It was said of the Duke of Wellington that he was ‘more afraid of his own men than he was of the enemy’. Which perhaps makes his Presidency of the Naval & Military Bible Society in 1816 all the more understandable with its core aim being “to spread abroad Christian knowledge and reformation of manners.”
Richard Prendergast is Executive Director of NM&AFBS and as he spoke to a recent meeting of Hemyock Men, he unpacked both the history and the immediate positive impact the society was having on our Armed forces. The Naval, Military & Air Force Bible Society was founded in 1779 by George Cussons and John Davies, Lay Methodists, supported by the Christian philanthropist, John Thornton. William Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist MP and Lord Palmerston are among a distinguished list of early Vice-Presidents and council members. Wilberforce was joined by other key figures in the Slave Trade Abolition Movement, including the hymn writer (“Amazing Grace”) and ex-slave trading sea captain, John Newton.
Records show that by the1860s, from its humble beginnings, the number of Bibles and Scripture portions it had distributed now exceeded one million. The Society continued to supply Britain’s forces throughout the world including during campaigns in the Crimea, India, Afghanistan, China, Egypt and South Africa. Many millions of Scriptures were distributed to Allied Forces in both World Wars. The Air Force (AF) was added to the title of the Society in 1961.
The Society continues to fulfil its mission statement distributing Bibles and booklets at home and abroad. In 2008 it granted over 78,500 items of Christian literature. It has sent more than 8,000 Bibles and New Testaments to service personnel on active service in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq.
Helpful booklets on particular needs have been produced by the society and these have been disappearing like the proverbial ‘hotcakes’ said Richard. These include - The importance of character, The challenge of leadership, The necessity of moral and ethical values, The need for God through Jesus Christ and Prayer.
The Naval & Military is the oldest Bible Society in the world and although its work is supported by various branches of the military it exists for the most part because of the generosity of individuals and churches who support it. Hemyock Men made their thanks known to Richard and the Society by making a gift of £115.
Picture – Some of Hemyock Men with Richard Prendergast. From L to R Chris Pardey, Alan Craig, Brian Chaplain, Geoffrey Dearsley, Gordon Cooper and Richard Prendergast.