Keepers of the Covenant: Frontier Missions and the Decline of Congregationalism, 1774-1818

By James R. Rohrer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
FOUR
The Connecticut Missionary Society

When the General Association of Connecticut convened at the Congregational meetinghouse in Windham in June 1797, an atmosphere of expectancy pervaded the gathering. For several years evangelicals in both England and America had been praying fervently for a general revival of God's people. Now, many New Light ministers believed, an awakening was at hand. From across the ocean came stirring news of wondrous missionary advances in Africa and the South Seas, while at home unusual "seriousness" seemed evident among many congregations throughout the state. New Divinity stalwart Charles Backus of Somers reported the commencement of "a great work" among his people, triggered, he believed, by a series of "sermons upon the inspiration of the scriptures." In April word arrived of a "considerable awakening" in New York City, followed within weeks by missionary Seth Williston's report of a marvelous outpouring of God's Spirit in the Chenango settlements. These developments fired the imagination of New Lights and fueled millennial hopes that transformed the budding missionary movement. 1

Millennial expectancy led Congregational missionary leaders to view their task in a broader global context. Prior to 1797 the annual Narratives published by the Committee on Missions concentrated solely upon the need to provide orthodox guidance to uprooted New England migrants. Then, in 1797, the committee introduced a strongly millennial rationale for missions, noting the "remarkable union of different denominations in England and Scotland for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen." Such examples, the committee observed, should inspire Connecticut churches to work for the "extension of Christianity" so that "the Redeemer's Kingdom may come." 2

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