneer Company of missionaries arrived, the kapu system had been abolished; the Hawaiian people had already dismantled their heiau and had rejected their religious beliefs – and effectively weakened belief in the power of the gods and the inevitability of divine punishment for those who opposed them.
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863) (the “Missionary Period”,) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.
“A Democratic or a Republican Government can never be strong, and pure, and permanent unless the people who create it and hold the power are intelligent and moral. And the same law holds true in church polity.”
“Our Hawaiian churches are not called Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational, or by any other name than that of the Great Head, the Shepherd and Bishop of souls. We call them Christian churches.” (Titus Coan)
Christianity and the western law brought order and were the only answers to keeping order with a growing foreign population and dying race.
Kamehameha III incorporated traditional customary practices within the western laws – by maintaining the “land division of his father with his uncles” – which secured the heirship of lands and succession of the throne, as best he could outside of “politics, trade and commerce.” (Yardley)
By the time of its centenary in 1910, the Board was responsible for 102 mission stations and a missionary staff of 600 in India, Ceylon, West Central Africa (Angola), South Africa and Rhodesia, Turkey, China, Japan, Micronesia, Hawaii, the Philippines, North American native American tribes, and the “Papal lands” of Mexico, Spain and Austria. (Global Ministries)
While the ABCFM began as an inter-denominational society, after 1870, it became a Congregationalist body. United Church of Christ is the successor of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM.)